Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Lawsuit Attacks Alternative-Route 'Loophole' in NCLB Law

By Vaishali Honawar / EdWeek
August 21, 2007

A group of California parents, students, and community groups is suing the U.S. Department of Education for allowing alternative-route teachers who are not yet certified to be designated as “highly qualified” under the No Child Left Behind Act.

Under the federal law, to be highly qualified, teachers must have full state certification or licensure, in addition to a bachelor’s degree and evidence that they know each subject they teach. But Education Department regulations allow uncertified candidates who are in alternative-route programs to teach for up to three years while still seeking certification.

Backers of the lawsuit, Renee v. Spellings, which was filed today in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco,said they are concerned because many of those teachers end up in schools that are low-performing and enroll higher concentrations of students of color.

“These are teachers who have come through one month of boot camp in an alternative program and are thrown into classrooms as full-time teachers,” said Wynn Hausser, a spokesman for Public Advocates, a San Francisco public-interest law firm and advocacy group that is representing the plaintiffs.

He contended that the loophole was intended to give Congress “a rosier picture of how close schools are to meeting the standards” of the No Child Left Behind law, which requires every classroom to be staffed by a highly qualified teacher.

Mr. Hausser’s group claims there are currently 100,000 teachers in the nation’s classrooms, including 10,000 in California, who are labeled as “highly qualified” even though they are still in training and have not received certification.

Obscuring the Truth?

The lawsuit drew support from members of the teacher education community, who pointed out that the NCLB law is intended to reduce the number of out-of-field teachers and uncertified teachers in public school classrooms.

“Yet the Department of Education has created this large loophole to allow uncertified teachers who haven’t completed a preparation program to receive a highly qualified designation,” Jane West, the vice president of government relations for the Washington-based American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, said in a statement. “Parents are not being fully informed of the real status of these teachers who are not yet credentialed to serve as teachers.”

"Consistent with the department's practice, we are not able to comment on a complaint that has not been served, but we will, of course, review it closely when we do receive it," said Samara Yudof, the acting press secretary for the Education Department.

The plaintiffs are asking the court to declare as void the department’s regulation allowing teachers in alternative routes to be designated as “highly qualified.”

“Parents have a right to know the qualifications of their child’s teacher,” said Maribel Heredia, a parent in Hayward, Calif., and one of the plaintiffs.

“My son’s 1st grade teacher is still taking classes necessary to obtain her full teaching credential,” Ms. Heredia said in a statement. “I think it’s wrong that she is called highly qualified. I feel like I am being lied to.”

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