Court Says Teachers Still in Training Aren’t “Highly Qualified” Under Federal Law

Last week a federal appeals court in California held that alternative-route teachers still in training are not “highly qualified” under the federal education law, the No Child Left Behind Act. The U.S. Department of Education has interpreted the “highly qualified” requirement to allow individuals who “demonstrate satisfactory progress” toward certification to be deemed the equivalent of a teacher who “has obtained” full certification. The court said, “The difference between having obtained something and merely making satisfactory progress toward that thing is patent.” Accordingly, the court threw out the Education Department’s regulation for impermissibly expanding the definition of “highly qualified teacher.”

The two-to-one decision by the three-judge panel dealt specifically with “intern” teachers in California public schools, but its implications are national in scope, calling into question the truthful labeling of many teachers in training by alternative routes such as the Teach for America program. Plaintiffs in the California case said “research shows that graduates from alternative programs such as Teach For America and Troops To Teachers can be as effective as traditional-route graduates, but that participants in those and other programs who are still in training do not improve student achievement as much as fully prepared teachers who have completed their teacher training.”