Teacher Preparation

Court Upholds ‘Highly Qualified’ Teacher Rules

By Vaishali Honawar — June 18, 2008 2 min read
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A federal court in California has sided with the U.S. Department of Education, ruling that teachers who enter schools through alternative teacher-preparation programs and are still working toward certification can be labeled “highly qualified.”

The No Child Left Behind Act requires teachers to have full state licensure, in addition to a bachelor’s degree and evidence that they know each subject they teach. But regulations put forth by the Education Department in 2002 allow uncertified candidates in alternative-route programs to teach for up to three years while seeking certification.

A group of parents, students, and community groups filed suit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco last August, arguing that Congress defined “highly qualified” to mean teachers who meet a state’s “full” or most complete level of certification. They contended that many of those teachers-in-training end up in schools that are low-performing and enroll higher concentrations of children of color.

John Affeldt, the managing attorney for Public Advocates, a San Francisco public-interest law firm representing the plaintiffs, said nearly a quarter of the 10,000 teachers-in-training in California are in schools where 98 percent to 100 percent of the students are members of minority groups.

The number of teachers-in-training nationwide labeled as “highly qualified” is more than 100,000, he added.

“I think the decision is very troubling on its face,” said Mr. Affeldt. “Defining teachers-in-training as ‘highly qualified’ violates both the letter and spirit of the [NCLB] law, primarily to the detriment of low-income students of color,” he said.

Parents, students, and community groups represented by Public Advocates have in the past sued the California education department for certifying teachers who failed to meet federal standards, and have blocked attempts to grant “highly qualified” status to teachers with emergency certification and to instructors whose internship programs didn’t meet required criteria.

Discretion With Secretary

In her June 17 ruling in Renee v. Spellings, Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton disagreed with the plaintiffs’ argument that Congress intended that participants in alternative-route programs should have already completed a teacher-training program, saying the NCLB law did not define “full state certification” except to say that it includes “certification obtained through alternative routes to certification.”

“Congress empowered the secretary to issue such regulations as are necessary to reasonably ensure that there is compliance with the NCLB Act,” the judge wrote. “Thus the secretary has the discretion to determine the meaning of ‘full state certification’ as the secretary deems necessary.”

A spokeswoman for the Education Department said in an e-mail that Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings was “gratified” by the decision.

“The decision concluded that our regulation is consistent with the No Child Left Behind Act, and allows districts throughout the nation—particularly those in high-need areas—to meet the demand for highly qualified teachers,” said spokeswoman Samara Yudof.

Mr. Affeldt said the plaintiffs would likely appeal the ruling.

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