Teaching teachers

Amid concerns about plan to let charter schools certify their own teachers, changes could be on the way

PHOTO: Helen H. Richardson, Denver Post

A month after SUNY revealed a plan to let charter schools certify their own teachers, a top official in charge of finalizing it says changes could soon be in the works.

Joseph Belluck, the head of SUNY’s charter school committee, said he has found some of the critiques lodged against the plan convincing.

At the top of the list, he said, is the possibility that the proposal would essentially trap teachers in their charter schools.

The proposed credential would apply only in SUNY-authorized charter schools, meaning that teachers who wish to move to a city-run school, or even another charter school, might have to seek additional training to do so.

“It’s definitely something I’m concerned about,” said Belluck, who heads the committee that must approve the rules. “I would expect there will be some changes to try to address this issue.”

Those changes could include working with schools to make a smooth transition from a charter school certificate to a full, state-certified credential, he said.

A local nonprofit group, Education Trust-New York, suggested some of those strategies in a letter to SUNY explaining the group’s objections to the plan.

The proposal, the group said, could lead to “two tiers of certification,” in which charter school teachers would be trapped at one set of school. They suggested working with the Board of Regents to create a formal path to full certification.

Other changes that are possible, Belluck said, include identifying a plan to tell whether programs are effectively preparing teachers, something that Ed Trust asked for, and increasing the number of hours of instruction required.

The proposal requires teachers to spend just 30 hours on classroom instruction and 100 hours of practice teaching, far less than teachers must complete now to be certified.

The state teachers union charged that the thin time requirements would “significantly undercut the quality of teaching in charter schools.” New York City’s union is also asking members to oppose the proposal, arguing that charter schools should focus on retaining teachers, not figuring out the fastest way to attract new ones.

Belluck said the time requirements are under review.

“It’s possible that there will be some changes to that in terms of increasing the number of hours, “Belluck said. “We haven’t landed in any particular place yet.”

The proposal could come up for approval as early as late September.

seizing the moment

On first day for most Denver schools, gubernatorial candidate Michael Johnston calls for better school funding

Former state Sen. Michael Johnston's children listen to him announce his gubernatorial bid. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Colorado Democratic gubernatorial candidate Michael Johnston sent his son Emmett back to school Monday — and sent a message to voters at the same time about one of his longtime causes.

On the first day of school for most Denver students, Johnston recorded a video of his son carting off two large cardboard boxes full of supplies. In the video posted to Twitter, the former state senator called it another example of how Colorado is shortchanging its public schools.  

“People often ask what does it mean to have cuts to the statewide budget to education,” he said.  “Well it means a lot of those bills get passed on to parents and to kids who have to bring their own paper towels, their own wipes, their own crayons, their own boxes.”

Johnston, a national figure in the education reform movement, led an unsuccessful push to increase taxes for schools in 2013.

“We count ourselves lucky,” Johnston said in the video, adding that knows many families in Denver often feel the pinch of buying new school supplies and fees. “We think the state has an obligation to do better.”

Though the governor’s race is in its early stages, back-to-school season is a logical time for candidates to take out education positions. Earlier Monday, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, who is also running, released an online ad spotlighting his pledge to expand full-day kindergarten and preschool. 

sending a message

Memphis school board leader wants to declare that ‘all are welcome here’

PHOTO: Marcus Villa/Latino Memphis
Immigrant students display their career aspirations during a visit to the State Capitol in March to support an unsuccessful bill that would have extended in-state tuition to them.

A school board member wants Shelby County Schools to send a unified message to immigrant students and parents: “You are safe in our schools.”

Teresa Jones will ask the board Tuesday to officially go on the record about protections for undocumented students in the wake of this summer’s federal immigration arrests in Memphis by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.

“There are speculations among parents of, ‘Should I send my child to school?’” she said Monday about the impetus for her proposal. “I want the board to take a formal stand.” 

The resolution backs up the district’s current policy of protecting student privacy and restricting the release of confidential information about immigration status to immigration enforcement agencies.

It also asks the superintendent to elevate partnerships with community-based organizations aimed at supporting families impacted by immigration raids.

If the resolution is approved, Shelby County’s school board would join elected school officials across the nation who have spoken out about President Donald Trump’s crackdown on people who have entered the United States illegally. Last fall after Trump’s election, Nashville school board members took a similar stand.

Memphis school officials sought to assure parents of the district’s policy earlier this month when the new school year opened.

Shelby County is now home to approximately 57,000 Hispanics, and 14 percent of the district’s student population is Hispanic.

Teresa Jones

The resolution by Jones, who is an attorney, cites the 1982 Texas court case Plyler v. Doe, which established that a public school district cannot deny children access to education based on their immigration status.

She said a school board vote would send a strong message to Shelby County and across the nation.

“An individual speaking is just opinion,” Jones said. “But when we have a resolution, that speaks for the entire board. It’s a different level of … commitment to our students.”

Kevin Woods, another board member, said he’ll back the position wholeheartedly.

It makes “a statement loud and clear to families of our immigrant population that they are welcome at our schools, we want them there and they are members of our communities,” he said.