teacher certification

SUNY revises controversial proposal to let some New York charter schools certify their own teachers

PHOTO: Jaclyn Zubrzycki

A state group that oversees some New York charter schools has revised a hotly contested proposal to let its schools certify their own teachers ahead of Wednesday’s vote, according to an updated proposal.

Though the basic elements of the original proposal remains in tact, prospective teachers will now be required to sit for significantly more hours of instruction (though the amount of time they must spend practice teaching has been reduced), and they now must pass one of the exams used in the traditional certification process or an equivalent test.

“We appreciated all of the comments we received and we made significant changes based on those comments,” Joseph Belluck, the head of SUNY’s charter school committee, which will vote on the proposal next week. “We feel like we now have a proposed set of regulations that accomplish our goal of putting highly qualified teachers in our charter schools.”

SUNY, the charter authorizer that created the proposal, is attempting to beef up the certification rules following intense pushback by a host of critics, including the state education department and teachers unions.

Critics think the proposal is “insulting” to the teaching profession and will flood classrooms with unqualified teachers, while SUNY officials say the proposal is necessary to fill hiring gaps at charter schools.

The original proposal required prospective teachers to sit for 30 hours of instruction and then practice 100 hours of teaching under the supervision of an experienced teacher, far less than the requirements for a traditional school teacher.

The limited training came under attack, even drawing uncharacteristic ire from State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, who said, “I could go into a fast food restaurant and get more training than that.”

In the revised proposal, prospective teachers will be required to sit for 160 hours of classroom instruction, which amounts to about a month of full-time work. However, the time required for teaching practice will drop from 100 to 40 hours.

Belluck said the changes were made to align with already existing alternative certification paths that allow some prospective teachers to circumvent traditional requirements. Though the hours of field experience and instruction in SUNY’s proposal mirror an existing alternative route, the proposal does not have all the same requirements. For instance, SUNY’s plan does require aspiring teachers to be enrolled in a college’s teacher education program.

The new regulations ask prospective teachers to take the Educating All Students test, an exam designed to test strategies for teaching students with special needs, including English learners and students with disabilities. (If prospective teachers don’t take that exam, they must take a different one approved by SUNY that has “all required elements” of the test.)

Prospective teachers in New York are typically required to take three certification exams, including a content test and the controversial edTPA, which requires a portfolio of work.

Critics of the traditional teacher certification process say it is out of touch with the real-life demands of teaching and unnecessarily weeds out prospective teachers. Across the country, teacher certification requirements also disproportionately shut out black and Hispanic prospective teachers, a Chalkbeat analysis found.

Several charter school operators think they can put together a better system that focuses on the practical aspects of teaching. But whether this proposal gives them too much leeway to make their own rules is likely to be debated.

In the original proposal, the teacher certification would only count at SUNY-authorized charter schools, meaning teachers would not be able to switch to district schools and even some other charter schools without additional training. Some warned this would create “two tiers of certification,” trapping teachers in certain charter schools.

The new proposal is still only valid at SUNY-authorized schools, but Belluck hopes that it will be easier for teachers who are certified this way to gain full state certification since the new regulations are more closely aligned with the state’s certification process.

The draft revisions also allow charter schools to contract with higher education institutions to create their training programs and require schools to explain their need for an alternative certification path. (Currently, only 15 uncertified teachers are allowed in a given charter school.) It also stipulates that charter schools must meet certain academic benchmarks before they can apply to train their own teachers.

SUNY’s charter school committee is expected to vote on the revised proposal at their meeting on Wednesday.

boosting literacy

A new Memphis nonprofit sees training teachers in dyslexia therapy as key to closing literacy gap for all

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Memphis Delta Preparatory charter school is one of four schools working with ALLMemphis to develop stronger literacy curriculum.

A new nonprofit organization says educators must be better trained to recognize and teach students with learning disorders like dyslexia if they are to raise reading proficiency throughout Memphis.

Michelle Gaines and Krista L. Johnson founded ALLMemphis in June to boost overall reading comprehension and fill a gap they see in local classrooms — the lack of training for teachers in approaches proven to help students with dyslexia, a disorder from which many Memphis students are likely struggling.

The pair now work, for free, with about 500 students in four Memphis elementary charter schools and have trained 29 educators.

About one in five children in Tennessee are dyslexic, but until last year, early screenings weren’t required in local schools. Students with dyslexia have difficulty recognizing words and sounds and spelling, but can learn how to read with a specific multisensory approach that combines touch, sound and sight.

But even when the disorder is caught early, schools often don’t have the proper training or tools to address it. Gaines and Johnson say their organization can change that and even benefit students who aren’t dyslexic.

Specifically, ALLMemphis trains teachers in the Orton-Gillingham multi-sensory approach to reading that is common in dyslexia therapy but is rarely a part of public school curriculum in Tennessee.

“This approach is the gold standard when it comes to dyslexia therapy, but we believe it can benefit children’s reading ability regardless whether or not they are dyslexic,” Johnson said. “Our mission is to impact the third-grade reading crisis, and we believe this can do it.” 

PHOTO: Darius Williams
Krista L. Johnson

The latest data shows that two out of three Memphis third-graders aren’t reading on grade level. Shelby County Schools officials have set a goal of to have 90 percent of students reading on grade level by 2025.

ALLMemphis trained teachers and coaches in Orton-Gillingham over the summer and works with the educators throughout the year. Gaines and Johnson also work with individual students in the classrooms. The organization will be tracking student data throughout the year, and the initial results are encouraging.

While working for the Bodine School in Memphis, a private school that serves students with dyslexia, Gaines and Johnson piloted their teacher-training model at KIPP Memphis Collegiate Elementary for the last two years. They left Bodine to form ALLMemphis in June and brought on Megan Weinstein shortly after to oversee data evaluation.

Johnson said ALLMemphis will work with their current four schools for the next three years, with hopes of adding new schools every year. Eventually, the plan is to charge schools a minimal fee.

Gaines said the initial data after two years showed that KIPP students who worked with ALLMemphis showed more growth overall on MAP score data than their peers, especially in first and fourth grades.

PHOTO: Darius Williams
Michelle Gaines

“What’s so exciting is that the data shows this can work in an urban, whole-class setting,” Gaines said. “We know that as we grow, we want to continue offering supports that are relevant to teachers. We write and give teachers lesson plans and we work with coaches on assessments. The point is for our program to be an asset, not a burden.”

Catherine Norman, a teacher at KIPP Collegiate, said the training changed the way she thought about literacy and armed her with strong lesson plans, too.

“What I appreciate most about Orton-Gillingham is that it incorporates lots of different learning styles in one lesson,” Norman said. “The training is really expensive when a teacher does it on their own, but the fact they (ALLMemphis) have trained every K-3 teacher at our school is crazy in a good way. It makes me really excited because it provides a lot of opportunities that our kids wouldn’t get otherwise.”  

Schools currently working with ALLMemphis are KIPP Memphis Academy Elementary, Collegiate Elementary and Preparatory Elementary and Memphis Delta Preparatory.

teacher trap

America’s teachers don’t move out of state much. That could be bad for students.

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos

Certification rules can make moving to a new state a serious hassle for teachers.

That might explain a recent finding: Teachers are significantly less likely to move between states than others with similar jobs — and past research suggests that students suffer as a result.

The study, which uses national data from 2005 to 2015 and was released this week through the National Bureau of Economic Research, appears to be the first to document how frequently teachers move states compared to those in other occupations.

Teaching stands out: Relative to jobs requiring a similar level of education, teachers were 45 percent less likely to move to different state, but only 5 percent less likely to move a long distance within a given state. This suggests that teachers aren’t averse to moving — there are just strong incentives to not cross state lines.

That “may limit the ability of workers to move to take advantage of job opportunities,” the researchers write. That’s consistent with research on the Oregon–Washington border, where teachers were more likely to move long distances in their own state than shorter distances across the state line.

Winning permission to teach in a new state sometimes requires re-taking coursework and taking new certification exams. There may be good reasons for that — for instance, states that are particularly attractive to teachers may want to maintain especially high standards but it’s also a complicated process to navigate.

“Web-surfing became my life, through hard-to-navigate state department of education websites and portals that looked like something I had created back in my college sophomore computer science class in 1998,” wrote one teacher in a recent piece for Education Week, describing her efforts to meet new requirements after moving from Florida to Massachusetts.

This matters because the rules may keep teachers who move from re-entering the classroom altogether. A national survey found that among people who had left teaching but were considering re-entering the classroom, 40 percent identified “state certification reciprocity” as a key factor in their consideration.

That, in turn, affects students. One analysis has found that schools near state borders perform consistently worse on standardized tests — perhaps because certification and other rules limit the pool of potential teachers. Research has also shown that teachers perform best when they find a good “fit” with a school, and certification rules may make that harder.

Certification rules are not the only factor in play. Teachers’ decisions may also be influenced by retirement plans that aren’t easily portable and rules that would require them to give up seniority and tenure protections when they move.

It doesn’t have to work this way. The study finds that people in other professions, like medicine, are freer to move and have certifications that easily transfer between states. But the idea of a national “bar exam” for educators hasn’t ever gained traction.

A handful of states have agreed to accept one another’s certifications, and a provision in ESSA would allow federal money to go toward the efforts.

As for the teacher, Megan Allen, who struggled with Massachusetts’ rules — and had 10 years of experience and a National Board certification? She left public education as a result. “I didn’t feel like I was valued for any of the expertise that I had earned, worked hard for, and proved,” she wrote.