The Department of Education hasn’t officially submitted a proposal to train and certify its own teachers, but already the plan has encountered stiff resistance.

Just two days after a top department official floated the idea during testimony at Governor Cuomo’s education reform commission, New York City teachers union president Michael Mulgrew said he “strongly opposes” any effort to give the city authority over teacher certification, a process currently reserved almost exclusively for education colleges.

State and city officials contend that handing off certification duties to the education department would help chip away at the long-standing problem of teacher shortage some subjects.

But citing teacher attrition data from the 2006-2007 school year, Mulgrew wrote in a letter to commission Chair Richard Parsons today that if anyone is to blame for the teacher shortages in the school system, it is the education department.

Of the 6940 teachers hired that year, 38.9 percent have left the system, according to data provided by the UFT. That rate increased to 50 percent for teachers of Science, English and English as a Second Language.

“The specific problems of staffing these shortage areas are not a function of poor teacher training in existing institutions, but rather the DOE’s abysmal record of supporting, developing and retaining the teachers it already has,” Mulgrew wrote.

Overall teacher attrition is actually down 50 percent since the time Bloomberg took office a decade ago, according to department spokeswoman Erin Hughes said.

“Mr. Mulgrew is entitled to his own rhetoric, but not his own facts,” Hughes said in a statement. Mulgrew and union officials said that fewer people left the school system in recent years because the economic recession and high unemployment has made it riskier for teachers to leave their jobs.

In Tuesday’s testimony, however, Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suranksy said  that traditional education programs haven’t produced enough highly-qualified candidates to fill the system’s needs.

“Already, we’re having to retrain many teachers when they come into the system because they don’t have the skills that they need,” Polakow-Suranksy said.

The commission, which includes American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, won’t have a final say on whether the proposal is approved. But its recommendations, expected later this year, are likely to influence many education policy decisions that get made at the state level.

Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents, said today that better preparation — not high attrition — was the solution.

“For 30 years we’ve been talking about shortages in math and science,” she said. Traditional education programs “aren’t churning out enough teachers who are qualified and certified to teach at the level we need them to.”

“No one should get in an uproar,” Tisch added. “This is the beginning of a conversation that I think is long overdue.”

Mulgrew’s letter is below:

18 October 2012

Richard Parsons
Chair
(c/o Katie Campos)
The Education Reform Commission
The State Capitol
Room 257
Albany, NY 12224

Dear Mr. Parsons,

I want to thank you and the members of the Education Reform Commission for the recent opportunity you afforded me to talk about the pressing issues that the children and the schools of New York City face.  These include the need for community learning centers and the lack of  enhanced curriculum and professional development to meet the challenges posed by the state’s adoption of the national Common Core standards in reading and mathematics.

But I would also like to address an issue raised by the city’s Department of Education – the DOE’s request that it be granted the power on its own to certify teachers for the classroom.  Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky specifically cited the need for special education and science teachers, and said “We don’t want to have to depend on a university in order to train our teachers.”

The United Federation of Teachers strongly opposes any effort to allow the city’s Department of Education to certify teachers for the classroom, in part because the DOE has proven itself seriously challenged by the management responsibilities it already holds to manage and improve the 1,700 public schools in New York City.

The specific problems of staffing these shortage areas are not a function of poor teacher training in existing institutions, but rather the DOE’s abysmal record of supporting, developing and retaining the teachers it already has.

The DOE cited science and special education as areas of particular need, but as the accompanying chart shows, more than one-third of the special ed teachers the DOE hired in the 2006-2007 school year have already left the system.  The DOE may cite outside economic forces as the source of the loss of half the science teachers hired during the same period, but it can hardly use that excuse to justify the loss of half the English and ESL teachers during the same time.  This constant churning of teachers destabilizes schools and ill-serves the one million students in our system.

Giving the DOE the power to certify teachers on its own would do little to confront the real problem of teacher attrition, and at best would be only a distraction from the heavy responsibilities the DOE already struggles to deal with.

Sincerely,
Michael Mulgrew
President
United Federation of Teachers

Cc:  James Malatras

Deputy Secretary for Policy

 

                     NYC Teachers Hired July 2006-July 2007, by License,

                        With Cumulative Attrition through December 2011

 

LICENSE

 

NUMBER HIRED

# ATTRITION

TO DATE

% ATTRITION

 TO DATE

Common Branch

1827

643

35.2%

English

633

316

49.9%

ESL

325

164

50.5%

Math

663

296

44.6%

Other

1179

368

31.2%

Sciences-all

436

223

51.1%

Social Studies

395

166

42.0%

SpEd

1482

522

35.2%

TOTAL

6940

2698

38.9%*

Source:  DOEpersonnel files