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UPDATED: Don't Count Alternative Certification Out Just Yet

In a surprise reversal, a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated part of the regulations governing the "highly qualified" teacher requirements of the No Child Left Behind law.

In essence, the court agreed with plaintiffs who argued that, under the regulations, California permitted poor and minority students to be taught disproportionately by "intern" teachers who are not yet fully certified—therefore subjecting the students to a lower-quality education.

Mark Walsh has the full scoop over at The School Law Blog.

Under the NCLB law, states are expected to staff all of their core academic classes with "highly qualified" teachers, who hold a bachelor's degree, are fully certified, and demonstrate subject-matter mastery. But the Education Department's regulations allow for teachers to be considered "highly qualified" even if not fully certified for up to three years, as long as they are in an approved alternative route program and are making "satisfactory" progress. California's intern teachers generally fall in this category.

So what are the immediate implications of this ruling? States have certainly had a lot of problems getting their HQT counts to pass muster with the Education Department over the last eight years. With this ruling the ones covered by the 9th Circuit ruling are probably tearing out their hair, since their counts are now invalid again.

[UPDATE (5:04 p.m.): Mike Petrilli also makes the excellent point that states under the purview of the 9th Circuit face some immediate consequences—like having to send out letters to parents whose students taught by intern teachers saying those teachers are no longer considered highly qualified.]

But that may be premature for states in other circuits. According to David DeSchryver, an attorney at the Washington-based Brustein & Manasevit firm who specializes in federal education law, the ruling would be "persuasive" for other circuit courts but not necessarily binding on them. It certainly would, though, open the door to additional challenges.

On the other hand, the court's major argument that the regulation constitutes an "injury in fact" could probably be debated given the less-than-stellar links between certification and student outcomes, he added. So, the smart money says that the Justice Department, on behalf of the U.S. Department of Education, will file its own challenge to this ruling.

A source at Teach For America, a large and high-profile group that has opposed this lawsuit, told me today that it's closely watching to see how the ruling plays out.

"We are confident that the administration and/or Congress will act to ensure that highly effective, alternatively certified teachers continue to be classified as highly qualified," the official said.

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