it's official

The votes are in: Some New York charter schools can now certify their own teachers

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Wednesday's SUNY Charter School Committee meeting.

Dozens of charter schools across New York can now apply to certify their own teachers after the State University of New York’s charter school committee approved new regulations, over the vehement objections of teachers unions and state officials.

In charter schools overseen by SUNY that apply to train their own teachers, prospective teachers now will only have to sit for the equivalent of a month of classroom instruction and practice teaching for 40 hours before becoming certified. And unlike teachers on a traditional certification path in New York, they will not be required to earn a master’s degree or take all of the state’s teacher-certification exams.

Despite pushback, members of the SUNY Board of Trustee’s charter school committee voted 4 to 1 Wednesday to approve the regulations. Supporters argued that they are necessary to fill hiring gaps at high-performing charter schools.

“I believe there is a substantial need for additional teachers in the charter system,” said SUNY board member Edward Spiro. “I would suggest that the proposed regulation may increase [teacher] quality by broadening the pool of candidates for charters to choose from.”

After the vote, the city and state teachers unions said they would challenge the new rules in court.

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa released a joint statement Wednesday condemning the regulation, which they called “an insult to the teaching profession.” The new rules lower the standards for teachers in SUNY-authorized schools, opening the door to educators with limited experience and training, they said in the statement.

“With this irresponsible action, the SUNY Charter Schools Committee has eroded the quality of teachers in New York State and negatively impacted student achievement,” they said.

Some 167 charter schools across the state — 147 of them in New York City — received their charters from SUNY. In order to apply to certify their own teachers under the new regulation, they must meet certain performance benchmarks and receive SUNY’s approval. Officials said they expect to begin accepting applications this year.

Large charter school networks that already run their own teacher-training programs are likely to benefit from this option, which Success Academy has championed. The networks and other charter advocates argue that their programs better prepare teachers for the day-to-day work of teaching than many traditional higher-education programs.

Achievement First provides five weeks of training to its incoming teachers, along with weekly professional development for all teachers, according to Fatimah Barker, Achievement First’s chief external officer. Those trainings are built around the network’s particular brand of instruction in a way that outside master’s programs would not be, Barker said.

“Ours is very tailored to what kids need,” she said.

Additionally, the regulation will allow charters to recruit teachers from a broader range of backgrounds — including more teachers of color, who are disproportionately excluded from traditional certification routes. Black and Hispanic teachers are about twice as likely as white teachers to have been certified through an alternative program, according to national data.

The traditional path to becoming a teacher in New York is to study education in college and pass a series of exams to earn an initial certification, then earn a master’s degree and teach for three years to become fully certified. There are also alternative routes, which SUNY’s certification plan resembles — though it does not require teachers to attend a college-run training program.

State education leaders and teachers unions have attacked SUNY’s certification plan since it was proposed.

Many of the objections centered on the limited amount of training that would be required of prospective teachers, which critics warned would put unqualified teachers in front of classrooms often filled with low-income students of color. (During Wednesday’s vote, some protestors held up signs calling the proposed regulations racist.)

In response to the pushback, SUNY published updated rules last weekend that increased the amount of required classroom instruction aspiring teachers must sit for and added a requirement that they pass one traditional certification exam or an equivalent test. The revisions also reduced the number of required practice-teaching hours.

On Wednesday, teachers unions and other critics erased all doubt that the changes would quell their concerns as they bashed the proposal and threatened to challenge the rule in court.

Michael Mulgrew, the head of the city teachers union, blasted the proposal and promised, “We will be suing if this board takes action.”

Mulgrew’s message came after the Alliance for Quality Education, a union-backed group, threatened similar legal action late Tuesday. The group claimed that SUNY officials violated state law by failing to give the public time to comment on the revised regulations. (SUNY officials said the changes were not significant enough to warrant another public-comment period.)

“The committee can amend this bad proposal until the cows come home,” said Andy Pallotta president of the state teachers union, in a statement after the vote, “but it doesn’t change the fact that these regulations sell out the state’s most vulnerable children to score political points.”

boosting literacy

A new Memphis nonprofit sees training teachers in dyslexia therapy as key to closing literacy gap for all

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Memphis Delta Preparatory charter school is one of four schools working with ALLMemphis to develop stronger literacy curriculum.

A new nonprofit organization says educators must be better trained to recognize and teach students with learning disorders like dyslexia if they are to raise reading proficiency throughout Memphis.

Michelle Gaines and Krista L. Johnson founded ALLMemphis in June to boost overall reading comprehension and fill a gap they see in local classrooms — the lack of training for teachers in approaches proven to help students with dyslexia, a disorder from which many Memphis students are likely struggling.

The pair now work, for free, with about 500 students in four Memphis elementary charter schools and have trained 29 educators.

About one in five children in Tennessee are dyslexic, but until last year, early screenings weren’t required in local schools. Students with dyslexia have difficulty recognizing words and sounds and spelling, but can learn how to read with a specific multisensory approach that combines touch, sound and sight.

But even when the disorder is caught early, schools often don’t have the proper training or tools to address it. Gaines and Johnson say their organization can change that and even benefit students who aren’t dyslexic.

Specifically, ALLMemphis trains teachers in the Orton-Gillingham multi-sensory approach to reading that is common in dyslexia therapy but is rarely a part of public school curriculum in Tennessee.

“This approach is the gold standard when it comes to dyslexia therapy, but we believe it can benefit children’s reading ability regardless whether or not they are dyslexic,” Johnson said. “Our mission is to impact the third-grade reading crisis, and we believe this can do it.” 

PHOTO: Darius Williams
Krista L. Johnson

The latest data shows that two out of three Memphis third-graders aren’t reading on grade level. Shelby County Schools officials have set a goal of to have 90 percent of students reading on grade level by 2025.

ALLMemphis trained teachers and coaches in Orton-Gillingham over the summer and works with the educators throughout the year. Gaines and Johnson also work with individual students in the classrooms. The organization will be tracking student data throughout the year, and the initial results are encouraging.

While working for the Bodine School in Memphis, a private school that serves students with dyslexia, Gaines and Johnson piloted their teacher-training model at KIPP Memphis Collegiate Elementary for the last two years. They left Bodine to form ALLMemphis in June and brought on Megan Weinstein shortly after to oversee data evaluation.

Johnson said ALLMemphis will work with their current four schools for the next three years, with hopes of adding new schools every year. Eventually, the plan is to charge schools a minimal fee.

Gaines said the initial data after two years showed that KIPP students who worked with ALLMemphis showed more growth overall on MAP score data than their peers, especially in first and fourth grades.

PHOTO: Darius Williams
Michelle Gaines

“What’s so exciting is that the data shows this can work in an urban, whole-class setting,” Gaines said. “We know that as we grow, we want to continue offering supports that are relevant to teachers. We write and give teachers lesson plans and we work with coaches on assessments. The point is for our program to be an asset, not a burden.”

Catherine Norman, a teacher at KIPP Collegiate, said the training changed the way she thought about literacy and armed her with strong lesson plans, too.

“What I appreciate most about Orton-Gillingham is that it incorporates lots of different learning styles in one lesson,” Norman said. “The training is really expensive when a teacher does it on their own, but the fact they (ALLMemphis) have trained every K-3 teacher at our school is crazy in a good way. It makes me really excited because it provides a lot of opportunities that our kids wouldn’t get otherwise.”  

Schools currently working with ALLMemphis are KIPP Memphis Academy Elementary, Collegiate Elementary and Preparatory Elementary and Memphis Delta Preparatory.

teacher trap

America’s teachers don’t move out of state much. That could be bad for students.

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos

Certification rules can make moving to a new state a serious hassle for teachers.

That might explain a recent finding: Teachers are significantly less likely to move between states than others with similar jobs — and past research suggests that students suffer as a result.

The study, which uses national data from 2005 to 2015 and was released this week through the National Bureau of Economic Research, appears to be the first to document how frequently teachers move states compared to those in other occupations.

Teaching stands out: Relative to jobs requiring a similar level of education, teachers were 45 percent less likely to move to different state, but only 5 percent less likely to move a long distance within a given state. This suggests that teachers aren’t averse to moving — there are just strong incentives to not cross state lines.

That “may limit the ability of workers to move to take advantage of job opportunities,” the researchers write. That’s consistent with research on the Oregon–Washington border, where teachers were more likely to move long distances in their own state than shorter distances across the state line.

Winning permission to teach in a new state sometimes requires re-taking coursework and taking new certification exams. There may be good reasons for that — for instance, states that are particularly attractive to teachers may want to maintain especially high standards but it’s also a complicated process to navigate.

“Web-surfing became my life, through hard-to-navigate state department of education websites and portals that looked like something I had created back in my college sophomore computer science class in 1998,” wrote one teacher in a recent piece for Education Week, describing her efforts to meet new requirements after moving from Florida to Massachusetts.

This matters because the rules may keep teachers who move from re-entering the classroom altogether. A national survey found that among people who had left teaching but were considering re-entering the classroom, 40 percent identified “state certification reciprocity” as a key factor in their consideration.

That, in turn, affects students. One analysis has found that schools near state borders perform consistently worse on standardized tests — perhaps because certification and other rules limit the pool of potential teachers. Research has also shown that teachers perform best when they find a good “fit” with a school, and certification rules may make that harder.

Certification rules are not the only factor in play. Teachers’ decisions may also be influenced by retirement plans that aren’t easily portable and rules that would require them to give up seniority and tenure protections when they move.

It doesn’t have to work this way. The study finds that people in other professions, like medicine, are freer to move and have certifications that easily transfer between states. But the idea of a national “bar exam” for educators hasn’t ever gained traction.

A handful of states have agreed to accept one another’s certifications, and a provision in ESSA would allow federal money to go toward the efforts.

As for the teacher, Megan Allen, who struggled with Massachusetts’ rules — and had 10 years of experience and a National Board certification? She left public education as a result. “I didn’t feel like I was valued for any of the expertise that I had earned, worked hard for, and proved,” she wrote.