teacher prep

Department of Education wants the state to let it certify teachers

If the Department of Education gets its way, new teachers won’t have to enroll in local colleges or universities to get certification to work in city schools.

Shael Polakow-Suransky, the department’s second in command, said today that the department would ask the state for permission to certify teachers internally by using top educators to train new recruits in shortage areas. Currently, teachers must either have completed an education certification program at a college or university or be enrolled in one.

Traditional teacher preparation programs have not produced enough special education or science teachers to fill the city’s needs, Polakow-Suransky said. Reforms to the way students with disabilities are served this year have pushed the city to offer current teachers an incentive to take classes that would allow them to lead special education classes.

“We don’t want to have to depend on a university in order to train our teachers,” he said this afternoon. “Already, we’re having to retrain many teachers when they come into the system because they don’t have the skills that they need.”

State officials say they will consider the city’s application when it is formally filed. But if approved, the proposal would build on several other changes to teacher preparation rules that the state has rolled out in recent years in response to growing criticism that teachers trained in the traditional way are not always up to par.

In 2009, state officials announced that alternative certification programs such as Teach for America would become eligible to certify teachers without partnering with a college or university to provide training, as they always had. This past June, the American Museum of Natural History became the first non-graduate school to gain state permission to certify teachers.

Last year, a new graduate school of education, Relay GSE, opened with an exclusive mission of training teachers while they are already working in schools; several charter school networks now use it to train their teachers exclusively, and some district teachers attend as well. The state is currently in the process of adopting new certification standards that focus more on real teaching and less on written tests and other benchmarks to prove competence.

But no district has yet been granted permission to certify its own teachers. Such a move would grant an unprecedented level of authority to local education officials while heightening competition with existing teacher preparation programs.

Under the proposal, which the city has not yet made formally, the department would fast-track teachers into the classroom for areas where more teachers are needed, including special education and science. They would work in thriving schools alongside strong teachers who would serve as instructors in an arrangement similar to that of small-scale residency programs that the city introduced last year.

The difference would be that no higher education institution would have to be involved, saving both teachers and the city on tuition while freeing up more of teachers’ time to focus on on-the-ground needs.

Polakow-Suransky announced the proposal while testifying before Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s education reform commission this afternoon during a meeting that was held at a teaching college, Bank Street College of Education.

“While we have some really powerful partnerships with higher education, the capacity to drive teacher development exists within the system,” Polakow-Suransky said. He added, “I don’t think the higher education programs are going away, and that wouldn’t be my intention.”

The program would not award master’s degrees and would not supplant the city’s longstanding Teaching Fellows program, which brings new teachers into the classroom full-time while also requiring them to take classes at local universities. But Polakow-Suransky left open the possibility that a department-run certification program could expand in the future.

“This would be initially small because we have to prove that we can do this well,” he said. “Who knows where it will lead in the long run?”

Jon Snyder, a dean at Bank Street, said during the commission meeting it would be a mistake to let all of the certification power rest with either higher education or the city alone, because a major problem facing teacher training is the fact that pre-service training does not match up with in-service needs. “We are going to recreate our existing problem” if the city gains more authority over teacher certification, he said.

The city has already had informal conversations about the proposal with Commissioner John King, Polakow-Suransky said. “He didn’t say no. He didn’t say yes either.”

Today, King said, “We’ll review what the city is proposing. Our top priority is to ensure that new teachers have content knowledge and instructional skills to successfully prepare people for college and careers.”

But Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said the proposal deserved consideration because it aims to solve a problem — a shortage of teachers in certain areas — that has existed for decades at least.

“You can’t just keep identifying the same problem areas and tread water on difficult questions and say you are moving the system forward,” Tisch said. “Everything needs to be on the table.”

Election Forum

Tennesseans are about to get their first good look at candidates for governor on education

PHOTO: TN.gov
Former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen speaks as his successor, Gov. Bill Haslam, listens during a 2017 forum hosted by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education. Tennesseans will elect their next governor in November.

For almost 16 years, two Tennessee governors from two different political parties have worked off mostly the same playbook when it comes to K-12 education.

This year, voters will choose a new governor who will determine if that playbook stays intact — or takes a different direction from the administrations of Bill Haslam, a Republican leaving office next January, and Phil Bredesen, the Democrat who preceded him.

Voters will get to hear from all but one of the major candidates Tuesday evening during the first gubernatorial forum televised statewide. Organizers say the spotlight on education is fitting since, based on one poll, it’s considered one of the top three issues facing Tennessee’s next governor. Both K-12 and higher education are on the table.

Candidates participating are:

  • Mae Beavers, a Republican from Mt. Juliet and former Tennessee state senator;
  • Randy Boyd, a Republican from Knoxville and former commissioner of Economic and Community Development and a Republican from Knoxville;
  • Karl Dean, a Democrat and former mayor of Nashville;
  • Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, a Democrat from Ripley and minority leader in the Tennessee House of Representatives;
  • Rep. Beth Harwell, a Republican from Nashville and speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives;
  • Bill Lee, a Republican businessman from Williamson County

The seventh major candidate, U.S. Rep. Diane Black, a Republican from Gallatin, is in the midst of a congressional session in Washington, D.C.

The next governor will help decide whether Tennessee will stay the course under its massive overhaul of K-12 education initiated under Bredesen’s watch. The work was jump-started by the state’s $500 million federal Race to the Top award, for which Tennessee agreed to adopt the Common Core academic standards for math and English; incorporate students’ scores from standardized tests in annual teacher evaluations; and establish a state-run turnaround district to intervene in low-performing schools at an unprecedented level.

Tennessee has since enjoyed steady student growth and watched its national rankings rise, but the transition hasn’t been pain-free. Pushback on its heavy-handed turnaround district led leaders to widen school improvement strategies. They also ordered new academic standards due to political backlash over the Common Core (though the revised standards are still basically grounded in Common Core).

A major issue now is whether the next governor and legislature will retain Tennessee’s across-the-board system of accountability for students, teachers, schools and districts. Snafus and outright failures with TNReady, the new standardized test that serves as the lynchpin, have prompted some calls to make the assessment just a diagnostic tool or scrap it altogether. Haslam and his leadership team have stood firm.

“We as Tennesseans made the right call — the tough call — on the policies we’ve pursued,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen told Chalkbeat recently. “Nearly every other state has compromised in some way on some of these core foundational components of policy work, and we have not.”

The State Collaborative on Reforming Education, an advocacy group that works closely with Tennessee’s Department of Education, is a co-host of Tuesday’s forum. Known as SCORE, the group has sought to shape the election-year conversation with priorities that include teacher quality, improving literacy, and developing school leaders — all outgrowths of learnings during Tennessee’s Race to the Top era.

SCORE President David Mansouri said the goal is to maintain the momentum of historic gains in student achievement from the last decade. “The next administration’s education policy decisions will be crucial in determining whether Tennessee students continue to progress faster than students in other states and whether they graduate ready for postsecondary success,” he said Monday.

The one-hour forum will delve into a range of issues. College and career readiness, education equity, and school funding will be among the topics broached before each candidate is allowed a one-minute closing statement, according to David Plazas, a Tennessean editor who will help moderate the discussion.

“It will be really exciting,” Plazas promised. “We’re hoping the candidates are prepared to talk substantively on the issues and to avoid slogans.”

The event begins at 7 p.m. CT at Nashville’s Belmont University. Along with SCORE, it’s being co-hosted by USA TODAY NETWORK and Nashville’s NewsChannel 5. You can livestream the event here and learn more about attending or watching here.

Tennessee’s primary election is set for Aug. 2, with the general election on Nov. 6.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede