Organizations Join Forces in Urging Obama Administration, Congress to Reverse Course.
In an urgent letter sent Thursday to President Obama and key Congressional leaders, more than fifty organizations from across the country - including civil rights, disability, parent, student, community and education groups - criticized a provision signed into law last month lowering teaching standards required under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The provision allows thousands of under-prepared and inexperienced teachers to continue to be assigned disproportionately to low-income, minority, special education, and English language learner students and denies parents notification of the teachers' under-prepared status.
Intended to overturn a recent civil rights ruling won by low-income students and parents of color in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (Renee v. Duncan), the provision was quietly added by key Congressional leaders into the Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government the day before the CR was passed on December 21, 2010.
In Renee v. Duncan, the Ninth Circuit struck down a Bush-era regulation that labeled teachers who have not met the standards for full state credentials as "highly qualified" from the first moment they begin training in alternative route preparation programs. The court ruled that the regulation patently conflicted with the unambiguously expressed intent of Congress in NCLB that only teachers "who have obtained" full credentials be deemed "highly qualified." The designation is important under NCLB as all non-highly qualified teachers must be reported to parents and the public and cannot be concentrated in low-income, high-minority schools.
Urging the President and Congress to reverse course, the letter notes that the CR provision "disproportionately impacts our most vulnerable populations: low-income students and students of color, English language learners, and students with disabilities who are most often assigned such under-prepared teachers." Further, the provision "hides this disparate reality from parents and the public by disingenuously labeling teachers-in-training as 'highly qualified' and hindering advocacy for better prepared teachers."
Evidence in Renee shows that two-thirds of alternate route trainees in California teach in schools with 75 percent or greater minority students, while around half teach special education students.
"I don't understand why Congress and the Administration are interfering with the victory we won in court," said Maribel Heredia, a parent plaintiff in the Renee case. "I thought they supported equal access to experienced and fully-prepared teachers for the neediest students. We deserve at least the same quality of teachers as affluent communities."
"It's unacceptable that parents aren't required to be notified when their child's teacher is not qualified to teach school," added Mark Halpert, parent leader with The National Center for Learning Disabilities. "We know that the academic needs of children with disabilities cannot be met by someone who is working to become a qualified teacher, but not there yet. When our children are not being taught by the highly qualified teachers they deserve, parents have a right to be told exactly why this is happening and when the situation will be rectified."
League of United Latin American Citizens National President Margaret Moran echoed that sentiment with respect to English language learners. "These people have not yet been fully trained on how best to convey the subject matter, much less on how best to teach English and academic content to students who are still becoming proficient in English. Why are we continuing the status quo of allowing districts and states to send our students under-prepared teachers while calling them 'highly qualified'"
"The civil rights community is highly disturbed by this effort to overturn a court victory won by community groups and low-income parents of color," said Tanya Clay House, public policy director of the National Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights in Washington, D.C.. "Moreover, the fact that a major amendment of a primary federal education law being slipped into an appropriations bill at the eleventh hour is not how critical policies impacting our communities should be made."
The groups are calling for repeal of the CR provision and development of a transparent definition of teacher quality, along with a set of policies that will allow the nation to put a well-prepared and effective teacher in every classroom.
LETTER SIGNATORIES (as of 1:30pm PST, 1/26/11)
Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment
Alliance for Multilingual Multicultural Education
American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education
American Association of State Colleges and Universities
American Federation of Teachers ASPIRA Association
Association of University Centers on Disabilities
Autistic Self Advocacy Network
Bay Area Parent Leadership Action Network
California Association for Bilingual Education
California Latino School Boards Association
Californians for Justice
Campaign for Fiscal Equity
Campaign for Quality Education
Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning
Center for Teaching Quality
Citizens for Effective Schools
Coalition for Educational Justice
Council for Exceptional Children
Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates
Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund
ELC, Education Law Center
FairTest, The National Center for Fair & Open Testing
Higher Education Consortium for Special Education
Latino Elected and Appointed Officials
National Taskforce on Education
Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
Learning Disabilities Association of America
Los Angeles Educational Partnership
Movement Strategy Center
National Alliance of Black School Educators
National Center for Learning Disabilities
National Council for Educating Black Children
National Council of Teachers of English
National Disability Rights Network
National Down Syndrome Congress
National Down Syndrome Society
National Education Association
National Latino/a Education Research and Policy Project
National League of United Latin American Citizens
Parents for Unity
Philadelphia Education Fund
Public Advocates Inc.
Public Education Network
Rural School and Community Trust
School Social Work Association of America
Teacher Education Division of the Council for Exceptional Children
Texas Association for Chicanos and Higher Education
United Church of Christ Justice & Witness Ministries
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