Chancellor elect Betty Rosa, left, speaks with Commissioner of Education Maryellen Elia, right, after her election during a meeting of the New York State Board of Regents on Monday, March 21, 2016, at the Education Department building in Albany, N.Y. Rosa will take office on April 1st replacing Merryl H. Tisch. (Skip Dickstein/Times Union)
ALBANY — The state’s top education officials issued a letter Thursday strongly urging the State University of New York to withdraw a proposal they argue would negatively impact students and cut down on the number of effective teachers in the state.
The proposal was introduced by SUNY’s charter schools committee in July with the stated goal of helping charter schools — publicly funded, privately run alternatives to traditional public school. Citing “challenges in identifying high-quality teachers,” the proposal would allow SUNY-authorized charter schools to bypass the state’s teacher certification requirements and instead develop their own.
Not only would this be detrimental to students, it would be in direct conflict with state education law, wrote Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa in the letter.
(Read the full letter here)
Under the plan, prospective teachers would not have to pass the state’s teacher certification exams and would not have to complete any student teaching. They would, however, need at least 30 hours of classroom experience — far fewer than the 81 semester hours currently required for state certification.
“Simply put, such action is an affront to a critical tenet in education: rigorous and high-quality teacher preparation programs foster high-quality teachers who increase the likelihood of students achieving proficiency on state standards,” they wrote. “Our efforts should focus on promoting effective teaching and strengthening and supporting the entire educator preparation pipeline, not eroding it.”
Since it was first unveiled, teachers’ unions, public school advocates and 18 SUNY deans of education have decried the plan, with many calling it another example of charter schools attempting to skirt state requirements. Although they receive public funding and are considered public schools, charter schools are allowed to operate independently on the premise they produce better results than traditional district schools.
State education law, however, requires their teachers to complete the same certification requirements as any other public school teacher, with just a few exceptions, the letter notes.
Among them? Charter schools can hire some uncertified teachers with at least three years of classroom teaching experience, tenured or tenure track college faculty, individuals who completed two years with Teach for America, and individuals with “exceptional” business, professional, artistic, athletic or military experience.
If charter schools are having trouble finding trained and qualified teachers, they should consider other factors, Elia and Rosa note, like less desirable compensation packages compared to public schools, inadequate training, and a lack of effective mentoring.
“The answer to the problem…however, is not to increase the number of uncertified and therefore unprepared teachers in charter schools, but to address the matter holistically so that all students have access to high-quality teachers,” they wrote.
“Teacher quality is the number one factor that contributes to student academic success; therefore, the preparation of, support for, and access to quality teachers is essential.”
SUNY oversees 167 charter schools across the state, including six in the Capital Region. More than 80 percent of them produce reading and math scores above and beyond traditional public schools, according to SUNY. Those that do not produce results are shut down.
A 45-day public comment period on the proposal is slated to end Saturday, at which point the committee will decide how to move forward.