By: Tara Kini
Date: May 21, 2013

As a result of new policies adopted by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CCTC) in late April, students who are currently learning English will soon have teachers-in-training with substantially improved preparation and support, and parents will be better informed about teachers’ level of training. English learner students comprise 1.4 million of the state’s public school students, or approximately 1 in 4 students.

For more than a decade, the CCTC had granted an unqualified “English learner authorization” to intern teachers-in-training—even when they had had little to no specialized training in teaching English learners. Yet 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.

“Research tells us that English learners do better when their teachers have specialized training in how second language acquisition works and how to convey complex academic content in ways that emerging English learners can understand,” noted Shelly Spiegel-Coleman, Executive Director of Californians Together.

Diverse Stakeholders Weigh In

As we wrote in our April 15 blog, in response to the threat of a lawsuit from Public Advocates, the CCTC at its March meeting directed staff to consult with stakeholders and present recommendations for increasing training for teacher interns by:

  • Giving interns more EL training earlier in their internships;
  • Instituting stronger mentoring and supervision of interns teaching ELs; and
  • Accurately conveying interns’ level of training.
Unlike physician interns, who have graduated from medical school and are in their first year of a residency apprenticeship, teacher interns begin their teacher preparation program while also teaching full-time as regular paid classroom teachers during the day. Approximately 4,400 intern teachers are in classrooms statewide. The majority of them are assigned to low-income, high-minority schools serving large numbers of English learner students.
The issue—which has far-reaching impacts on the educational opportunities available to EL students—has generated broad public participation from parents, students, educators and advocates over the past four months as CCTC deliberated on its policy. On one side, Teach for America, Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst, and charter schools argued to maintain the status quo and spoke against any increase in standards for teacher interns. They claimed that changes in intern policies would make it more difficult for districts to hire interns like those from TFA.
On the other side, a broad coalition of grassroots organizations, academics, civil rights organizations, parents’ groups, educator organizations and even alumni from Teach for America itself pressed CCTC to take action to ensure interns have the training and support they need to be successful with the English learner students they are assigned to teach.
Consensus Support for Major Policy Reform
At its April 18th meeting, the CCTC specifically voted to:
  • Require more robust supervision and mentoring/support for interns(including supervision in teaching ELs), with an explicit requirement for the types and level of supervision to be provided by the internship program and employer.  For the first time, commission policy now specifies the number of hours of supervision/support that interns must receive from expert teachers (144 hours annually, or 16/month), with an additional 45 hours in EL-specific supervision (5 hours/month) if the intern does not hold a prior EL authorization.
  • Require greater specificity regarding the preparation to teach ELs that interns must receive during preservice, before they take over as teacher of record. The commission’s policy now identifies specific standards in teaching ELs that must be covered during preservice training, and a panel of experts will work over the coming months to flesh this out even further and determine whether additional preservice training time is required to meet these new standards.
  • Make the English learner authorization that interns receive conditionalon meeting these two requirements for EL preservice and increased supervision.
  • Report in a more transparent manner at the state and local levels where students are being taught by teachers who are still in training, including still in training with respect to teaching ELs.
The new policies approved by the commission appear to satisfy stakeholders on all sides, allowing interns to continue teaching EL students, but providing them with stronger EL training as well as supervision from experienced master teachers. The new policies also provide greater transparency to parents and the public about the fact that intern teachers are still undergoing training, including training in how to teach English learners.
“For the English learner students assigned to intern teachers-in-training, this policy change can make the difference between sinking or swimming in those classes,” says Tara Kini, senior staff attorney with Public Advocates and a former teacher. “CCTC’s action brings California an important step closer to providing equal educational opportunities for English learner students.”
This outcome would not have happened without the support of the broad coalition of organizations and individuals pressing for these changes through letters and public testimony before the commission. As Commissioner Shane Martin said, the policy discussion and resulting decision was part of a “great” “inclusive and democratic process.”
If you want to read the full agenda item and inserts, they are available here (Item 3C). To watch the commissioners’ discussion and public testimony at the April 18th meeting, click here (beginning around 3:25).
For more coverage of this issue, see:
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