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 Article of Interest - Teacher Qualifications

The San Francisco Gate logoCalifornia Education Funding Imperiled

U.S. Demands End to Hiring of Uncredentialed Teachers

by Nanette Asimov, The San Francisco Gate, August 6, 2002

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California, with 32,000 uncredentialed teachers, stands to lose hundreds of millions of education dollars if it cannot figure out how to hire a "highly qualified teacher" in every classroom, as the new federal Education Act requires by 2006.

Federal education officials said Monday that California is already "out of compliance" with the first step of the new law, which goes into effect this fall. It says states must hire only qualified, credentialed teachers at schools receiving federal funds for low-income students. Most of the state's uncredentialed teachers work with low-income students.

About 4,800 California schools, or 58 percent, receive nearly $1 billion in such funding each year, state records show.

But class size could soar to 60 or even 90 students if those teachers were fired, said Linda Bond, director of governmental relations for the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

"The (federal government) may need to rethink what they're asking for," Bond said.

California's inability to meet the new federal standards came to light after the state Board of Education gave Washington a written definition of what it considered to be a "highly qualified teacher," something that all states are required to do as part of the new federal law.


But California's definition requires neither a teaching credential nor a major in the subject to be taught -- the two minimum criteria of the federal law.

Instead, the state says only that such teachers should hold a bachelor's degree, pass certain state exams and complete 18 units of course work in the subjects to be taught. And it permits several exemptions.

The odd definition caught the eye of education advocates and a certain Bay Area congressman, who wrote a lengthy rebuke on Monday to each member of the state board:

"This is an audacious and reckless action that suggests a lack of regard for students, parents and taxpayers," wrote Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, who co-authored the new federal Education Act. "The California criteria for highly qualified (teachers) fell short of the federal requirements in almost every respect."

In addition, education advocates and legal groups called attention to the idea that California -- plagued with a shortage of qualified teachers in needy schools -- should try to erase the problem by changing the definition of what it means to be qualified.

"Rather than ramping up policies to attract and retain quality teachers, the state is ramping down its definition of who's qualified," said attorney John Affeldt of the nonprofit Public Advocates, Inc., a coalition member.

Bond, whose Commission on Teacher Credentialing helped the state Board of Education come up with the definition, acknowledged that its standards were weaker than what California already requires for classroom teachers.


But she said the state believed the deadline for submitting the definition was imminent, and that California could lose "billions of dollars" if it didn't comply.

"We had no other choice," she said, calling the definition merely a "placeholder" until a better one could be crafted.

But the state board's attorney, Rae Belisle, defended the definition as "not inconsistent with what the federal law required."

Dan Langan, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education, disagreed.

"The intent of Congress is clear: to make sure that every child is taught by a highly qualified teacher," he said. "California's definition would not pass muster.

"We will be working with California to help ensure that they are clear on what the requirements are under the law."

If California still failed to comply, Langan said, it could mean "loss of a portion of Title I funds," although no penalty is imminent.

California receives 12 percent of the nation's entire Title I apportionment.

In 2000, a statewide study showed that at elementary schools with the most impoverished students, nearly 22 percent of teachers lacked credentials. At schools with wealthier children, the figure was 2 percent.



The number of uncredentialed teachers in California soared after 1996, when the state began reducing elementary class sizes across the state.

Bond credited Gov. Gray Davis with reducing the number of uncredentialed teachers by about 4,000 over the past two years through financial incentives --

helping teachers with college loans and mortgage payments -- to lure qualified instructors into schools with needy children.

Even so, she said, the state's problem is vast and not easily fixed.

In his letter to the state board members, Miller said he sympathizes with that dilemma but that California's students face an even worse problem.

"Hundreds of thousands of children in the state, particularly poor and minority children, are taught by teachers who lack training and who possess neither the subject matter knowledge nor the pedagogical skills to effectively teach the subjects to which they are assigned," he wrote.

Miller accused the board of trying to "circumvent federal guidelines aimed at improving teacher quality," and called on the board to rethink its definition.

E-mail Nanette Asimov at

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