Renee v. Duncan
In August 2007, Public Advocates and Goodwin Procter, representing Californians for Justice, California ACORN and several parents and students, sued the United States Department of Education and the Secretary of Education for violating the teacher quality provisions of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. In the first lawsuit of its kind, 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 intern teachers-in-training as “highly qualified.”
All students are owed a highly qualified teacher under No Child Left Behind and where a state or district lacks 100% highly qualified teachers, low-income students and students of color may not be disproportionately taught by not “highly qualified” teachers. NCLB defines “highly qualified” teachers as having their state’s level of “full certification,” yet the Department’s regulation allows intern teachers who are only making “progress toward full certification” to be deemed “highly qualified.” As a result, students who attend low-income, high minority schools in California are disproportionately taught by interns who are still in training and working toward full certification.
In July 2009, the Ninth Circuit issued a disappointing 2-1 decision in Renee v. Duncan (573 F.3d 903 (9th Cir. 2009)), largely agreeing on the merits but determining that Plaintiffs lacked standing. Plaintiffs filed a petition for rehearing before the panel or in the alternative before the full Ninth Circuit in August 2009.
On September 27, 2010, in a rare reversal of an earlier decision, the same three judge panel withdrew its prior opinion and issued a decision in favor of Plaintiffs. By a 2-1 margin, in a decision authored by Judge William Fletcher, the panel affirmed the plaintiffs’ standing and accepted their arguments, reversing a lower federal district court decision. The court held that:
The “precise question at issue” is the difference between the meaning of “has obtained” full State certification in the statute…and the meaning of “demonstrates satisfactory progress toward” full State certification in the [U.S. Department of Education] regulation…The difference between having obtained something and merely making satisfactory progress toward that thing is patent. We conclude that the Secretary’s regulation impermissibly expands the definition of “highly qualified teacher” … by including in that definition an alternative-route teacher who merely “demonstrates satisfactory progress toward” the requisite “full State certification.” 623 F.3d 787, 2010 U.S. App. LEXIS 19933, at *19-20 (9th Cir. 2010).
The effect of the decision is that intern teachers-in-training must be fairly spread across classrooms, and parents notified when their student has one of these teachers. Contrary to the claims of Teach for America and other alternative certification programs, who have filed an amicus brief urging the Court to reconsider its decision, the decision will not mean that interns can no longer teach in California or elsewhere.
However, it will, for the first time, apply rigor and daylight to what has previously lacked both. States and districts will not be at liberty to rely indefinitely on underprepared novice interns and concentrate them in low-income, high minority schools, and they will not be able to mislabel brand new interns as “highly qualified” teachers in communications with parents or reports to the public and Congress. If districts and states use interns to fill shortages or for other purposes, they will, for the first time, be held accountable. They will bear the political consequences of failing to supply fully-prepared teachers and will have incentives, previously lacking, to provide inducements to attract such teachers and improve teacher preparation pipelines. In short, the panel’s decision finally allows NCLB’s critical transparency and accountability provisions related to highly qualified teachers to operate as Congress intended them to.
Unfortunately, in the final days of the lame-duck session in December 2010, Congress passed an amendment as part of the Continuing Resolution to fund the government (H.R. 3082) that seeks to overturn the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Renee v. Duncan. This amendment, inserted in the law at the eleventh hour and without public debate, temporarily codifies the Bush-era regulation that the Ninth Circuit struck down in Renee. While NCLB defined “highly qualified” teachers as those who have completed full state certification, the Department’s regulation diluted that definition by allowing states to label teachers still in training – and in many cases at the very beginning of their training – in alternative route preparation programs as “highly qualified.” Senator Tom Harkin and Representative George Miller, chairs of the respective education committees in each house, defended the temporary amendment, which runs through the 2012-2013 school year, as seeking to avoid any mid-year disruptions to schools caused by the Ninth Circuit’s decision.
The Renee plaintiffs, as well as other grassroots organizations representing over half a million low-income families nationwide, sent a letter to Congress strongly opposing the amendment. Read our Huffington Post blogs about this issue. For more information about the coalition of over 70 organizations who have opposed Congress’s amendment and joined forces to demand that Congress provide all students with fully-prepared and effective teachers visit our project page, Federal Advocacy: Fully Prepared and Effective Teachers for All Students.
The Department of Education’s petition for rehearing/rehearing en banc is currently pending before the Ninth Circuit.
NOTE: Case was formerly called Renee v. Spellings when originally filed during the Bush Administration.
September 26, 2012
September 11, 2012
September 10, 2012
July 18, 2012
December 16, 2010