State, U.S. Feud Over
by Duke Helfand, Los Angeles Times, August 6, 2002
Original Story URL:
Strapped for experienced teachers, California is
skirting the nation's new education law by insisting that 50,000
rookies without full credentials are nonetheless "highly
qualified," federal officials said Monday.
The "No Child Left Behind" law, passed last year, requires
teachers in every state to be "highly qualified"--meaning fully
credentialed--by the end of the 2005-'06 school year. Teachers
hired in this school year on campuses serving low-income children,
however, must already be ''highly qualified."
But the California Board of Education has come up with a
definition of "highly qualified" that includes teaching interns
and novices with emergency permits.
On Monday, the U.S. Department of Education said that won't do:
California must staff its schools with teachers fully licensed by
"You can't define your way out of the problem," said U.S. Rep.
George Miller (D-Martinez), an architect of the federal law who
has called on California to reconsider its policy. "This is about
letting parents know who is standing in front of their children
six hours a day and what their qualifications are."
The fight between Sacramento and Washington is more than a
squabble over semantics.
Numerous studies show that a high-caliber teacher is the single
most important factor in raising student achievement. And the
federal government, which will provide $5.4 billion in education
money to California this year, ultimately could withhold funds if
the state balks at its directive.
Yet the federal requirement poses an enormous practical problem
for a state where experienced teachers are in short supply,
particularly in schools serving low-income and minority children.
If California follows the letter of the federal law, schools in
low-income communities will be unable to hire enough teachers this
fall, state officials said. That could push some class sizes up to
50, 60 or more students, they said.
"If there aren't credentialed teachers in the job pool, you can't
penalize schools and stop kids from getting services," said
Suzanne Tacheny, a member of the State Board of Education. "We've
had to take a realistic look at who [is] available to fill the
Several of California's leading education groups--including the
California Teachers Assn.--consider the federal demand
"They may as well have decreed that pigs can fly," said CTA
President Wayne Johnson. "I think the State Board of Education is
dealing with reality, not myth. Some of these politicians just
have their heads in the sand."
California's education secretary, Kerry Mazzoni, said teachers
with emergency credentials often are well-prepared for the
classroom. They are required to have bachelor's degrees and pass a
basic skills competency test. Most are enrolled in credentialing
Teaching interns, who have more training, face additional re-
quirements: enrollment in a cre- dentialing program and either
passing an exam in the subjects they teach or completing necessary
coursework to show they are profi- cient.
Becoming credentialed takes one to two years of coursework and
supervised teaching, beyond a bachelor's degree.
Mazzoni described the state's new standard of teacher quality as a
starting point, adding that training requirements will be
ratcheted up until California teachers exceed the federal
"[We] will bring them to full credentials over [four] years,"
That will be a tremendous undertaking. Of the state's 350,000
teachers, more than 50,000 do not have full credentials now. The
ranks of those newcomers are expected to grow as retirements and
attrition force the state to find as many as 200,000 new teachers
over the next decade.
Gov. Gray Davis and lawmakers have made teacher recruitment and
retention a priority, using recruitment bonuses, loan assistance,
mentoring programs and other incentives to entice people into
teaching. Experts said those efforts are paying off. The number of
newly credentialed teachers is rising, albeit slowly--from 17,160
in the 1997-'98 school year to 19,202 in the 2000-'01 school year.
Critics, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the
Mexican American Defense and Education Fund, said that watering
down the definition of "highly qualified" will shortchange
disadvantaged African American and Latino students, whose test
scores trail other groups.
"We are denying our most needy students access to what matters
most, and that's truly highly qualified teachers," said Russlynn
Ali, director of the Education Trust West, an advocacy group in
Oakland. "We are undermining our own progress for political
The fight over teacher quality stems from a lengthy application
that California submitted in June for billions of dollars in U.S.
Amid the paperwork was the state's proposed definition of "highly
qualified." As word of it leaked out, Miller and other critics
took aim at the state's proposal.
The federal education department reviewed California's policy and
found that it violated the "No Child Left Behind" law.
"California will ... have to go back to the drawing board and
revise its definition to make sure it complies with the law,''
said Cheri Yecke, director of teacher quality at the Department of
Education. "They are going to have to take the initiative to make
Although other states face teacher shortages, Yecke said,
California appears to be the only one that has proposed a policy
that runs counter to the federal law.
Meanwhile, in schools throughout the state, novice teachers
differed on whether they should be deemed "highly qualified."
Most agreed that to be competent, a teacher must obtain a
credential and spend three or more years in the classroom.
"I can't sit here and [say] I'm highly qualified. I'm not," said
Alex Bodnar, 27, a second-year kindergarten teacher at Cahuenga
Elementary School in Los Angeles who attends evening credential
classes at Cal State Los Angeles.
"I'm working toward that goal. I still have a lot more to learn.
Nothing can replace experience."
Other educators, however, questioned that wisdom.
"A credential does not equal good teaching," said Nancy Ichinaga,
a state education board member who spent 25 years as an elementary
school principal in Inglewood.
Ichinaga often filled her openings at Bennett-Kew Elementary with
bright young people out of college. She personally trained the
newcomers, who also were paired with more experienced teachers.
The approach seemed to work: Test scores at Bennett-Kew, which is
filled mostly with low-income children, rivaled those of suburban
"Credentials just mean they have a piece of paper that meets
certain regulations and requirements, which may have nothing to do
with teaching," Ichinaga said.