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Some New York Charter Schools May Soon Certify Their Own Teachers

12212474014_e6d1ef799d_o.jpgA major charter school authorizer is pushing for new rules that would allow teachers at its charters to teach without earning a master's degree or passing certification exams, requirements that other public school teachers must meet.

The teachers instead would have to complete the charter schools' own training programs, according to the proposal from the State University of New York Charter Schools Institute, which currently authorizes 167 charter schools.

Currently, most New York public school teachers hold education degrees, pass licensing exams, and get master's degrees, all of which could be bypassed if in-house certifications of charter school teachers are approved.

Michael Mulgrew, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, which represents New York City teachers, called the proposal a "watered-down 'instant' license" that any public school in the state would consider "worthless."

He goes on to argue in a statement that training for charter school teachers working toward the special license (30 hours of instruction and 100 hours of classroom training) wouldn't even equal that of a cosmetologist (1,000 hours of instruction), or a real estate broker (120 hours of instruction and two years of on-the-job experience.)

"If adopted, these changes will send a cynical message to charter parents: Your children do not deserve a fully qualified teacher," Mulgrew said. 

Not every state requires charter school teachers to be certified. Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and the District of Columbia do not require certification, according to a 2016 report by the Education Commission of the States. New York does require certification, with some exceptions that you can read about in the report. (A new report is due out in 2018.)

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa have also denounced SUNY's proposal to reduce teacher certification requirements. 

"No other profession, not the lawyers who are sitting in that SUNY Institute, would accept that in their own field," Rosa said of the clipped teaching requirements at a panel discussion at the Museum of Jewish Heritage earlier this month. "So if you don't accept it for your very own child, and you don't accept it for your very own profession, then you know what? Don't compromise my profession. I think it's insulting."

Joseph W. Belluck, the head of the SUNY committee that's  reviewing  the proposed rules, said the committee will likely suggest revisions that address the public's concerns, which have so far focused on increasing the hours for training and instruction of teachers, the portability of teacher certification from charter to public schools, and oversight of the training program itself. The public has until September 9 to weigh in.

"Anyone who operates any sort of business wants to be self sufficient," Belluck told Education Week. "You want to set your own policies, but that's not the regulatory framework that schools operate under. We are their regulator. We enforce the rules and hold them accountable. We are not doing this because charter schools want to be self-sufficient. We are doing this because there are a lot of kids who benefit from the work that's going on with our charter schools, and we want to make that education available to people on our waiting lists who want their kids to go to these schools."

Some charter schools in the SUNY network, the ones that show strong student achievement, said Belluck, have earned the right to certify their own teachers. Charter schools, he pointed out, already train and evaluate their teachers extensively in course work and methodology that the charter itself has developed.

That doesn't mean the rules will give charter schools free reign. "If student performance were to decline after we allow charter schools to do this obviously that would be a red flag and we would have to look closer at the particular school," Belluck said.

Critics point out that making the path to certification easier doesn't address other problems in the charter teacher pipeline. Mulgrew, for instance, argues that the bigger problem facing charter schools is how to convince teachers to stay. He said charters rely on inexperienced teachers who don't stick around long enough to develop their skills, and that charter operators aren't doing enough to cultivate a stable, experienced teacher force.

Belluck says charter schools are working on teacher turnover, by finding ways to improve the work environment and providing opportunities for professional development and growth. But he says that the problem doesn't have an easy fix. Teachers face long hours and the challenge of working with students who may have little academic support outside of school.

"None of this is an excuse," said Belluck. "Charter schools need to figure out a better way to retain people who work in these challenging environments, but I think no matter what they do, there will be turnover because of the difficulties of the situation."

Read veteran teacher Walt Gardner's take on this in his blog Reality Check here.

Image by Ilmicrofono Oggiono on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons


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