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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

SUNY's Board of Trustees Approve Regulations Allowing Some Charter Schools to Certify and Train Their Own Teachers

Is this the beginning of the end of teacher unions?

Betsy Combier
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Eva S. Moskowitz, the founder and chief executive of Success Academy Charter Schools, shown last year, said in a statement on Wednesday, “In the midst of a widely recognized teacher shortage, SUNY’s vote today ensures that kids of color will have access to great teachers and exceptional educational outcomes.”

Some Charter Schools Can Certify Their Own Teachers, Board Says
The State University of New York took a step on Wednesday that will make it easier for some charter schools to hire teachers.

The charter schools committee of SUNY’s Board of Trustees voted to approve regulations that will allow some schools to design their own teacher-training programs and certify their own teachers.

The proposal had been criticized by opponents of charter schools, including teachers’ unions, and others. But proponents of the regulations said that they were needed to allow the schools to broaden the pool of candidates.

“In the midst of a widely recognized teacher shortage, SUNY’s vote today ensures that kids of color will have access to great teachers and exceptional educational outcomes,” Eva S. Moskowitz, the founder and chief executive of Success Academy Charter Schools, wrote in a statement on Wednesday.

SUNY is one of two entities in the state that can grant charters, and the charter schools it oversees include the state’s highest-performing ones. This year, 88 percent of SUNY-authorized charter schools outperformed their districts on the state math tests, and 83 percent outperformed their districts on the state reading tests. Students at Success Academy, which is authorized by SUNY, outperformed not only students in New York City’s traditional public schools but those in every other district in the state.

Ms. Moskowitz, whose network is expanding rapidly and faces difficulty in recruiting enough teachers, was seen as having a hand in the political deal that led to the new regulations. In 2016, in exchange for granting Mayor Bill de Blasio an extension of mayoral control over schools, the Republicans in the State Senate, to whom Ms. Moskowitz has close ties, inserted broad language in the legislation giving SUNY the power to promulgate regulations for the schools it oversees.

In recent days, SUNY increased the number of hours of classroom instruction that teacher candidates must receive under the proposed plan, from 30 to 160 hours, and decreased the number of hours of teaching practice they must complete, from 100 to 40 hours. The changes seemed partly designed to address the criticism of the state education commissioner, MaryEllen Elia, who said of the original proposal, “I could go into a fast-food restaurant and get more training than that.”

In the wake of the vote, Ms. Elia and Betty A. Rosa, the chancellor of the Board of Regents, released a statement saying, “This change lowers standards and will allow inexperienced and unqualified individuals to teach those children that are most in need” and called the change “an insult to the teaching profession.” (The Board of Regents itself voted last month to make it easier to pass one of the state’s certification exams.)

Kate Walsh, the president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, expressed ambivalence about the regulations.

“What we’re doing now to prepare teachers is so broken that I don’t really have a problem with a group of high-performing schools saying, ‘We can do this better on our own,’” she said.

But she was unimpressed by the certification requirements.

“It’s, ‘Here, we’ll make our candidates go out and take, what is this, a three-credit course that everybody will roll their eyes and say, “This isn’t very helpful,” but higher ed will get the dollars, so you get higher ed off your back,’” Ms. Walsh said. At the same time, she said, “I don’t understand how you justify reducing the practice time to 40 hours, which is not even two weeks of school.”

Certifications earned under these regulations will only be valid at charter schools authorized by SUNY, so teachers who want to transfer to other charters or to traditional public schools will need to take additional steps to earn a conventional state certification.

Michael Mulgrew, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, the city teachers’ union, had urged the members of the charter schools committee on Wednesday morning to reject the regulations, which he said would lower standards for charter school teachers, and promised to sue if the new regulations were approved.

SUNY OKs charter teacher certification plan. 
Some educational leaders, unions decry plan

Teachers' and advocacy groups are threatening legal action after a State University of New York committee approved a plan that will let high-performing charter schools certify their own teachers.

The SUNY charter schools committee, voting in New York City, approved the plan by a vote of 4-1 on Wednesday, with the stated goal of making it easier to become a teacher at New York charter schools in light of a national and statewide teacher shortage.

Charters — publicly funded, privately run schools — say they're hurt by the state's stringent teacher certification process and supporters argue some schools should be exempt based on their proven record of student achievement.

But outside groups, including the state's own Education Department and Board of Regents, say the move will lower standards and allow "inexperienced and unqualified" people to teach children who are most in need, including students of color, and poor and disabled students.

"Lowering standards would not be acceptable for any other profession; this is an insult to the teaching profession," said state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa in a statement.
Only charter schools authorized by SUNY can gain teacher certification under the new pathway, and they have to have a proven record of student success to even apply. Interested charters can submit a proposed certification program to the SUNY Charter Schools Institute, which would approve or deny the program within 120 days.

The institute oversees 167 charter schools statewide, including five in Albany and one in Troy.

Supporters of the plan say it will lead to more and better candidates to choose from, as well as more diversity in teaching ranks, which tend to be overwhelmingly white and female.

Both the United Federation of Teachers and the Alliance for Quality Education, an advocacy group backed by teachers' unions, have threatened to sue over the plan, with AQE saying in a letter Tuesday that "substantial revisions" made to the original proposal required an additional public comment period under state law that was not provided.

Others, including New York State United Teachers, contend the action violates state education law, which authorizes only the state education commissioner to establish rules around teacher certification. Elia and Rosa also warned the action would violate law in written public comment submitted to the committee this summer.

The committee first proposed the regulations in early July in a deal worked out in the final days of the 2017 legislative session, prompting worry that such a sweeping change to teacher certification in New York was motivated by politics and not the needs of students.

Blowback was immediate and intense, with critics ripping the committee's proposal that charter school teachers only be required to have 30 hours of classroom instruction in the teaching field. Elia, at an event covered by Chalkbeat New York, said of the requirement in August: "I could go into a fast food restaurant and get more training than that."

In response to the outpouring of criticism, the committee amended the original regulations to require teachers have 160 hours of classroom instruction instead of 30.

But other changes, first unveiled over the weekend, have generated nearly as much controversy as the original proposal, including the requirement that prospective teachers have 40 hours of experience in the field, instead of 100 initially proposed. Current state law requires teachers have a master's degree, or be working toward one. The committee's plan requires neither a master's nor a bachelor's degree.

"The committee can amend this bad proposal until the cows come home, but it doesn't change the fact that these regulations sell out the state's most vulnerable children to score political points," said NYSUT President Andy Pallotta.

SUNY Trustees Eric Corngold was the only member of the five-member committee to vote against the plan. Voting yes were committee chair Joseph Belluck, Angelo Fatta, Edward Spiro and Merryl Tisch.

Unions Sue to Block ‘Watered Down’ Rules for Charter Teacher Training

By KATE TAYLOR, OCT. 12, 2017

A fight over charter schools and teacher training escalated on Thursday when the city and state teachers’ unions filed a lawsuit in state court seeking to prevent new rules from going into effect that allow some charters to certify their own teachers.

In a suit filed with the State Supreme Court in Manhattan, the two unions, along with two charter schoolteachers who are union members, argued that a committee of trustees of the State University of New York had violated the law when it passed new teacher certification regulations on Wednesday.

Under the new rules, the teachers could be certified after taking 160 hours of classroom instruction and doing 40 hours of teaching practice, rather than going through the lengthier process required of traditional public schoolteachers, who ultimately have to receive a master’s degree.

The change had been sought by charter school leaders who have struggled to hire enough teachers to serve in their schools.

The SUNY trustees took their authority for the change from a bit of legislative language inserted, as a result of a political deal, into a 2016 bill that renewed Mayor Bill de Blasio’s control of New York City schools. The language said that notwithstanding “any other provision of law, rule, or regulation to the contrary,” the SUNY committee that authorizes charters could “promulgate regulations with respect to governance, structure and operations of charter schools for which they are the charter entity.”

The chair of the SUNY charter schools committee, Joseph W. Belluck, and charter school advocates, said that this meant the committee could enact regulations related to teacher certification. The unions, New York State United Teachers and the United Federation of Teachers argue in the lawsuit that such an interpretation would make the law unconstitutional, because the legislature cannot grant such broad power to an administrative agency.

The unions also claim that the regulations violated the Charter School Act, which specifically caps the number of uncertified teachers that a charter school can employ at 15. Their lawsuit also argued that the committee violated the State Administrative Procedure Act, because it did not submit a revised version of the regulations for public comment.

The lawsuit describes the regulations as putting in place “a watered down system for certifying teachers.”

In an interview, Mr. Belluck said he believed the committee was on strong legal footing.

“Our action yesterday falls within the grant that the legislature gave to us,” he said. “Not only did we follow the procedure that we needed to, I think that there was almost hyper-availability for participation from all stakeholders.”

The new regulations have been criticized by the state education commissioner, MaryEllen Elia, and the chancellor of the Board of Regents, Betty A. Rosa, as well as the heads of education colleges.