SUNY Charter Schools Committee approves alternative requirements for teachers

Legislative Gazette file photo
State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, pictured here with students at Pine Hills Elementary in Albany, called a recent change to certification requirements for some charter schools teachers “an insult to the teaching profession.”

The SUNY Charter Schools Committee on Wednesday approved a controversial plan that could allow certain charter schools to bypass state teacher certification criteria.

The move, approved 4-1 by the committee, allows high-performing charter schools authorized by SUNY to create independent criteria for teacher certification, removing the requirement of a bachelor’s or master’s degree and allowing charter schools to asses teachers independently of statewide standards.

“The trustees made the right decision,” said Northeast Charter Schools Network New York Director Andrea Rogers in a statement after the vote Wednesday afternoon. “The opportunity to offer specialty training and a pathway to certification is smart policy centered on flexibility and quality.”

Supporters of the alternative certification pathway say there is a shortage of teachers that meet the state’s stringent requirements for teacher certification and this change in regulations will allow them to fill positions more easily based on the requirements they develop for their own schools.

The alternative certification processes developed by the schools must be approved by the SUNY Charter Schools Institute.

“Too many students are still waiting for their classroom hero,” added Rogers. “Let’s celebrate decisions focused on getting children the kind of educators they need.”

Other assessments of the decision were not as rosy.

In a joint statement, Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa and State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia decried the decision, saying the state should be raising standards for teachers to improve outcomes, not lowering them.

“We strongly disapprove of today’s actions by the SUNY Charter Schools Committee,” the statement begins.

“This change lowers standards and will allow inexperienced and unqualified individuals to teach those children that are most in need — students of color, those who are economically disadvantaged, and students with disabilities — in SUNY-authorized charter schools.”

The new language in the proposal originally introduced in June, allows charter schools to decide, based on their own criteria, if a potential teacher has “the necessary knowledge and skills to successfully complete the program as determined by the institute.”

This change effectively allows a publicly funded, privately run school to decide, with little oversight, who is qualified to teach. Previously, all teachers in New York state were required to have a bachelor’s degree and be working towards a master’s degree, or already have one, in order to become a certified teacher.

The new proposal would reduce the amount of field experience required of a teacher from 100 hours, which was recommended in July, to just 40 hours.

This move undermines the hard work of teachers who have gone the traditional route, according to Rosa and Elia.

“Lowering standards would not be acceptable for any other profession. This is an insult to the teaching profession. With this irresponsible action, the SUNY Charter Schools Committee has eroded the quality of teachers in New York State and negatively impacted student achievement,” their joint statement reads.

The concerns expressed by the Board of Regents and the State Education Department were echoed by New York State United Teachers, the largest teachers’ union in the state.

“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.

Schools that have met the SUNY Charter Institutes highest standards will now be allowed to submit their plans for certification paths to the institute for approval.

These new guidelines do not affect charter schools approved by the Board of Regents or the New York City Department of Education, the other two entities that can authorize charter schools in New York state.