teacher certification

SUNY revises controversial proposal to let some New York charter schools certify their own teachers

PHOTO: Jaclyn Zubrzycki

A state group that oversees some New York charter schools has revised a hotly contested proposal to let its schools certify their own teachers ahead of Wednesday’s vote, according to an updated proposal.

Though the basic elements of the original proposal remains in tact, prospective teachers will now be required to sit for significantly more hours of instruction (though the amount of time they must spend practice teaching has been reduced), and they now must pass one of the exams used in the traditional certification process or an equivalent test.

“We appreciated all of the comments we received and we made significant changes based on those comments,” Joseph Belluck, the head of SUNY’s charter school committee, which will vote on the proposal next week. “We feel like we now have a proposed set of regulations that accomplish our goal of putting highly qualified teachers in our charter schools.”

SUNY, the charter authorizer that created the proposal, is attempting to beef up the certification rules following intense pushback by a host of critics, including the state education department and teachers unions.

Critics think the proposal is “insulting” to the teaching profession and will flood classrooms with unqualified teachers, while SUNY officials say the proposal is necessary to fill hiring gaps at charter schools.

The original proposal required prospective teachers to sit for 30 hours of instruction and then practice 100 hours of teaching under the supervision of an experienced teacher, far less than the requirements for a traditional school teacher.

The limited training came under attack, even drawing uncharacteristic ire from State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, who said, “I could go into a fast food restaurant and get more training than that.”

In the revised proposal, prospective teachers will be required to sit for 160 hours of classroom instruction, which amounts to about a month of full-time work. However, the time required for teaching practice will drop from 100 to 40 hours.

Belluck said the changes were made to align with already existing alternative certification paths that allow some prospective teachers to circumvent traditional requirements. Though the hours of field experience and instruction in SUNY’s proposal mirror an existing alternative route, the proposal does not have all the same requirements. For instance, SUNY’s plan does require aspiring teachers to be enrolled in a college’s teacher education program.

The new regulations ask prospective teachers to take the Educating All Students test, an exam designed to test strategies for teaching students with special needs, including English learners and students with disabilities. (If prospective teachers don’t take that exam, they must take a different one approved by SUNY that has “all required elements” of the test.)

Prospective teachers in New York are typically required to take three certification exams, including a content test and the controversial edTPA, which requires a portfolio of work.

Critics of the traditional teacher certification process say it is out of touch with the real-life demands of teaching and unnecessarily weeds out prospective teachers. Across the country, teacher certification requirements also disproportionately shut out black and Hispanic prospective teachers, a Chalkbeat analysis found.

Several charter school operators think they can put together a better system that focuses on the practical aspects of teaching. But whether this proposal gives them too much leeway to make their own rules is likely to be debated.

In the original proposal, the teacher certification would only count at SUNY-authorized charter schools, meaning teachers would not be able to switch to district schools and even some other charter schools without additional training. Some warned this would create “two tiers of certification,” trapping teachers in certain charter schools.

The new proposal is still only valid at SUNY-authorized schools, but Belluck hopes that it will be easier for teachers who are certified this way to gain full state certification since the new regulations are more closely aligned with the state’s certification process.

The draft revisions also allow charter schools to contract with higher education institutions to create their training programs and require schools to explain their need for an alternative certification path. (Currently, only 15 uncertified teachers are allowed in a given charter school.) It also stipulates that charter schools must meet certain academic benchmarks before they can apply to train their own teachers.

SUNY’s charter school committee is expected to vote on the revised proposal at their meeting on Wednesday.

negotiations

Aurora school board reverses course, accepts finding that district should have negotiated bonuses with union

Students in a math class at Aurora Central High School in April 2017. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

Following weeks of criticism, the Aurora school board on Tuesday reversed course and accepted an arbitrator’s finding that a pilot bonus system violated the district’s agreement with the teachers union.

The Aurora school district rolled out an experiment last year to offer bonuses to some teachers and other staff in hard-to-fill positions, such as psychologists, nurses and speech language pathologists.

The teachers union argued that the plan should have been negotiated first. An arbitrator agreed and issued a report recommending that the pilot program stop immediately and that the district negotiate any future offerings. The union and school board are set to start negotiations next month about how to change teacher pay, using new money voters approved in November.

When school board members first considered the arbitrator’s report last month, they declined to accept the findings, which were not binding. That raised concerns for union members that the district might implement bonuses again without first negotiating them.

Tuesday’s new resolution, approved on a 5-1 vote, accepted the full arbitrator’s report and its recommendations. Board member Monica Colbert voted against the motion, and board member Kevin Cox was absent.

Back in January 2018, school board members approved a budget amendment that included $1.8 million to create the pilot for incentivizing hard-to-fill positions. On Tuesday, board member Cathy Wildman said she thought through the budget vote, the school board may have allowed the district to create that incentive program, even though the board now accepts the finding that they should have worked with union before trying this experiment.

“It was a board decision at that time to spend that amount on hard-to-fill positions,” Wildman said.

Board president Marques Ivey said he was not initially convinced by the arbitrator’s position, but said that he later read more and felt he could change his vote based on having more information.

Last month, the Aurora school board discussed the report with its attorney in a closed-door executive session. When the board met in public afterward, it chose not to uphold the entire report, saying that the board could not “come to an agreement.” Instead board members voted on a resolution that asked the school district to negotiate any future “long-term” incentive programs.

Union president Bruce Wilcox called the resolution “poorly worded” and slammed the board for not having the discussion in public, calling it a “backroom deal.” Several other teachers also spoke to the board earlier this month, reminding the newest board members’ of their campaign promises to increase transparency.

Board members responded by saying that they did not hold an official vote; rather the board was only deciding how to proceed in public. Colorado law prohibits schools boards from taking positions, or votes, in private.

The board on Tuesday also pushed the district to provide more detailed information about the results of the pilot and survey results that tried to quantify how it affected teachers deciding to work in Aurora.



story slam

The state of teacher pay in Indiana: Hear true stories told by local educators

It’s time to hear directly from educators about the state of teacher pay in Indiana.

Join us for another Teacher Story Slam, co-hosted by the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, Chalkbeat Indiana, and Teachers Lounge Indy. Teacher salaries are the hot topic in education these days, in Indiana and across the country. Hear from Indianapolis-area teachers who will tell true stories about how they live on a teacher’s salary.

Over the past two years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from the teachers, students, and leaders of Indianapolis through our occasional series, What’s Your Education Story? Some of our favorites were told live during teacher story slams hosted by Teachers Lounge Indy.

Those stories include one teacher’s brutally honest reflection on the first year of teaching and another teacher’s uphill battle to win the trust of her most skeptical student.

Event details

The event will be held from 6-8 p.m. on Friday, March 15, at Clowes Court at the Eiteljorg, 500 W Washington St. in Indianapolis. It is free and open to the public — please RSVP.

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