The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing will now require non-credentialed Teach For America teachers and other intern teachers to receive more training in how to teach English learners and to get weekly on-the-job mentoring and supervision.
The Commission’s unanimous vote last week followed two hours of public testimony and debate among commissioners over 14 separate recommendations aimed at improving the rigor and preparation of interns to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to teach the state’s 1.4 million English learners.
In 2010-11, the most recent data available, California granted 2,245 intern credentials out of 18,734 according to its annual report to the Legislature. Of those, about 700 are in Teach For America; the rest are in a variety of alternative credentialing programs through which they can start teaching and earning a salary after receiving a minimum of 120 hours of training.
In traditional teacher preparation programs in California, college graduates attend a year-long postgraduate program at a college or university focused on teaching skills, classroom management and student teaching. They don’t get a paid teaching job until they’ve passed all the required exams and are credentialed by the CTC. Intern programs are considered an alternative route to teaching and are generally offered through school districts in partnership with colleges or through county offices of education. Part of their appeal is that students can start teaching after 120 hours of pre-service training and earn a salary while going to school. Courses are usually held after school.
Civil rights groups have long raised concerns about the readiness of interns to teach English learners, who are disproportionately poor and in special education. Under the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, also known as No Child Left Behind, interns, who generally take classes toward earning their credentials in the evening while teaching during the day, are considered highly qualified teachers. However, in California, many of them have bare-bones training in teaching English learners.
Under the new regulations, interns, the Commission, school districts and intern programs will have to meet the following requirements:
- Every intern program approved by the CTC must have a memorandum of understanding between the program administrators and the school district outlining the responsibilities of each, such as who provides supervision and support in the classroom;
- Interns must receive 144 hours of support during the school year, with a minimum of two hours per week, in course planning, coaching within the classroom and problem solving;
- Districts must also provide an additional 45 hours per year of support, mentoring and coaching specifically focused on teaching English learners from a mentor teacher who has an English learner authorization;
- The Commission will establish minimum levels of content and expectations for what interns need to learn during their 120 hours of pre-service training, before they begin the formal intern program;
- Districts will have to submit biennial reports to the CTC containing the number of interns they have and what type of supervision and support they’re receiving.
Teri Clark, director of the CTC’s professional services division said during the meeting that the new requirements are just the basic standards. “A program may always do more than what the Commission sets. The Commission’s requirements are minimum standards,” said Clark.
action was surprisingly quick, coming one month after commissioners asked staff for a detailed plan and just weeks after a stakeholders’ meeting to review that proposal and work through their differences.
The result was a consensus that members of the stakeholders group themselves referred to as something of a Kumbaya moment.
“This is really like lions lying down with lambs,” joked David Simmons, with the Ventura County Office of Education, as he and representatives of the state teachers union, school boards association, administrators and county superintendents presented joint testimony before the Commission.
“Our view of things is that you have done a great job,” Bill Lucia, president of EdVoice, told the CTC. “There’s still a lot of work to do; I think you’re absolutely on the right track.”
Advocacy and civil rights groups, the teachers union and administrator organizations are generally on the same page about what additional work needs to be done. Their concerns and outstanding questions center
on two main issues – the level of proficiency that interns will have to meet to teach English learners, and how to squeeze more instruction into an already packed 120 hours of pre-service training.
The recommendations are not specific enough about what interns need to learn and be able to do, testified Tara Kini, a staff attorney with Public Advocates. “Is it just that the programs must expose them to those standards, do they have to meet some level of proficiency or is it the same mastery level that someone completes at their preliminary preparation program? We think it should be some level of proficiency because they’re earning an English learner authorization that authorizes them to teach English learners on day one,” said Kini.
But Los Angeles Unified School District has a very different worry about intern teachers: They come, they get trained, they move on to schools in better neighborhoods or high-paying districts, leaving students with one intern after another.
“Those students unfortunately are experiencing a churning year after year of interns,” Janet Davis, director of a Los Angeles Unified School District committee that provides access to professional development classes, told the Commission. “We had a strand of kids who actually had an entire elementary experience with only intern teachers. And those students suffered.”