Bill targets Teach For America interns running classrooms

Bill targets Teach For America interns running classrooms

(Calif.) Despite a stubborn teacher shortage in many parts of the state, lawmakers are considering a bill that would restrict the use of untrained and underqualified classroom educators in low-income schools.

Specifically, AB 221 by Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Downey, would prohibit the use of first and second year recruits of the Teach For America program in schools where more than 40 percent of the student population qualifies for free and reduced-price lunch.

The ban would begin with the 2020-21 school year.

“At the end of the day, I want to make sure that we have qualified teachers for our most vulnerable students,” Garcia said in a hearing last week. “I acknowledge that we have a teacher shortage, but I also have to ask myself if this is really the solution.

According to the California Teacher Credentialing Commission, the state issued 5,718 short-term permits and provisional internships in 2016-17—the two most common certificates that allow individuals still training to become fully licensed teachers to take control of a classroom.

Although only a small percentage of those interns are members of the Teach For America, Garcia pointed to a number of studies that raise issues with the quality of the nonprofit’s participants, especially during their first and second years in the classroom.

“Most peer reviewed studies indicate that the students of novice (Teach For America) teachers perform significantly lower in reading and mathematics than those of fully credentialed beginning teachers—except at the secondary level,” Garcia said in remarks included as part of the staff analysis of her bill.

She also provided summaries of studies that showed Teach For America teachers tend to leave the profession at higher rates than their peers.

Although members of the Assembly’s Education Committee moved her bill along last week, clearly, a fight over the legislation is brewing.

“AB 221 aims to limit a pipeline of diverse teacher candidates who are passionate about advancing educational equity and creating significant educational outcomes in low-income schools,” said Teach For America in a statement issued ahead of the committee hearing.

Last year, they noted, the program’s first and second year teachers provided services to more than 64,000 students throughout California. They also pointed to a 2017 report from the Rand Corporation that found 80 percent of high school principals polled were willing to hire a Teach For America member if they had a vacancy.

Joining the organization in opposition to the bill is a long list of school districts and school management representatives, including the Association of California School Administrators, the California Charter Schools Association and Ed Trust West.

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