Emma LaPlante, 23, a Teach for America teacher at Frick Academy Middle School in Oakland Unified, discusses a reading assignment with a student on April 12, 2019. (Photo by Theresa Harrington/EdSource Today)

California legislator wants to ban inexperienced teachers in programs such as Teach for America from working in predominantly low-income schools, saying they lack the preparation to work effectively with the neediest students.

“I want to make sure we have qualified, experienced teachers with our most vulnerable students,” said Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens.

Several studies show a correlation between teacher experience and student achievement, noting that students perform better academically as their teachers gain experience.

Yet, many educators from Teach for America or similar programs leave after three years, Garcia said. “So, right when they’re getting to proficiency, we’re losing them. I acknowledge we have a teacher shortage, but is this really part of the solution?”

Garcia, a former high school and community college math teacher from Los Angeles County, has authored AB 221, which starting in 2020-21 would prohibit teachers in so-called third-party credential programs from working in schools where 40 percent or more of the students are low-income. They can teach in those schools only if they commit to working in the organization for a minimum of five years.

This would effectively make it impossible for these schools to hire Teach for America recruits, who are asked to commit to only two years. However, many stay on for a third year. A nationwide study found that 60.5 percent of Teach for America teachers continued teaching for three years, but only 27.8 percent remained after five years.

Teach for America spokesman Jack Hardy called the bill “a misguided legislative overreach that strips public school principals of local control in hiring of state credentialed teachers” when they are facing “a massive teacher shortage.”

He urged lawmakers “to work on solutions that will increase, not limit, the supply of high-quality public school teachers in California.”

Teach for America is a nonprofit organization that recruits what the program describes as “outstanding” college graduates to commit to two years of teaching in low-income schools. They attend five weeks of summer training before they enter the classroom and receive ongoing support. The program is affiliated with accredited university teacher education programs that offer classes that prepare the teachers to earn a preliminary credential after one year.

Ashley Pangelinan, a Teach for America teacher in 2013 who became a full-time teacher in San Jose Unified, told the Assembly Education Committee on March 27 that she would not have entered the profession without the program.

“It opens doors for smart people who might not otherwise be able to afford to become teachers,” she said. “Why take away teachers like me?”

It is unclear how many teachers would be affected by the bill. This year, 725 Teach for America educators are working on intern or preliminary credentials in low-income schools across California, mainly in the Bay Area, Los Angeles, San Diego and Central Valley.

Many California districts rely on hiring teachers with less than full credentials. Yet the bill does not ban teachers with emergency permits or substitutes without teaching credentials from teaching in low-income schools.

In 2017-18, the state’s Commission on Teacher Credentialing issued 4,926 intern teacher credentials out of a 22,407 total. It also issued 7,839 emergency permits. Emergency permits are issued to meet “an acute staffing need” to applicants who have completed bachelor’s degrees, met a basic skills requirement and have completed coursework related to the subject to be taught. Teachers working with emergency permits are not required to be enrolled in a credential program. Substitute teachers may or may not have credentials, depending on the substitute teaching permit they hold.

Oakland Unified, an urban Bay Area district where nearly three-quarters of students are low-income, is an example of a district that routinely hires teachers who are not fully qualified. This year, about 90 Teach for America teachers are working in Oakland, including about 60 in district schools and 30 in charter schools. The district, which employs some 2,328 teachers, has determined it may need to hire up to 220 teachers on emergency credentials next year because “there are an insufficient number of certified persons who meet the district’s employment criteria for needed positions,” according to a resolution approved by the school board earlier this month.

Emma LaPlante, a first-year Teach for America teacher at Frick Impact Academy Middle School in Oakland Unified, is working on an intern credential while taking courses to complete a teacher credential program.