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Commission Delays Decision on Limiting Use of Novice Teachers

Federal law calls for all instructors in low-income areas to be 'highly qualified.' Districts say there's a shortage of such people.

October 03, 2003|Erika Hayasaki | Times Staff Writer

Responding to strong protests from educators and districts, a state commission on Thursday postponed a decision on whether to prohibit teachers with emergency permits from working in schools that serve mostly low-income students.

The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing decided to take up the issue in December, giving its 15 members more time to assess the challenges districts face in replacing the novice teachers.

California is trying to come into compliance with a new federal law that requires public schools to employ only "highly qualified" teachers. But the effort could cause several thousand teachers to lose their jobs this academic year.

At a hearing in Sacramento on Thursday, nearly 20 speakers criticized the proposal. They included representatives from state unions and the Los Angeles and Long Beach school districts, as well as districts in Riverside, San Bernardino and Orange County.

About 150 people attended the meeting.

Districts said they would be forced to replace lost teachers with substitutes, who are permitted to serve just 30 days at a stretch. Some districts already are hiring as substitutes those they laid off as emergency-credentialed teachers.

"We're concerned that teachers in all of our shortage areas will not magically appear," said Joy Carter of the Orange County Department of Education. Nearly 1,000 Orange County teachers could be affected by the decision.

"We just have great difficulty in hiring teachers," she said. "The idea that these classes could be staffed by substitutes is unconscionable. That's not a good way to educate students."

Under the No Child Left Behind Act, all Title I schools -- campuses that receive federal funds because they serve predominantly low-income students -- must employ only "highly qualified teachers."

And all schools, regardless of students' economic status, must employ highly qualified teachers by the 2005-06 school year.

In California, "highly qualified" means teachers who have completed a certain amount of education coursework and passed tests on basic subjects required to enter a credentialing program.

Some educators argued Thursday that the requirements are a good idea.

As it stands, they said, credentialed teachers sometimes have trouble finding jobs at districts that hire instructors with emergency permits.

"I love teaching, and I want to teach," said Terry Padilla, a fully credentialed teacher who was laid off from her San Bernardino teaching job this year. "But I cannot find work, and I do not sympathize with some of these districts."

Commissioner Elaine C. Johnson said Padilla's situation was "really, really troubling" to her.

"Why are there folks out there who have credentials who can't find jobs?" she said. "The reason a person has emergency credentials is because the candidate has not yet demonstrated subject matter competence.... At some point we have to stop issuing these [permits], and that should be sooner rather than later."

Commissioner Alan Bersin said the state must place highly qualified teachers in the classroom because "without improving the quality of instruction ... then in fact we will not see improvement in performance."

He added that he understands the districts' challenges, but the commission cannot keep postponing its decision. Instead, it must spend the next two months crafting a workable solution and time frame that districts can follow.

John Perez, president of United Teachers-Los Angeles, told the commission that prohibiting emergency-credentialed teachers in a district as large as L.A. Unified would be detrimental.

Teacher shortages have eased, he said, but it is still difficult to staff math, science and special-education classrooms.

"We're always going to need emergency-credentialed teachers," he said.

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