The Association of Teacher Educators supports the efforts of a coalition of parents, students, community groups, and legal advocates that sued the United States Department of Education and Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings for violating the teacher quality provisions of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. In the first lawsuit of its kind (Renee v. Spellings), filed in federal district court in San Francisco, California on Tuesday, August 21, 2007, the coalition argues that a Department regulation has created a major loophole in NCLB that defies the will of Congress and harms students nationwide by defining teachers still in training as "highly qualified."
At issue are regulations guiding states in implementing NCLB. The text of the NCLB Act defines as "highly qualified" a teacher who has a full state credential. The Department´s regulation, however, also labels as "highly qualified" teachers who are still "participating in an alternative route to certification." This means that on his or her first day in an alternative route teacher credentialing program, a teacher-in-training could be considered "highly qualified." The suit was filed by Public Advocates Inc., a public interest law firm and advocacy group based in San Francisco, and Goodwin Procter LLP, a national law firm serving as pro bono counsel.
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 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.
The plaintiffs, including Californians for Justice, California ACORN, and several individual students and parents, are asking the court to declare the Department of Education´s regulation containing the illegal definition of "highly qualified teacher" void and instead use the clear definition that Congress provided in the NCLB statute itself. "If we prevail, the suit will have ripple effects throughout the implementation of NCLB nationally," notes Tara Kini, staff attorney with Public Advocates. "States and school districts will no longer be permitted to concentrate teachers-in-training in schools serving high numbers of students of color, and they will be required to report accurately the numbers of "highly qualified" teachers so that real plans can be made to get better trained and qualified teachers to all students."
ATE President Terry James said, "The intent of Congress in writing the original teacher quality provisions in the No Child Left Behind legislation was very clear: to insure that all teachers in all classrooms would have received adequate training and preparation. This interpretation by the Department of Education means that some students could be taught by teachers without adequate preparation. It is unfair to tell parents their children are being taught by highly qualified teachers when these teacher candidates have not completed a formal preparation program."
The Association of Teacher Educators believes that more resources should be devoted to all phases of teacher preparation, including insuring that alternative certification programs provide the necessary preparation and ongoing mentoring needed to produce qualified teachers. However, the "highly qualified" designation should not be applied to any teacher until he or she has completed all aspects of training and preparation.
About ATE: The Association of Teacher Educators was founded in 1920 and is an individual membership organization devoted solely to the improvement of teacher education both for school-based and post secondary teacher educators. ATE members represent over 700 colleges and universities, over 500 major school systems, and the majority of state departments of education.