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Panel May Toughen Teaching Requirements

Instructors at mostly low-income schools who lack full credentials could lose their jobs.

October 02, 2003|Erika Hayasaki | Times Staff Writer

Several thousand novice California teachers may lose their jobs this year if a state commission votes today to prohibit instructors without full credentials from working in schools that serve mostly low-income students.

The proposal comes in response to a new federal education law sponsored by the Bush administration that requires public schools to employ "highly qualified" teachers.

But the change could create turmoil for some large urban school systems such as Los Angeles and Long Beach, which rely on teachers who have not completed credentialing programs.

Under present state policy, those instructors can receive so-called emergency permits from the state, which are renewable annually, for no more than five years.

"We just don't have enough highly qualified teachers to replace all the ones we will lose," said Deborah Hirsh, director of human resources for L.A. Unified, which could lose 1,000 instructors this year.

If the emergency credentials are discontinued in California, teachers would not lose their positions all at once because permits are renewed at various times throughout the year. Teachers could continue to work until their permits expire.

But some teachers could be forced out in the middle of the current semester. Last year, the state issued about 20,000 emergency permits.

Although teacher shortages have eased statewide, L.A. Unified and some other urban districts still are asking the 15-member California Commission on Teacher Credentialing to keep issuing emergency permits. If the commission votes to ban them, those districts say they might be forced to fill positions with substitutes, who do not necessarily meet the definition of highly qualified but are allowed to stay in a classroom for up to 30 days.

That is what already has happened in certain school districts, such as Oakland. The Bay Area school system fired 82 emergency-credentialed teachers this year and replaced nearly all of them with substitutes, said Kenneth Epstein, a spokesman for Oakland public schools.

In fact, some of the fired teachers are now substitutes, working for less money and fewer benefits.

"This is totally unfair," said Sheila Quintana, president of the Oakland Education Assn. teachers union.

Some educators, however, support cutting off the emergency permits, saying it would push districts to seek out more qualified teachers.

"The burden falls most heavily on students in the most challenging schools, those that have the most poor and minority and English-language learners," said Margaret Gaston, executive director for the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning, a California-based nonprofit organization dedicated to improving teaching. "And we feel very strongly that those children arguably need high quality and effective teaching the most, and ought to receive it."

The federal No Child Left Behind education act has mandated since July 2002 that Title I schools -- or campuses that receive federal funds because they serve predominantly low-income students -- employ only highly qualified teachers. There are 5,569 Title I schools in California. In districts like L.A. Unified, Title I schools tend to have the most teaching openings.

The law requires that all schools, regardless of students' economic status, employ highly qualified teachers by the 2005-06 school year.

The federal government left the definition of highly qualified up to states, and California's requirements are stiffer than others. Here, highly qualified generally means having completed one year's worth of post-baccalaureate education courses. Teachers also can be considered highly qualified and stay employed if they pass basic subject matter tests and are enrolled in credentialing programs.

"The bottom line is we all have to get there," said Marilyn Errett, a spokeswoman for the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, the 15-member board that will deliberate on the future of emergency permits in Sacramento today.

Most states are having difficulty meeting the federal standards, said Kathy Christie of the Education Commission of the States, a national nonprofit organization that tracks education trends and policies.

Daniel Langan, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education, said it is crucial for states to comply because research shows that student performance often hinges on the quality of the teacher.

Recognizing that the No Child Left Behind law created challenges for districts, the federal government is dispatching education experts to help teachers and districts along, Langan said. So far, Langan conceded, the rules on teachers' credentials have been loosely enforced and no states have been punished for being out of compliance.

"The ultimate penalty that the U.S. Department of Education can impose on a state is withholding of funds," he said, adding that such a move would be the last resort.

Barbara Kerr, president of the California Teachers Assn., said the push to meet federal standards is hurting students.

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