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Judge Tells State to Void the Credentials of 4,000 Teachers

Times Staff Writer

A San Francisco Superior Court judge ordered the state on Wednesday to void the credentials of an estimated 4,000 public school teachers who had wrongly been labeled “highly qualified.”

Judge James L. Warren told the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing to stop issuing so-called individual internship certificates to new teachers and refrain from counting them as highly qualified under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The judge did not take issue with the merits of the individual permits, but said the credentialing commission failed to follow the state’s procedure in distributing them.

Critics of the individual certificates said the judge’s decision would stop the commission from circumventing the federal law, which requires all teachers to be highly qualified by the end of the current school year.

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To meet the “highly qualified” requirement, they said, new teachers must be enrolled in formal internship programs through universities or school districts.

It was unclear whether the state would be penalized by the federal government for having fewer highly qualified teachers as a result of the judge’s order.

“Students, parents and the public really deserve to know the real number of highly qualified teachers in their schools,” said Mike Chavez of the group Californians for Justice, which sued the credentialing commission in August to stop the practice.

“Now the state has to face up to the real task of providing [these teachers] with the training necessary to be successful and reach the level of a highly qualified teacher,” he said.

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The credentialing commission stood by its individual certificates, saying they provided an important alternative route for teachers who want to earn state certification.

Those in the program “met the letter of the federal and state requirements for highly qualified teachers,” said Mary Armstrong, the commission’s general counsel. “It’s been very successful in moving people through [to full credentials]. It’s been a good program.”

The judge’s ruling was not expected to have any immediate effect on teachers who hold the individual certificates. The bureaucratic change would not affect teachers’ positions, salaries or benefits, according to the court order.

Armstrong said the commission, following the judge’s order, would establish one-time “special temporary certificates” for teachers who hold the individual permits. Some of those who hold the individual certificates might otherwise have been working with emergency teaching credentials.

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Though teachers with the temporary certificates would not be classified as highly qualified, they would still have time to earn their full teaching credentials.

As part of the order, the credentialing commission must correct information it publicly reports about the number of highly qualified teachers in the state.

And it must closely follow state rules when developing credentials for new teachers. Among other things, the commission must run its proposals through the state’s administrative law office, said John Affeldt, managing attorney at Public Advocates, which filed the lawsuit.

The credentialing commission will meet later this month to consider new regulations for individual certificates.

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