Interns’ ability to count as teachers questioned in court

A San Francisco-based civil-rights group has filed a federal challenge against the U.S. Department of Education, seeking a little truth in advertising when it comes to putting qualified teachers in classrooms.

Public Advocates — the group that sponsored the 2004 Williams Settlement, which secures $800 million to ensure students equal access to instructional materials — argued recently that the U.S. Department of Education was wrong to allow school districts to classify interns as “highly qualified” teachers, spokesman John Affeldt said.

Since the decision on intern classification was enacted in 2002, the number of interns acting as teachers in California has grown from 7,000 to more than 10,000 — and they tend to be assigned to low-performing schools, according to data from Public Advocates.

“No Child Left Behind is supposed to push districts to meet the ambitious goal of having 100 percent highly qualified teachers,” Affeldt said.

Interns are defined as teachers who are still in school and working toward their credential. Public Advocates is seeking a legal clarification to what “highly qualified” means, restricting it to teachers who are already credentialed, according to a statement from the group.

The U.S. Department of Education would not comment on the case while it remains in litigation, spokeswoman Jane Glickman said.

In San Francisco, 66 of the district’s more than 3,100 teachers are still working toward their credential, according to district spokeswoman Gentle Blythe. The majority are special-education teachers, and many have credentials but are teaching outside their credential subject, she said. “The concept of a teacher intern puts someone in the classroom and demands that they take on a full load as a student — they’re under all those pressures at the same time,” said Dennis Kelly, president of the United Educators of San Francisco. “It’s a horrible thing and should only be done as a last resort.”

Judge Phyllis Hamilton heard arguments on both sides recently, but did not indicate how she would rule. Plaintiffs are hoping for a judgment within several weeks or by year’s end, Affeldt said.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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