CTC confronts possible litigation over English learners and internship duties

A long-festering dispute over the classroom capabilities of enrollees in teacher internship programs is set to break open again, as state credentialing officials consider a legal challenge to its policies governing English learner instruction.

At issue are regulations allowing participants in alternative certification programs to serve as teachers of record while they complete their training.

More specifically, policies of the Commission on Teacher Credentialing give student teachers entering the internship program the responsibility for daily independent instruction of English learners even though candidates have not yet completed any of the specialized coursework that otherwise is required.

Critics, including Public Advocates Inc. which has threatened the CTC with litigation over the intern authorization issue, argue that the policy not only diminishes the educational opportunities of thousands of English learner students, it is also gives the community a false sense of the qualifications of many classroom instructors.

But there remains strong support for the state's internship programs and the quality of the instruction they provide. Advocates point out that a large percentage of the participants in alternative certification are second-career professionals who bring a wealth of experience into the classroom even though all their coursework has not been completed.

While the question is set to come before the CTC at its monthly meeting next week, the basic themes of the debate go back years on a national basis.

Bush-era regulations that were later endorsed by the Obama administration allow school districts to classify teacher interns as highly qualified" for the purposes of reporting required under the No Child Left Behind Act.

The highly qualified designation has been challenged by civil rights groups because interns are not fully authorized and licensed.

Tara Kini, senior staff attorney with Public Advocates Inc., said the issue before the CTC is to ensure students get the best teachers possible.

"All of the research strongly supports that English learners do better when their teacher has the specialized knowledge and training in how to teach them academic content and the English language at the same time," she said. "And right now, English learner students are being taught by interns who have this English learner authorization but lack the training."

There are many who disagree and support the commission's current policy - including school districts that rely on the internship programs as a ready source for new teachers to fill difficult positions.

DeLacy Ganley, director of teacher education at Claremont Graduate University, told the commission at a hearing on the issue in December that it should preserve the current policy.

"Of course our English language learners deserve our most effective teachers - the best of our best should be going to those most in need," she said. "But I would argue that the intern programs have often produced California's best teachers. Principals often tell us that our interns are akin to fourth- or fifth-year teachers by the time they graduate from the program."

Kini said Public Advocates and a coalition of community groups sent the CTC a letter in November warning that they believe the English learner policy is a violation of state law, including one adopted in the wake of the Williams settlement that assures all students have qualified teachers.

The firm has also been a key player since 2007 in a lawsuit to overturn the federal highly qualified' policies for interns under NCLB.

Although the Ninth Circuit Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in September 2010, Congress passed legislation that temporarily codified the federal rule three months later. Another extension of the rule was passed last fall but Congress asked for a report, due at the end of the year, on the use of interns nationwide and their impact on disadvantaged students.

The CTC letter calls into question two issues:

"Specifically, we have identified two areas in which we believe Commission policies violate state law. First, the Commission's policy of attaching an English learner ("EL") or bilingual authorization to the intern credential violates explicit Education Code requirements for issuance of the EL Authorization/CLAD certificate and Bilingual Authorization/BCLAD certificate (Cal. Educ. Code 44253.3 and 44253.4), as well as the California Administrative Procedure Act (Cal. Gov't Code 11340 et seq.).

"Second, the Commission's failure to require that districts demonstrate a need - i.e., that they have tried and been unable to hire a fully-prepared teacher - before they fill positions with intern teachers violates Education Code section 44225.7."

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