The last gasps of the
110th 111th Congress may well produce a small provision looking to protect the right of Teach for America and other programs to send tens of thousands of teachers in training to teach in disproportionate numbers in low-income and high minority schools—and to do so without public exposure or scrutiny.
The provision, which has grassroots and community groups across the country up in arms, would permit teachers still training in night or weekend alternative preparation programs (known as interns in some states) to be labeled as "highly qualified" teachers under No Child Left Behind. That designation relieves districts of having to tell parents of the teacher's sub-par preparation and allows their continued concentration in poor and minority schools.
The provision originally appeared Tuesday in the Omnibus budget bill that Sen Reid pulled off the floor Thursday night. John Affeldt's Huffington Post piece shone light on the language in that bill, noting:
The attempt to insert the controversial language comes just weeks after a panel of the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Renee v. Duncan agreed with low-income students and community organizations that teachers still in training are not "highly qualified" under NCLB and, as such, would have to be publicly reported and equitably distributed.
Teach for America, which has vociferously opposed the lawsuit and has substantial clout on Capitol Hill, is the most likely suspect behind the covert attempt to overturn the court's decision through stealth legislation.
Now, word has it that TFA has pushed hard and may succeed in inserting the language in the Continuing Resolution, which must be approved by Tuesday.
A last-minute spending bill negotiated behind closed doors is no place to make a substantive change to NCLB that will have far-reaching effects on low-income and minority students’ access to qualified teachers.
This amendment will enshrine into law the practice of concentrating intern teachers-in-training into low-income, high-minority schools by defining these teachers as "highly qualified." NCLB promised our children the right to equal access to fully-trained, "highly qualified" teachers. Through this amendment, Congress would be turning its back on that promise.
In strongly-worded press statements and a letter to Congress last week, grassroots community groups representing over half a million low and moderate income families across the country made it clear that they want equal access to the same fully prepared teachers that affluent communities have but apparently Teach for America hasn’t heard them. They are more intent on maintaining their current business model.
The amendment will also gut the parent-right-to-know provisions of NCLB by relieving districts of their obligation to inform parents when their child is being taught by a teacher who is not fully-credentialed. Parents have a right to know when their child is being taught by a teacher who is not fully-credentialed.
If Congress truly supports making low-income students and students of color the training ground for intern teachers who are still learning how to teach, then it should make this radical policy change in the full light of day, through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization process.
The point Affeldt makes at the end of his post remains the same.
The irony of the amendment has not been lost on parents and students. As William Browning from ACTION United in Pennsylvania said today, "It's so wrong that a law that was meant to promote transparency, accountability, and parental participation is being gutted through a last minute, behind-closed-doors appropriations act with little public participation or scrutiny."
Even if the last minute attempts to include the amendment in the omnibus bill and/or the fallback Continuing Resolution fail, this 11th-hour introduction does not bode well for an open and democratic debate on teacher quality equity going forward.
The answer to whether the provision is revived in the Continuing Resolution is behind closed doors as of this writing. However it comes out, this is not how to make education policy, particularly when it comes to deciding teacher quality for the nation’s neediest students.