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After three years of court dates, appeals and petitions, Public Advocates, a nonprofit group based in San Francisco, scored a major victory yesterday when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that teachers-in-training cannot legally be considered “highly qualified.”

Under 2001’s No Child Left Behind Act, if a student does not have a “highly qualified teacher” in his or her classroom – that is, one with a college degree in the subject area taught, state certification and demonstrated competence in basic skills as well as the subject area to be taught – parents must be notified. Teachers who aren’t highly qualified must all be spread throughout a school system, not concentrated in certain schools or types of schools (e.g., those serving disproportionately poor and minority students).

Yet ever since NCLB has been on the books, members of Teach for America and other alternative-certification programs have counted as “highly qualified” teachers, something the Public Advocates argued was a “major loophole” in the law. These teachers-in-training — to whom school districts have increasingly turned in hard-to-staff subjects like special education, math and science — receive a crash course during the summer and continue working toward certification while leading a classroom.

The federal court agreed with Public Advocates, overruling the verdict of a lower court, writing “The difference between having obtained something and merely making satisfactory progress toward that thing is patent.”

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Sarah Butrymowicz oversees and contributes to The Hechinger Report’s investigative and data work covering all levels of education, from early childhood to K-12 to higher education. She has worked at...

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