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N.Y. Teachers' Union Sues to Block Charters From Certifying Their Teachers

As of this week, New York State has decided to allow some charter schools to certify their own teachers. 

It's likely the first time a charter authorizer has allowed this kind of leeway on certification, my colleague Arianna Prothero reports. And teachers' unions are not taking to it kindly. 

Yesterday, New York State United Teachers and its local affiliate, the United Federation of Teachers, filed a lawsuit with the state supreme court attempting to block the measure.

"These illegal regulations tell the people that New York State cares more about nail salon customers than children in charter schools," NYSUT President Andy Pallotta said in a statement. "How can New York State demand that manicurists need 250 hours of instruction but allow charter school teachers to get certified with far fewer hours of training?"

Under the policy, which the State University of New York Charter Schools Committee approved on Wednesday, prospective charter teachers need at least 160 hours of instruction and 40 hours of classroom practice. (SUNY is one of four groups in New York that can grant charters. It authorizes about 175 charters across the state.)

Charter candidates will need to pass just one of the state's certification exams or an equivalent test. (Traditional candidates in New York have to pass several.) To qualify to offer certification, the charter schools have to meet certain performance benchmarks.

For comparison, Teach for America—an alternative-route preparation program that frequently receives criticism for its fast-track training—requires its New York candidates receive 185 hours of instruction and 40 hours in the classroom with a mentor teacher before taking on a full-time teaching role, according to spokeswoman Ana Vargas. And the program requires the teachers continue their studies in a master's program while they teach.

Nationally, teachers in traditional preparation programs are required to do an average of 525 hours of student teaching, according to the most recent annual report on teacher quality from the U.S. Secretary of Education.

Risky or Smart Policy?

Supporters of the SUNY measure say charter schools have trouble filling positions, and therefore need an alternate certification pathway. 

The unions aren't the only ones concerned about this change. New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa have publicly lambasted the decision, calling it "an insult to the teaching profession."

Some advocates for students with special needs are worried as well. Lauren Morando Rhim, the executive director of the National Center for Special Education, put out a statement saying, "Creating pathways that lack adequate training (e.g., only 40 hours of practice time) runs the risk of hurting rather than helping schools committed to improving the outcomes for at-risk students, particularly students with disabilities."

But charter school advocates say the flexibility makes for smart policy. "Let's celebrate decisions focused on getting children the kind of educators they need," Northeast Charter Schools Network's New York State Director Andrea Rogers said in a statement. 

New York recently lowered the pass score that prospective teachers need to achieve on the state's licensure exam (known as edTPA). In that case, NYSUT was among the groups in favor of lowering the bar, noting that New York had among the highest cut scores in the country.


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