A group of California public school students, parents, and two non-profit organizations sued the United States Department of Education over what it means for a teacher to be "highly qualified." The students attended schools at which a significant number of intern teachers taught. They objected to classifying intern teachers, who do not have full state certification, as "highly qualified" teachers. They argued that a disproportionate number of intern teachers teach in minority and low-income California schools, and therefore, these students are not being taught by fully certified teachers at the same rate as more advantaged students in violation of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).
In 2002, Congress enacted NCLB "to ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education" and to close the achievement gaps between disadvantaged and more advantaged students. NCLB's Title I funds supplement the educational needs of disadvantaged students. To obtain Title I funds, a state must take steps to ensure that "poor and minority children are not taught at higher rates than other children by inexperienced, unqualified, or out-of-field teachers."
NCLB defines a "highly qualified teacher" as a teacher who has obtained full State certification, which includes certification obtained through alternative routes. In December 2010, Congress added section 163 to expand the definition of "highly qualified teacher" to teachers who are not yet certified as long as they are in an alternative route program and demonstrate satisfactory progress. Therefore, under section 163, intern teachers without any type of certification can be "highly qualified teachers."
Under California law, a teacher is "highly qualified" if the teacher has a full credential or is enrolled in an approved intern program. The California public school students argue that intern teachers should not be characterized as "highly qualified" teachers. They claim that being taught by intern teachers results in a lower quality of education than being taught by certified teachers. The students presented evidence that a disproportionate number of intern teachers in California teach in the schools with the highest concentrations of minority students.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that California's definition of "highly qualified teacher" is consistent with NCLB as long as Section 163 is in effect to include teachers participating in alternative route programs with satisfactory progress. However, the Court stated that section 163 is set to expire at the end of the 2012-2013 school year. If Congress does not renew section 163 after it expires, the definition of "highly qualified teacher" will not include teachers who do not hold certification.
Renee v. Duncan (9th Cir. 2012) ___ F.3d ___ [2012 WL 1624772].