V for Victory: Teach For America, ELLs, and California

Special Education and English Language Learners are considered vulnerable student populations. As a result, our society, courts, and policymakers have afforded these student populations special protections. However, in California, until recently, policy has allowed districts to offer rookie teachers limited access to training for teaching special populations— including Teach For America corps members.

I have often blogged about Teach For America’s issues here on Cloaking Inequity. However, I was still shocked a few months ago when I received this Facebook message from a former TFA corps member about their training to teach ELL and Special Education students:

Julian, solid piece on TFA. At this point I’m a recovering corps member. Was in the system for half a year doing special education. Complete lack of preparation coupled with serious problems with my regional corps and placement school led me to see how misguided the program was… The special ed problem sounds similar to the ELL situation. Specialized programs are really not given proper training. They [TFA] looped in ELL training with sped training over 2-3 days at the tail end of institute. Keep up the work, more light needs to be focused on it.

I have discussed previously on CI an emerging TFA Civil War where former corps members are increasingly critiquing TFA. In the post Battle for California: TFA Civil War, ELLs, and Teacher Quality, TFA alums made a call to their own. Here are excerpts from a letter written from TFA alums to TFA alums:

Right now you stand in a unique and powerful place to speak out for California’s English learners. For years, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) has been automatically giving intern teachers (including TFA corps members) an EL authorization with their intern credential, even though interns have not completed the requisite training to meet ELs’ special needs and in spite of uncontroverted research indicating that EL students do better with teachers who have completed such specialized training

Teach For America, Students First (Michelle Rhee’s organization), DFER, numerous charter schools, LAUSD Superintendent Deasy, and others sent the Commission a letter yesterday opposing the proposed policy change.  

Unfortunately, Teach for America is voicing strong opposition to the CTC’s reconsideration of this important issue. Even though the CTC staff’s recommendations do not threaten interns’ presence (or hierarchical preference) in California’s classrooms, and TFA has suggested that its summer institute program satisfies the state’s requirements for EL coursework and fieldwork, TFA is saying that enforcing the rights of ELs hampers districts’ and charters’ flexibility to hire intern teachers.  They also argue “there is no strong research base to support the general assertion currently on the table that students taught by “fully-prepared” novice teachers outperform students who are taught by interns…”

This is a simple issue that has been made complex: ELs require and are legally entitled to teachers specially trained to meet their needs, and parents deserve to know when ELs do not have fully prepared teachers. Interns without the EL authorization should be incentivized to obtain their EL authorization as soon as possible so they can address their EL students’ linguistic and academic challenges.

So what happened? Is California going to allow TFAers to continue teaching ELLs with only 2-3 days of summer “training”? There was good news recently from California for ELL students and their parents. Edsource reported:

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.

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.

V is for one Victory for the Vulnerable.

Meta: Why are reformers always so resistant to reform?

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