Ninth Circuit Requires Full Certification for Teachers under No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB)

When Congress passed the “No Child Left Behind Act” (NCLB, 20 USC §§ 6301, et seq.) the aim was to improve educational opportunities for disadvantaged children. As part of the effort, the statute provides funding for, and permits flexibility in, staffing poorly performing schools.  However, while the statute allows alternate certification procedures for qualified teachers, it nevertheless mandates that all teachers assigned per the NCLB be “fully certified” by state authorities.

In Renee v. Duncan, the Ninth Circuit held that the statute means what it says.  The court held that a California program, under which teachers who were demonstrating “substantial progress” toward full certification – but who had not actually attained formal certification – were assigned to underperforming schools, violated the statute because the teachers in question were not “fully certified.”

To quote the court:  “In adopting NCLB, Congress decided that teachers with ‘full State certification’ are, in the aggregate, better teachers than those without such certification. We recognize that it is debatable whether Congress was correct in deciding that teachers with ‘full State certification’ are in fact better than teachers without such certification. This is particularly debatable if intern teachers enrolled in programs such as Teach for America do not have ‘full State certification.’ But that is not for us to decide. We are bound to accept Congress' determination that students taught by a disproportionate number of teachers without “full State certification” have been injured in fact.”

What the future holds is uncertain.  Congress may well amend the statute and the state may alter procedures for granting “full certification” to certain teachers who are needed to staff underperforming schools.

For your convenience, a full copy of the court’s opinion is attached.

Slote & Links regularly advises school administrators on a variety of legal issues and if you have questions about this ruling, or any other aspect of public or private school administration, please feel free to consult our office.