Court rules that interns cannot be 'highly qualified' under federal law

According to a press release on September 27 regarding an important legal case involving Teach for America and other groups that provide young, inexperienced teachers for the nation's public schools, a school system may not declare a teacher intern as "highly qualified" for purposes of the No Child Left Behind Act. Below is a September 27 press release from Public Advocate.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, Monday, September 27, 2010, Contact: Wynn Hausser, 415-431-7430,

Intern Teachers Not “Highly Qualified,” Says 9th Circuit..... Agrees that major loophole defies will of Congress, harms students

SAN FRANCISCO, CA — In a decision of national importance for the nation's public schools, a federal appeals panel today agreed with low-income students and community organizations that teachers still in training are not "highly qualified" under federal education law. The effect of the decision is that teachers in training must be fairly spread across classrooms, and parents notified when their student has one of these teachers.

In an unusual reversal of its earlier decision in Renee v. Duncan, a panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals by a 2-1 margin affirmed the plaintiffs’ standing and accepted their arguments, reversing a lower federal district court decision.

The “precise question at issue” is the difference between the meaning of “has obtained” full State certification in the statute…and the meaning of “demonstrates satisfactory progress toward” full State certification in the [U.S. Department of Education] regulation…The difference between having obtained something and merely making satisfactory progress toward that thing is patent. We conclude that the Secretary’s regulation impermissibly expands the definition of “highly qualified teacher” … by including in that definition an alternative-route teacher who merely “demonstrates satisfactory progress toward” the requisite “full State certification.” (16333-4)

The decision was welcomed by the coalition of community groups, parents, and students, represented by Public Advocates Inc. and pro bono attorneys from Goodwin Procter LLP, that appealed a June 2008 San Francisco federal district court ruling upholding the Department regulation. In July 2009, the same appeals panel had upheld the lower court’s decision.

“This is a tremendous victory for the millions of students across the country that are disproportionately taught every day by teachers with very little training whom the Department of Education has mislabeled as ‘highly qualified,’” said John Affeldt, managing attorney at Public Advocates Inc. representing the plaintiffs. “Alternate route programs can be a promising path for many new teachers but the Department needs to stop pretending those still learning to teach are as prepared as fully trained teachers.”

“The Court has recognized that it is a disservice to the public, students, and their parents to hide the fact that a high proportion of the less experienced intern teachers who are not yet fully certified teach in low-income, high-minority schools. These students already face multiple barriers to opportunities to learn and succeed,” said Jeremy Lahoud, Executive Director of Plaintiff Californians for Justice. “Accurately labeling teachers will force the State and districts to correct this inequity."

More than 10,000 intern teachers in California and over 100,000 nationwide have been mis-labeled as “highly qualified” under the Department’s regulation. Evidence in the case shows that more than half of California’s interns are teaching in schools with 90-100% students of color compared to only 3% of interns in schools with the lowest population of students of color.

Research shows that graduates from alternative programs such as Teach For America and Troops To Teachers can be as effective as traditional route graduates, but that participants in those and other programs who are still in training do not improve student achievement as much as fully prepared teachers who have completed their teacher training.

“Today's decision affirms Congress’ intent that fully certified teachers should be teaching our children the core curriculum,” notes Goodwin Procter partner Jeff Simes. “This is a victory for the rule of law. The U.S. Department of Education is not entitled to undermine the high standard Congress set with its own views.”

For more about this case, see: http://www.public ourwork/education /index.html#TQ =


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