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The Intern Debate

Here’s my hypothetical question for the day: Should a math or science major with next to no teaching experience but subject-matter expertise count as a “highly qualified” teacher under No Child Left Behind?

Public Advocates, a San Francisco civil rights firm, doesn’t think so. The group helped Bay Area families file suit this week against the U.S. Department of Education, arguing that the agency was watering down the requirements by allowing these “interns” to be considered highly qualified.

They noted that urban districts such as Oakland have a much greater percentage of interns than more affluent areas. Last year, about 11 percent of Oakland’s teachers were interns, meaning they were completing their teacher’s training while on the job, rather than before.

Troy Flint, an Oakland school district spokesman, says people in the central office are passionate in their defense of the intern option, especially for hard-to-staff areas such as math and science. He argues that it allows people with math and science backgrounds to more easily switch careers. 

“If we were never to use intern teachers, there would be almost no math or science teachers,” Flint said. 

Then again, a study released today by the Center on Education Policy suggests this whole “highly qualified teacher” provision might not be what it’s cracked up to be. Here is a cut from their news release:

The report finds that while most of the nation’s school districts—about 83 percent—report that they are on track to be in full compliance with the No Child Left Behind Act’s “highly qualified” teacher requirements, more than half of states and two-thirds of school districts report that the requirements have had little impact on student achievement, with only 6 percent of states and 4 percent of districts indicating that the requirements have improved achievement to a great extent. In addition, 19 states (38 percent) and almost three-quarters (74 percent) of districts say NCLB’s requirements have had a minimal or nonexistent impact on the effectiveness of the teacher workforce.

The report is available at www.cep-dc.org.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Jim Mordecai

    These figures on the Oakland teaching force are impossible to follow. On Saturday you reported 40% of the teacher workforce was in partnership programs and now we get an 11% report regarding interns.

    If interns are not included in the 40% figure does that mean 51% of the 2,000 or so Oakland teachers are in the partnership and intership programs and being considered NCLB highly qualified?

  • Katy Murphy

    The district says that in recent years, they’ve hired 40 percent of their teachers from partnership programs. As I mentioned on Monday, I originally asked about the total teaching make-up, but the question seems to have been interpreted differently. I’m still waiting on the answer.

    In any event, some of the teachers hired as interns years ago would have completed their credentialing programs by now, so they would no longer be counted in the 11 percent figure.

  • http://ibabuzz.com?education Steve Weinberg

    In general, I would say that the NCLB requirement for “highly qualified teachers” has hurt the inner city school that I work at. Especially in the case of Math teachers and Special Education teachers, the requirements have forced us to let go of some experienced teachers and rely on a series of interns. These interns have to earn their credentials while first-year teaching, a huge challenge, and many of them leave after a few years.
    Two steps that would reduce the problem: 1. allow teachers with multiple subject credentials to teach full math programs in grades 6, 7, and 8. They are already allowed to teach those classes if they also teach Science to the same students, but letting them teach full math programs would ease the shortage of math teachers and allow us to better use some of our experienced staff members. 2. decide on some type of multiple subject credential for special education teachers. We keep being told that at some point in the future a special ed teacher who teaches all subjects in middle school will be to be highly qualified in all of the subjects. Maybe that rule has already been changed, but I haven’t heard what the rules are.