Teaching teachers

Regents discuss revamping New York state teacher certification requirements

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Memphis teacher Tanya Hill encourages a student at Kate Bond Elementary School.

New York may ease the burden on prospective educators by overhauling what critics contend is a difficult and costly teacher certification process.

On Tuesday, the Board of Regents discussed a set of recommendations proposed by a group of education officials and experts charged with evaluating the state’s current requirements. The state began to discuss strengthening certification exams in 2009 in an attempt to raise standards for those entering the teaching profession.

But some critics say those changes went too far and have become roadblocks, particularly for low-income aspiring teachers and those of color.

Prospective teachers in New York state have to clear four certification hurdles, demonstrating teaching skills, content knowledge and reading comprehension.

The proposed changes, which the policymaking body will likely vote on at a future meeting, include reviewing the passing score for the certification test, providing more vouchers to cover the exam’s cost, and possibly eliminating an exam that has produced significantly lower passing rates for black and Hispanic aspiring teachers.

Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa said the students who stand to benefit are often high-quality applicants faced with unfair testing constraints.

“These are students who have gotten very high scores … Their GREs [a graduate school entrance test] were through the roof,” Rosa said. “These were exceptional students and many of them students of color”

The state’s teachers union quickly praised the recommendations for maintaining rigor and eliminating unnecessary obstacles.

“The task force recommendations strike the right balance. If the Regents adopt them — and we urge them to do that — the new requirements will help to ensure that aspiring teachers know their subject area and how to teach it,” said NYSUT Vice President Catalina Fortino in a statement. “At the same time, it reduces some of the costs associated with these Pearson tests and eliminates an unnecessary and duplicative exam.”

The group called for state officials to potentially “recalibrate” the passing score on the edTPA, a test that requires prospective teachers to submit portfolios of work including lesson plans and a video of themselves teaching. And instead of relying entirely on test scores for those on the bubble, officials recommended considering additional factors like grade point average or a professor’s recommendation.

Part of the goal is likely to increase passing rates, since only 77 percent of aspiring teachers have passed the edTPA since its rollout in New York. Those who fail the test are still allowed to take the state’s previous exam, which reportedly yielded much higher pass rates.

Some Regents expressed concerns the changes could come across as lowered standards.

“We spent a lot of time talking about raising the bar,” said Regent Andrew Brown. “As I sat here and listened, it does sound like, at times, we’re talking about making it easier.”

But Regent Kathleen Cashin, who chairs the board’s committee on higher education, argued that revising the standards is fair since the exam is new and requires a slow, more deliberate rollout.

“Phasing in and implementation is wise,” she said. “It’s not weakening.”

The Regents discussed giving prospective teachers more time to prepare for assessments and to practice their craft. Currently, only 40 days inside a classroom are required.

“In medicine, if we had 40 days of internship we wouldn’t make very good doctors,” said Regent James Cottrell, who is a medical doctor.

The task force also recommended taking a hard look at — and possibly eliminating — another certification exam, known as the “Academic Literacy Skills Test,” while exploring other ways for teachers to demonstrate their literacy skills.

That exam, which tests things like writing and reading comprehension, has proven disproportionately difficult for aspiring teachers of color to pass. In the 2013-14, only 48 percent of prospective black teachers and 56 percent of prospective Hispanic teachers passed the exam, compared to 75 percent of prospective white teachers.

Both the Board of Regents and New York City have launched programs to increase the number of educators of color, particularly men of color, entering the teaching profession. Creating a test that discourages those students is antithetical to the state’s mission, Regents said.

“Diversity is not an option,” Regent Cashin said. “It’s essential.”

Speaking Up

Letters to J.B.: Here’s what 10 Illinois educators said governor-elect Pritzker should prioritize

PHOTO: Keri Wiginton/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images

As governor-elect and national early childhood education advocate J.B. Pritzker assembles his transition team and builds out his early agenda, we asked educators to weigh in with items he should consider.

Here are 10 of their responses, which range from pleas for more staffing to more counseling and mental health services. Letters have been edited only for clarity and length. Got something to add? Use the comment section below or tell us on Twitter using #PritzkerEdu.

From: A non-profit employee who works with schools in the city and suburbs

Letter to J.B.: I work with a number of students from the City of Chicago and sadly most of them lack basic skills. Most of the students lack the ability to read and write properly, and perform below grade level. It is alarming how many students don’t have critical-thinking and analytical skills. The lack of education in low-income and minority population will hurt our city and state in years to come.

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From: A youth organizer at Morrill Elementary, a K-8 school on Chicago’s Southwest Side

Letter to J.B.: Morrill School has suffered from constant turnover due to an unstable Chicago Public Schools environment that cares more about upholding its own self-interest than the people it should be serving. We need representatives that will advocate for what communities say they need!

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From: A music teacher at a Chicago charter school

Letter to J.B.: I work at a charter school and I don’t think we are doing the best we can for our kids. Our school’s policies are too harsh and dehumanizing.

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From: A Chicago charter school social worker

Letter to J.B.: We’ve cut mental health services throughout the city and that has crippled us. Parents have a hard time getting jobs and having enough money to supply basic needs.

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From: A Chicago principal

Letter to J.B.: My school is 100 percent free- and reduced-price lunch-eligible, or low-income population. We are a middle years International Baccalaureate school. Our children were once were the lowest performing in the area and now we are a Level 1-plus school. Our school was on the closing list back in 2005 when I took over.

But now we are an investment school. Teachers are dedicated and work hard. We need funding for a new teacher to keep classes small and additional funds to purchase multiple resources to continue and strengthen overall academics. We have a vested interest in educating all of our children!

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From: A teacher at A.N. Pritzker Elementary in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood

Letter to J.B.: Great kids. Great staff. No librarian. Extremely poor special education services. No substitute teachers. No time for planning. No time for anyone to provide mental health services for those in need.

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From: A teacher at Whitney Young High School on Chicago’s Near West Side

Letter to J.B.: Every teacher knows that well over 90 percent of the students with academic problems have serious problems at home and in their neighborhoods. In the suburbs, social worker and psychologist staffing levels are often five to 10 times what they are here in the city, where kids are dealing with way more challenges, not less. If you’re looking for bang for your buck, fund psychologists and social workers!

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From: A teacher in the Galesburg CUSD 205

Letter to J.B.: Our school is diverse in all definitions of the word. We have a diverse population in terms of race, money, and ability. We currently don’t have the money to keep all of the schools in our district open and are in the process of closing some of the buildings in order to get the others up to code and comfortable; many of our schools don’t even have air conditioning.

***

From: A teacher at Kiefer School, a Peoria school that educates children with severe behavioral and learning challenges

Letter to J.B.: We work with students with behavioral and mental challenges who need more help getting mental health services. We’ve had children deflected from being hospitalized due to no beds being available.

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From: A teacher at Unity Junior High School in Cicero

Letter to J.B.: People often think that our school is “bad,” but the truth is, we have so many staff and students that work hard every day to bring positive change.

Who's In Charge

Who’s in charge of rethinking Manual High School’s ‘offensive’ mascot?

PHOTO: Scott Elliott/Chalkbeat
Manual High School is one of three Indianapolis schools managed by Charter Schools USA.

As other schools in Indiana and across the nation have renounced controversial team names and mascots in recent years, Emmerich Manual High School in Indianapolis has held onto the Redskins.

One of the reasons why the school hasn’t given it up, officials said during a state board of education meeting this week, is because it’s unclear whose responsibility it would be to change the disparaging name.

Is it the obligation of the district, Indianapolis Public Schools, which owns the building and granted the nickname more than 100 years ago?

Is it the duty of the charter operator, Charter Schools USA, which currently runs the school?

Or is it the responsibility of the state, which took Manual out of the district’s hands in 2011, assuming control after years of failing grades?

“I don’t care who’s responsible for it,” said Indiana State Board of Education member Gordon Hendry, as he acknowledged the uncertainty. “I think it’s high time that that mascot be retired.”

The mascot debate resurfaced Wednesday as state officials considered the future of Manual and Howe high schools, which are approaching the end of their state takeover. Charter School USA’s contracts to run the schools, in addition to Emma Donnan Middle School, are slated to expire in 2020, so the schools could return to IPS, become charter schools, or close.

Manual is only one of two Indiana schools still holding onto the Redskins name, a slur against Native Americans. In recent years, Goshen High School and North Side High School in Fort Wayne have changed their mascots in painful processes in which some people pushed back against getting rid of a name that they felt was integral to the identity of their communities.

Knox Community High School in northern Indiana also still bears the Redskins name and logo.

“The term Redskins can be absolutely offensive,” said Jon Hage, president and CEO of Charter Schools USA. “We’ve had no power or authority to do anything about that.”

He suggested that the state board needs to start the process, and that the community should have input on the decision.

An Indianapolis Public Schools official told Chalkbeat the district didn’t have clear answers yet on its role in addressing the issue.

Even if the state board initiates conversations, however, member Steve Yager emphasized that he does not want the state to make the decision on the mascot.

“We don’t have to weigh in on that,” Yager said. “I feel like that’s a local decision.”