Some charter school teachers could become certified without a master’s under proposed new SUNY rules

Teachers at some New York City charter schools may soon have a new way to become certified — without completing typical state requirements.

New regulations proposed Thursday by the SUNY Charter School Committee would allow teachers at charter schools authorized by SUNY to work without obtaining a master’s degree or passing certification exams. Instead, charter schools would be able to use their own training programs.

If the regulations are approved, they would mark a win for the city’s charter school advocates, who say networks have struggled to find and hire certified teachers and that the state’s certification rules don’t correlate with effective teaching. Currently, only 15 uncertified teachers are allowed in a given charter school.

“The charter schools have identified what they see as a serious gap in their ability to hire teachers and their ability to meet and comply with the current statute,” said Joseph Belluck, the charter school committee chair on the SUNY board.

These new regulations say, “If you’re getting better results for kids, we’re going to get out of your way,” said executive director Jenny Sedlis of the pro-charter StudentsFirstNY.

Not everyone agrees new rules are needed. The state’s education commissioner and Board of Regents chancellor have spoken out against them. The rules are also under fire from teachers unions, who argue they do a “grave disservice” to children by allowing unqualified teachers to enter charter school classrooms.

“What the charter industry is essentially saying is, ‘Give me a few weeks and I’ll authorize almost anyone we want to be a teacher,’” NYSUT President Andy Pallotta said in a statement Wednesday.

The proposed regulations require prospective teachers to sit for 30 hours of instruction and log 100 hours of teaching experience under the supervision of an experienced teacher, far less than a typical prospective teacher would be required to complete before becoming certified under the current process.

The new certification would only apply to teachers in SUNY-authorized charter schools, which means if a teacher switched to a traditional public school or a charter overseen by another authorizer she would no longer be considered certified.

SUNY’s move comes amid a broader re-think of teacher certification processes in New York. In March, the state’s Board of Regents eliminated a controversial Academic Literacy Skills test, arguing that it unnecessarily burdened prospective teachers. Regents have also discussed changing the passing score on the edTPA, a test that requires prospective teachers to submit a video of themselves teaching.

But on Thursday, Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa and Commissioner MaryEllen Elia sent out a joint statement suggesting SUNY’s new regulations go too far.

“The Board of Regents and State Education Department are focused on ensuring that strong and effective teachers with the proper training, experience and credentials are educating New York’s children in every public school – including charter schools,” the statement read. “Our review of SUNY’s teacher certification proposal is cause for concern in maintaining this expectation.”

It’s also not completely clear whether SUNY has the authority to make these changes. SUNY officials say they do, thanks to vague language included in legislation at the end of the 2016 legislative session.

Last year, Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan said he took that language to mean certain charter schools could be exempt “from rules and regulations that were hampering innovative teaching and learning.” Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie fired back with a different interpretation, that charter schools do not have the authority to circumvent existing rules.

But on Thursday, Heastie did not seem inclined to put up a fight.

“The Assembly Majority has stated that we don’t necessarily agree with SUNY’s assessment on teacher certifications,” said Assembly spokeswoman Kerri Biche. “But that’s an interpretation for SUNY to determine.”

SUNY’s charter school committee voted Thursday to send the regulations out for public comment. That means an edited version will come up for official approval at a later date.