California Definitions of
Qualified Teachers Rejected by Ed. Dept.
by Joetta L. Sack, Education Week, September 4, 2002
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California is revising its definitions of a qualified teacher,
after a draft submitted to the U.S. Department of Education
was shot down.
The situation provides an early indicator of states' responses
to the new teacher-quality mandates in the "No Child Left
Behind Act" of 2001—and of how a state that has had chronic
problems finding qualified teachers for its toughest
classrooms might meet them.
California, where thousands teachers are either working with
emergency licenses or teaching outside their fields of
expertise, has set up a network of alternative-certification
programs in its drive to train more teachers.
The state wants teachers enrolled in such programs, called
pre-interns, to be counted as meeting the federal law's
standard of "highly qualified." Those candidates must complete
18 credit hours of coursework in the subjects they are
teaching and pass state tests in order to be certified in
State officials proposed their definition as an appendix to
California's application for federal Title I aid last month.
The definition was not requested or required by the federal
Education Department, but officials there let the state know
that its definitions wouldn't pass the test.
Rep. George Miller, a California Democrat and a chief
architect of the law, which reauthorized the Elementary and
Secondary Education Act, said officials of his state were
trying to cover up its high numbers of uncertified teachers
and circumvent the law's intent of ensuring that the neediest
students have well- qualified teachers.
"This is an audacious and reckless action that suggests a lack
of regard for students, parents, and taxpayers," Mr. Miller,
the ranking Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce
Committee, wrote in an Aug. 1 letter to members of the state
board of education.
But Kerry Mazzoni, California's secretary of education, says
the state's proposed definition of "qualified" is above what
the law requires, because the pre-intern teachers already have
work experience in the subjects they are teaching. She's
worried that federal officials will not be flexible enough to
accept the state's efforts.
"These simplistic definitions don't always work in the field,"
she said in an interview last month. "We are absolutely
practicing and implementing the intent of the law, but we feel
our standards are very high for teachers ... and we are
concerned we'll be penalized for that."
On Aug. 23, the state Senate held a hearing on the proposal,
during which state officials said they were working with
federal officials to revise their draft document.
The No Child Left Behind Act requires every secondary
school teacher in a program supported by Title I funds hired
after the first day of this school year to have a bachelor's
degree in the same field, or a closely related one, as the
subject he or she is teaching. As an alternative, those
teachers can pass a state test of their knowledge and skills.
All newly hired teachers also must be state-certified. By the
2005-06 school year, all new and currently employed teachers
must meet those requirements.
Previously, like many other states, California only required
secondary teachers to have a bachelor's degree, with no match
between their degrees and the subjects they were teaching.
In California, 27 percent of secondary school teachers do not
have either a major or a minor in the subjects they're
teaching, according to the Education Trust, a research and
advocacy group based in Washington.
About 32,000 California teachers, out of more than 300,000,
are uncertified, according to the state. And the state
estimates it will need another 260,000 to 300,000 new teachers
in the next 10 years because of enrollment growth and faculty
Right now, hundreds of fully certified, veteran teachers may
not meet the federal definitions of a highly qualified
teacher, because they are teaching as they seek certification
in additional subject fields, said Linda G. Bond, the director
of government relations for the California Commission on
Teacher Credentialing. She is concerned that those teachers
might quit if they are told they are not qualified and have to
take further courses or tests.
"If 60,000 to 70,000 teachers are taken out of the mix because
of a technical definition, that's absolutely devastating," Ms.
California's problems arose because the proposed definitions
did not mention the state's plans for teacher licensure, and
the pre-interns' qualifications were not in line with the
law's intentions for a highly qualified teacher, said Cheri
Yecke, the director of teacher quality for the federal
"It's a work in progress," Ms. Yecke said. "It's all very new,
and states are putting forth their best efforts."
Early next year, California officials will resubmit a revised