By: Tara Kini
Date: April 15, 2013

In the struggle to get the best teachers into classrooms across California – especially in high-need schools in low-income neighborhoods — we’ve made considerable progress recently. How? We’re helping make sure teachers authorized to teach our state’s 1.4 million English language learners are actually prepared to do so.

The issue is this: For more than a decade, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CCTC) has granted an unqualified “English learner authorization” to intern teachers-in-training — even when they have had little to no specialized training in teaching English learners. Why does this matter?  In the words of Commissioner Tine Sloan:

An authorization is a warrant that assures parents that their students are being served by people who have had specialized training for teaching English learners . . . We have a significant research base to support that when teachers do receive specific training in [teaching ELs], they are more effective in helping our students learn. So it’s important that we also understand that [an EL authorization is] not just as a hoop, but it is the knowledge and skills that we have the research to say makes a difference in student learning.

Importantly, both federal and state law—as clarified in the Williams v. California settlementrequire that English learners be taught by teachers who possess the specialized training to teach them both academic content and a new language.

Training, Supervision, Communication
Here’s the good news: on March 7, after hearing from more than 50 public speakers, CCTC directed staff to consult with stakeholders and present recommendations for solving this problem by:

  • Giving interns EL training earlier in their internships;
  • Instituting stronger mentoring and supervision of interns teaching ELs; and
  • Accurately conveying interns’ level of training.

Put another way, the CCTC made it clear that it intends to end its practice of issuing an unqualified English learner authorization to interns regardless of the actual level of EL training and supervision they might or might not receive. (View the public hearing, beginning at 3:05.)

This is not the same as ending teacher internship programs, which is what Teach for America and other opponents would have you believe we’re saying. (Read our rebuttal in the San Jose Mercury News.) Instead, CCTC Commissioner Beverly Young told parents at the hearing:
The action we’re considering will not take away your intern teachers. It will not take away Teach for America. It will not take away alternative schools. All those people and institutions will still be there to teach your children. What this will do. . . we think is to help those teachers get the needed specialized training and support to work with your children. And it will ensure that you as parents know when your teachers have that training and support and when they don’t.
A Coalition of Supporters
The CCTC decided to review the intern issue after Public Advocates threatened to sue them over the unlawful English learner authorization. But Public Advocates is hardly the only group concerned with the issue. Twenty-eight groups signed a letter of support for this policy change, and others—such as the California PTA and the California Council on Teacher Education—sent their own.Indeed, one of the amazing aspects of this issue is the sheer depth and breadth of diversity among those advocating for stronger English learner training for interns. Grassroots organizations, academics, civil rights organizations, parents’ groups, educator organizations, even alumni from Teach for America (including Rigel Massaro, now an attorney with Public Advocates) are all advocating for making sure an “English learner authorization” actually means something and for ensuring that interns have the training and support they need to be successful with this group of students.

As Juliet Barraza, a parent advocate with Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund and the mother of two high school boys, testified:
As a parent, I am outraged that my district hired a person that was not fully-prepared with the specialized knowledge and training to deliver instruction to any of the children in [my son’s] special day class, including the students learning English. And worse, did not communicate this to parents.
The next step? Making sure the Commission follows through on its intention. The CCTC is scheduled to vote on April 18th to adopt the training, mentoring, and transparency policies the commissioners asked for in March. We and our allies will be there, urging the Commission to take this critical step towards more equal educational opportunities for California’s English learner students. Stay tuned.
For more coverage of this issue, see:
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