A Teach for America fight

In California, teachers whose students include English learners are required by state law to have special certification. That’s sensible, given the special challenges that come with running a classroom in which not all children are equally proficient in the language being spoken. There are two ways to secure that certification: by graduating from a college or university that grants such a certificate, or by attending a program that educates would-be teachers in that specialty. The teachers certified by the latter route receive what is called an “intern credential.”

A new proposal before the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, scheduled for a vote on Thursday, would effectively eliminate the second option. That might be defensible if the rationale was to ensure that all teachers assigned to English learners were better prepared for the job. But critics say the primary purpose of this proposal is to push Teach for America, the nonprofit organization that places young college graduates and “high achievers” into teaching jobs in poor neighborhoods, out of California schools. That’s been a long-standing objective of some teachers unions, but it’s bad policy and should be rejected.

Members of the commission insist that their objective is to protect students from inferior teachers. Although some are no doubt motivated by that, the measure is suspect because it fulfills a long-standing goal of the California Teachers Assn., which dislikes Teach for America and its cadre of young teachers. A substantial number of those who would be affected by the proposal are Teach for America volunteers, and officials at that organization feel strongly that the measure is aimed at them on the union’s behalf. They say the union hopes to protect veteran teachers from threatening rivals.


That would be fine if there were evidence that Teach for America was failing young people, that its teachers were inadequately prepared and that students suffered as a consequence. In fact, there is evidence to the contrary. A recent study by the Strategic Data Project at Harvard examined teaching in the Los Angeles Unified School District, and it concluded that Teach for America teachers had a modestly greater effect on their students’ performance than did other novice teachers. The study did not single out English learners, but what data there are suggest that Teach for America is to be desired, not thwarted.

Teach for America will not solve all of California’s educational ills, but neither will rules intended to make its mission more difficult. This proposal deserves to be rejected.