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Are Teachers in Training Good Enough for Special Ed.?

In September, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California threw out 2002 regulations from the U.S. Department of Education that said No Child Left Behind's highly qualified teacher designation could be applied to someone working on their certification. The rule allowed teaching interns and teachers in training to count as "highly qualified."

A group of California parents and advocacy groups had sued the federal Education Department, saying teachers in training were more likely to be found at schools where a majority of students were members of a minority group, and those parents would have no way of knowing their children's teachers were still in training since they were labeled "highly qualified." (No Child Left Behind required all teachers, at all schools, with a few exceptions, to be considered "highly qualified by the 2005-06 school year.)

But in December, Congress slipped a provision into an appropriations bill that essentially undid the California court's ruling.

That has made groups representing children with disabilities, minority children and teachers—including both the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association—angry. Late last month, they sent a letter to President Barack Obama about their concerns.

"Our concern with this provision (and with any federal policy that reinforces the unequal allocation of fully trained and certified teachers to all students) is that it disproportionately impacts our most vulnerable populations: low-income students and students of color, English-language learners, and students with disabilities who are most often assigned such underprepared teachers."

In the court ruling, the dissenting judge called the lawsuit an attack on Teach for America participants and their intern status as meeting the "highly qualified" teacher definition. The organization is celebrating its 20th anniversary this week.

It's unclear whether the regulation will be challenged again. In an interview this week with Disability Scoop, Alexa Posny, assistant secretary for the Office of Special Education, said the provision may be a necessity as the pool of existing special education teachers shrinks in coming years.

"When we think about the teachers working with kids with disabilities, they need to be the most effective, the most highly qualified, the most skilled we have. If you can teach a child with a disability, I've always said you can teach any child," Posny told the website. "What we've got on the other side, is we know that within five to 10 years, the majority of our teachers who are special educators are probably going to retire. I believe we're going to need 40,000 to 50,000 more special educators in the next 10 years. That's a big pool. We need to make sure that the alternative-route programs have teachers just as prepared as anyone else."

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