SF federal court: Intern teachers can be deemed “highly qualified”

When it comes to filling teaching vacancies, the Oakland school district relies heavily on “interns,” college graduates who are still working to complete their certification. About 40 percent of new OUSD hires in recent years fall into this category; they come through “alternate route” programs such as Teach for America and Oakland Teaching Fellows.

Andy Kwok, the teacher we’ve been following at EXCEL High School, is one of them. He majored in biology, the subject he teaches, but jumped straight into the classroom after a short summer preparation program. He took education classes at night.

Kwok and other intern teachers are considered “highly qualified” by the U.S. Department of Education. But Public Advocates, a civil rights law firm, challenged that definition in a lawsuit last year. They argued it violates the spirit of the No Child Left Behind law, and that it lets school systems get away with hiring less experienced teachers.

But today, a federal court in San Francisco upheld the status quo in this ruling. Public Advocates says they’ll likely appeal.

Do you think teachers without a full credential should be considered “highly qualified?” Do you think this classification system, in general, helps parents gauge whether their kid’s teacher is any good?

image from Xochiquetzal-Sil:)’s site at flickr.com/creativecommons

Katy Murphy

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

  • John

    With the advent of ‘No Child Left Behind’ teachers are presentation cogs in the education machine. A No Child Left behind credentialing program should take about two weeks and be restricted to: (2) assessing a teacher candidate’s ability to read from a (curriculum) script; (2) a lecture and book or two on managing bored students subjected to ‘one curriculum fits all’ presentations;(3) several weeks of supervised classroom teaching (curriculum recitation) experience; (4) a review of different medications designed to keep students awake and/OR in their seats and/OR non-aggressive; and, (5) a long lecture on parasites, teacher unions, and your pay check.

    In addition to the above, a stint in a modified police academy should also be required for teachers applying to Oakland and the like.

  • Sharon

    Katy: Although this is off-topic, as the 1st anniversary of The Education Report draws near, I would like to tell you how much I appreciate it. I am grateful that you are keeping us up-to-date with the many important things going on with Oakland’s public education these days, and I also appreciate (most of) the discussions which ensue. Hopefully, the cumulative knowledge, wisdom and sensibility of community members might make even make its way up to the decision-makers on Second Ave. (and elsewhere) who are reading this blog. Thanks for all you do!

  • Katy Murphy

    Many thanks, Sharon. The first blog post was published just over one year ago now. I wasn’t sure, at first, how long this thing would last or whether anyone would actually read it.

    I want to keep the forum fresh, possibly by adding new features. Please keep the tips and suggestions coming!

  • Public school fan

    I second the kudos regarding your efforts, Katy, and the importance of this blog. Without this blog, we would have very little information on the state of Oakland’s public education. And more importantly, we wouldn’t be able to compare notes with what is happening in the different schools to which we are attached and the responses we get (or don’t get) from the district and the Board. Thanks so much, Katy!

  • Nextset

    I generally don’t have a problem with grad student teachers, my problems are the schools sending these new teachers into classrooms where the “students” are not sorted for education but are random lots of unhomogenized students that will be difficult to teach at the same time.

    Students reading at 6th grade level should not be in a room (or on a campus) with students reading at 12th grade level. When that occurs you don’t get the results you should for the classroom time.

    As far as the blog goes: Education policy and education results affect real estate values (and always has) as well as employment in a community. It is important to have a dialog going. Katy: If you really want to have some fun post pictures of the Educrats along with their bios and article about their duties, policies and philosophy. Run more stats about OUSD and it’s students, and run stories about what happens to students after OUSD, college bound, work bound and jail bound (A,B & C track!). I’d like to see dialog about to what extent OUSD shaped (near term) the outcomes of their lives.

  • Sharon

    I agree with the Public Advocates’ point. My problem with the Teach For America types is that, although they are smart, well-educated, ambitious, and well-intentioned, they don’t have a clue about the social dynamics in the world they have entered. As a result, the classrooms are often in chaos. At least a person who has gone through the traditional route of being a student teacher has hopefully absorbed a year’s worth of useful classroom management skills from their mentor.

    From what my daughter in college has told me, the TFA positions are highly coveted these days and it’s harder than ever to get in. (Those two years will sure look good on that millennial’s medical school application!)

    Although I didn’t start out being this cynical, and I have liked most of the young people I have met (what’s not to like?), I have become suspicious of the rescuer mentality promoted and reinforced by TFA. At its core is a presumption that these individuals are going to “eliminate educational inequity” because they are the “nation’s most promising future leaders.” (TFA web site). To me the program is just another one of those short-sighted cures that people want to believe.

    The program is based on the assumption that enough people doing a two-year stint in “ghetto” schools will correct the problems. Of course, the first year will be a sink-or-swim, on-your-own, learning-on-the-job year, and the second will be just slightly better (if the baby teachers can stand to return). Then their nightmare, but socially eye-opening enlistment will be over and they will be free to go on their way. Of course the teaching positions get filled and that makes the school districts happy, but the students aren’t really getting any closer to being taught by a set of teachers who have built up their professional excellence year after year.

    Also, because there are so many of these young teachers filling the ranks (they’re cheap), I see this model contributing to even more teacher turnover, a lack of respect and understanding for what it takes to be a truly successful teacher in this difficult setting, a weakening of worker protections for all teachers (at their age these teachers are not thinking about health insurance for their children, sane and sustainable work hours, or retirement benefits yet, so they aren’t likely to be interested in pressing for them), a perpetuation of the myth that teachers have the ability to close the achievement gap on their own (and in fact, are supposed to), and an assumption that the people who have been working in these “failing” schools all along are deficient in some way (many of the naïve youngsters are quite judgmental, you know).

    Nextset’s idea is one way to go, but I like my daughter’s suggestion even more. She made it through Bret Harte and Skyline and had her share of bozo classmates who wasted everyone else’s time (although she ultimately prevailed). Being someone very familiar with this school environment, she said that each of the inexperienced, upper middle class, never-set-foot-in-a-“ghetto”-school-before, TFA-type teachers should be given a tough, young-adult, former Oakland public school student who would be their enforcer of proper behavior in the classrooms. Then, maybe that paired set of two young adults could make a dent.

  • Nextset

    Sharon, when I took Biology at Oakland Tech’s summer school (run by UC Berkeley at that time) our instructors were two female UC Berkeley Grad Students (maybe 25 years old?). They were glamourous, charming, very tough and very professional. I’m not sure of my memory of how large the class was but I think we had maybe 22 students. We got a year’s worth of credit in the summer session so the class went long hours from 8am or earlier to late in the afternoon. All the kids were pre-screened (prerequisite classes had been taken) and could keep up. If you missed more than 3 days for any reason (regardless of fault) you were out. In hindsight I see these teachers would not get such a pre-screened group of students in a normal school setting. We all enjoyed the experience. There were no problems.

    I remember extraordinary attention compared to a normal class at high school where there was typically 1 instructor with 28 or so kids. It was a great experience. I’d love for kids to have this model but the schools now would probably have to say they just couldn’t afford it.

  • Cranky teacher

    I’ve known and worked alongside a lot of TFA’ers, heard all the arguments pro and con, read all the NYT puff pieces on the org, etc., and think that everybody overthinks this.

    Here’s the deal: If districts like OUSD could fill their ranks with respected young-ish veterans, they would not use TFA (or there own even less impressive “Oakland Teaching Fellows” program).

    TFA is what it is — a stopgap that at least produces some wonderful teachers and steers a few kids into teaching who wouldn’t have gone there.

    The same lack of logic applies to those like John who think the unions are the problems because they protect burntout or incompetent veterans. Let me ask you: Do you see a line of people trying to fill these rooms being held down by mediocre older teachers hanging on until retirement?

    Last summer I put my resume in the Oakland system and was offered nine jobs within 24 hours. Some of these schools had lost 80% of their teachers in turnover.

    What happens when a TFA or Fellows teacher is not recruited to fill a class? Subs or illegal overcrowding, for months or even the whole year.

    TFA as a solution is certainly overhyped by its fundraisers, but it is no way a PROBLEM.

    People need to realize this is triage.

    If I was the new superintendent, I’d put a spending freeze on all curriculum purchases and fancy pilot programs until you had found a way (ahem, higher salaries) to solve the turnover and recruitment issues.


  • John

    Cranky says: “…those like John who think the unions are the problems because they protect burnt-out or incompetent veterans.”

    Given this/your gross misrepresentation of what I “think” I hope none of your “nine OPS job offers” have anything to do with teaching reading comprehension.


    HERE’S A JOB SUGGESTION! Skyline needs a gardener.

  • Cranky teacher

    John, no need to get nasty.

  • John

    Cranky, no need to misrepresent another’s stated views.

  • Cranky teacher

    John: Why don’t you explain your views on the union(s)? Then I won’t have to read between the lines of your complaints, apparently wrongly.

    I apologize for misinterpreting your words.

    Now might you apologize for:

    a) Insulting PE teachers.
    b) Insulting gardeners.
    c) Shouting in all-caps.


  • John

    You’re right Cranky; I shouldn’t put P.E. teachers and gardeners in the same category with you and profusely apologize for it.

    Please my posts about the (OEA) union. There are a number of places where I write succinctly between lines large enough to accommodate first grade handwriting practice.

    Someone needs to put their reading glasses and thinking cap, but I won’t mention any names!

    Thanks for your apology. I’m sorry too.

    GO RAIDERS! Oops!