Judge Rejects Plan to Allow New York Charter Schools to Certify Their Own Teachers

On Tuesday, a judge in New York blocked a 2017 rule made by the Charter Schools Committee of the Board of Trustees of the State University of New York (SUNY) to allow charter schools and chains of charter schools sponsored by SUNY’s Board of Trustees to certify their own teachers.  Charter school certification programs were required, under the now-banned rule, to have included at least 160 hours of classroom training plus 40 hours of practice teaching.  The rule had been approved by New York’s state legislature as part of a political deal to favor Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academies.

ChalkBeat‘s Monica Disare describes the significance of Tuesday’s ruling banning the practice: “The judge’s ruling upends the plans of the city’s largest charter school network, Success Academy, and wipes out a legislative victory that New York’s charter sector thought it had won…. The regulations, approved by the State University of New York in October 2017, were designed to give charter schools more discretion over how they hired teachers. They eliminated the requirement that teachers earn master’s degrees and allowed charter schools authorized by SUNY to certify their teachers with as little as a month of classroom instruction and 40 hours of practice teaching.  Some charter networks argued their existing in-house training programs are more useful to new teachers than the training required for certification under state law.”

Desire reports that the judge’s ruling this week was not merely procedural. The decision addresses a core issue: who, under New York law, has the right to set standards and requirements for certification of school teachers: “Charter networks ‘are free to require more of the teachers they hire but they must meet the minimum standards set’ by the state, the judge wrote in her order.”

In her decision, Judge Debra J. Young writes: “SUNY Charter Schools Committee, a sub-committee of the SUNY Board of Trustees (hereinafter the SUNY Subcommittee) adopted regulations which purported to establish an independent licensure process as a substitute for the teacher certification system as established by New York State Board of Regents and the State Education Department…  Education Law 3004 provides petitioner/plaintiffs Commissioner Elia and the Board of Regents the exclusive authority regarding teacher certification.  8NYCRR Part 80 sets forth the requirements for teachers’ certificates.  This, combined with Education Law 2854 (3) (a-1) which delineates the certification requirements of teachers in charter schools sets forth the certification requirements.  Additionally, Education Law 3602-44 sets forth the requirements for certification of Universal Pre-K teachers. Under Education Law 355, contrary to respondents’/defendants/ contentions, licensure or certification of teachers does not constitute the ‘governance, structure and operations’ of charter schools. Education Law 355 (2-1) merely gives that SUNY subcommittee the power to regulate in limited areas.”

Ironically, across its many campuses, the State University of New York educates a large number of New York’s professionally certified school teachers. The SUNY Charter Schools Committee is a subcommittee of the SUNY Board of Trustees. It is not an academic body responsible for designing the content of teacher preparation; neither is it connected with any of the Schools of Education located at the regional branches of the State University of New York. Under the new rule, now banned, the charter school networks were entirely free to set their own curriculum, expectations, and standards for teacher preparation.

The NY Times’ Elizabeth Harris describes the political deal the state legislature struck to grant charters school networks the power to certify their teachers: “The rules, enacted last year by the State University of New York, one of two entities that grants charters in the state, were part of a 2016 deal in the state legislature. In exchange for extending mayoral control of New York City schools, State Senate Republicans gave SUNY more authority to regulate the schools it oversees. SUNY then used that power to allow some schools to train and certify their own teachers… Eva Moskowitz, the founder of Success Academy, is close to Senate Republicans and the deal was seen as a gift to her.  Success has had difficulty recruiting enough teachers as the network expands.”

Harris publishes the response to Tuesday’s decision from the New York state officials who are responsible for overseeing the preparation of school teachers: “Betty A. Rosa, chancellor of the Board of Regents, and MaryEllen Elia, the state education commissioner, celebrated the decision and said in a statement, ‘Every child—regardless of color, economic status or ability—deserves a qualified teacher with meaningful experience to be prepared for the classroom.”

ChalkBeat‘s Disare reports that the legal challenges to the new SUNY Committee rule had been filed by state education officials as well as the state teachers union: “(T)he rule was quickly challenged by the State Education Department and the state teachers union, which filed separate lawsuits that were joined in April. They argued that SUNY overstepped its authority and charged that the rule change would lead to children being taught by inexperienced and unqualified teachers.”

It is well known that particular chains of charter schools expect the teachers they hire to practice the schools’ own formulaic teaching techniques and that many, including Success Academies, enforce compliance and obedience by imposing punitive zero-tolerance discipline. In contrast, school teachers, educated in traditional certification programs are exposed not only teaching methodology, but also thoughtful courses on child and adolescent development, educational psychology and the philosophy of education. Such programs are designed to help educators develop an understanding of the needs of students and the importance of teaching that helps form emotionally secure, thoughtful, curious, and rigorous students and good citizens. Too frequently charter schools demand instead that teachers practice a sequence of specific techniques.

Education writer and life-long teacher of teachers at UCLA, Mike Rose criticizes the kind of technique-based training young recruits are likely to be taught in the kind of month-long training Success Academy was hoping to establish under the new SUNY rules that Judge Debra Young has now banned: “If you pare down your concept of teaching far enough, you are left with sequences of behaviors and routines—with techniques. Technique becomes central to the reformers’ redefinition of teaching, and the focus on technique is at the heart of many of the alternative teacher credentialing programs that have emerged over the past decade.  Effective techniques are an important part of the complex activity that is teaching, and good mentorship includes analyzing a teacher’s work and providing corrective feedback. Teachers of teachers have been doing this for a long time. What is new is the nearly exclusive focus on techniques, the increased role of digital technology to study them, and the attempt to define ‘effective’ by seeking positive correlations between specific techniques and, you guessed it, students’ standardized test scores.”

It is expected that Judge Young’s decision will be appealed by the SUNY Committee to a higher court.

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Some of New York’s Powerful Charter School Networks Win Right to Certify Their Own Teachers

The NY Times reports that on Wednesday, “The charter schools committee of SUNY’s Board of Trustees voted to approve regulations that will allow some (charter) schools to design their own teacher-training programs and certify their own teachers.”  This is, of course, the story of a charter-school-authorizing body in one state—a committee of the State University of New York’s Board of Trustees—that has been appointed to sponsor and oversee the operation and quality of charter schools.  But it is also a much bigger story about a nationwide problem: the influence of money and power on non-elected and unaccountable bodies that states have appointed to sponsor charter schools.

CHALKBEAT NY describes what the new rule will mean for the New York charter schools sponsored by SUNY’s Board of Trustees: “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.”  Charter school leaders had been lobbying for the new rules because they have been experiencing rapid staff turnover and a subsequent teacher shortage.

The rules had been revised in recent days, reports the NY Times, after State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia declared: “I could go into a fast-food restaurant and get more training than that.” Originally the plan had required only 30 hours of classroom training but the required hours of instruction were increased to 160 after Elia condemned the plan. However, the new regulations, which had originally required 100 hours of in-classroom teaching experience, were modified to require only 40 hours.

SUNY’s Board of Trustees is one of two charter school sponsoring bodies in New York. The 167 charter schools across the state that are sponsored by the SUNY Charter Schools Committee—including Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy Charters—are the only schools to which this new ruling will apply.  Teachers certified under the new rules will be eligible to teach in neither New York’s public schools nor in charter schools authorized by the state’s other sponsoring agency. Ironically, the campuses of the State University of New York educate and certify public school teachers with in-depth programs that require extensive supervised classroom teaching experience.

Eliza Shapiro, writing for POLITIO Morning Education, explains that leaders of powerful charter school networks have been pushing their sponsor for less stringent requirements for their teachers: “The city’s charter networks have long relied on young and inexperienced teachers—often on two-year, Teach for America contracts—to staff their growing networks. Charter network chiefs have been plagued by high turnover among teachers who burn out after a few years in the classroom and move on to higher-paying jobs outside of education. Certification woes have also left some of the city’s most powerful charter networks vulnerable to legal trouble. Earlier this year, POLITICO reported that officials at Success Academy privately acknowledged being out of compliance with state laws mandating a certain threshold of certified teachers in every school. Charter leaders, led by Success CEO Eva Moskowitz, have spent years pushing the SUNY board and charter-friendly legislators in Albany to come up with a solution to the problem of certification.”

In a joint statement, New York Board of Regents Chancellor Betty A. Rosa and Education Commissioner Elia condemn the new rules: “We strongly disapprove of today’s actions by the SUNY Charter Schools Committee. With the adoption of the latest proposal, the Committee ignored our concerns and those of many others in education. Over the past several years, the Board of Regents and the Department have raised standards for our teachers…. 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.”

New York City’s United Federation of Teachers, New York State United Teachers, and the Alliance for Quality Education have threatened to challenge the new regulations in court.

It is becoming increasingly clear that 25 years ago when state legislators created charter schools with the claim they were freeing the schools from the straitjacket of bureaucracy, they naively created an education sector that is too frequently overly responsive to powerful interests and unresponsive to government’s responsibility to protect children. While the details are different from Michigan to Ohio to New York, the problem is that charter schools are shielded from government oversight in the public interest—even if, as in New York, the charter school sponsor is a committee of the board of trustees of a state university.