it's official

The votes are in: Some New York charter schools can now certify their own teachers

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Wednesday's SUNY Charter School Committee meeting.

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.

Despite pushback, members of the SUNY Board of Trustee’s charter school committee voted 4 to 1 Wednesday to approve the regulations. Supporters argued that they are necessary to fill hiring gaps at high-performing charter schools.

“I believe there is a substantial need for additional teachers in the charter system,” said SUNY board member Edward Spiro. “I would suggest that the proposed regulation may increase [teacher] quality by broadening the pool of candidates for charters to choose from.”

After the vote, the city and state teachers unions said they would challenge the new rules in court.

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa released a joint statement Wednesday condemning the regulation, which they called “an insult to the teaching profession.” The new rules lower the standards for teachers in SUNY-authorized schools, opening the door to educators with limited experience and training, they said in the statement.

“With this irresponsible action, the SUNY Charter Schools Committee has eroded the quality of teachers in New York State and negatively impacted student achievement,” they said.

Some 167 charter schools across the state — 147 of them in New York City — received their charters from SUNY. In order to apply to certify their own teachers under the new regulation, they must meet certain performance benchmarks and receive SUNY’s approval. Officials said they expect to begin accepting applications this year.

Large charter school networks that already run their own teacher-training programs are likely to benefit from this option, which Success Academy has championed. The networks and other charter advocates argue that their programs better prepare teachers for the day-to-day work of teaching than many traditional higher-education programs.

Achievement First provides five weeks of training to its incoming teachers, along with weekly professional development for all teachers, according to Fatimah Barker, Achievement First’s chief external officer. Those trainings are built around the network’s particular brand of instruction in a way that outside master’s programs would not be, Barker said.

“Ours is very tailored to what kids need,” she said.

Additionally, the regulation will allow charters to recruit teachers from a broader range of backgrounds — including more teachers of color, who are disproportionately excluded from traditional certification routes. Black and Hispanic teachers are about twice as likely as white teachers to have been certified through an alternative program, according to national data.

The traditional path to becoming a teacher in New York is to study education in college and pass a series of exams to earn an initial certification, then earn a master’s degree and teach for three years to become fully certified. There are also alternative routes, which SUNY’s certification plan resembles — though it does not require teachers to attend a college-run training program.

State education leaders and teachers unions have attacked SUNY’s certification plan since it was proposed.

Many of the objections centered on the limited amount of training that would be required of prospective teachers, which critics warned would put unqualified teachers in front of classrooms often filled with low-income students of color. (During Wednesday’s vote, some protestors held up signs calling the proposed regulations racist.)

In response to the pushback, SUNY published updated rules last weekend that increased the amount of required classroom instruction aspiring teachers must sit for and added a requirement that they pass one traditional certification exam or an equivalent test. The revisions also reduced the number of required practice-teaching hours.

On Wednesday, teachers unions and other critics erased all doubt that the changes would quell their concerns as they bashed the proposal and threatened to challenge the rule in court.

Michael Mulgrew, the head of the city teachers union, blasted the proposal and promised, “We will be suing if this board takes action.”

Mulgrew’s message came after the Alliance for Quality Education, a union-backed group, threatened similar legal action late Tuesday. The group claimed that SUNY officials violated state law by failing to give the public time to comment on the revised regulations. (SUNY officials said the changes were not significant enough to warrant another public-comment period.)

“The committee can amend this bad proposal until the cows come home,” said Andy Pallotta president of the state teachers union, in a statement after the vote, “but it doesn’t change the fact that these regulations sell out the state’s most vulnerable children to score political points.”

student teaching

Building a teacher pipeline: How one Aurora school has become a training ground for aspiring teachers

Paraprofessional Sonia Guzman, a student of a teaching program, works with students at Elkhart Elementary School in Aurora. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

Students at Aurora’s Elkhart Elementary School are getting assistance from three aspiring teachers helping out in classrooms this year, part of a new partnership aimed at building a bigger and more diverse teacher pipeline.

The teachers-to-be, students at the University of Northern Colorado’s Center for Urban Education, get training and a paid job while they’re in college. Elkhart principal Ron Schumacher gets paraprofessionals with long-term goals and a possibility that they’ll be better prepared to be Aurora teachers.

For Schumacher, it’s part of a plan to not only help his school, but also others in Aurora Public Schools increase teacher retention.

“Because of the nature of our school demographics, it’s a coin flip with a new teacher,” Schumacher said. “If I lose 50 percent of my teachers over time, I’m being highly inefficient. If these ladies know what they’re getting into and I can have them prepared to be a more effective first-year teacher, there’s more likelihood that I’ll keep them in my school in the long term.”

Elkhart has about 590 students enrolled this year. According to state data from last year, more than 95 percent of the students who attend the school qualify for subsidized lunches, a measure of poverty. The school, which operates with an International Baccalaureate program, has outperformed the district average on some state tests.

The three paraprofessionals hired by the school this year are part of the teaching program at UNC’s Lowry campus, which has long required students to work in a school for the four years they work on their degree.

Students get paid for their work in schools, allowing them to earn some money while going to college. Students from the program had worked in Aurora schools in the past, but not usually three students at once at the same school, and not as part of a formal partnership.

The teaching program has a high number of students of color and first-generation college students, which Rosanne Fulton, the program director, said is another draw for partnering with schools in the metro area.

Schumacher said every principal and education leader has the responsibility to help expose students to more teachers who can relate to them.

One of this year’s paraprofessionals is Andy Washington, an 18-year-old who attended Elkhart for a few years when she was a child.

“Getting to know the kids on a personal level, I thought I was going to be scared, but they’re cool,” Washington said.

Another paraprofessional, 20-year-old Sonia Guzman, said kids are opening up to them.

“They ask you what college is like,” Guzman said.

Schumacher said there are challenges to hiring the students, including figuring out how to make use of the students during the morning or early afternoon while being able to release them before school is done for the day so they can make it to their college classes.

Schumacher said he and his district director are working to figure out the best ways to work around those problems so they can share lessons learned with other Aurora principals.

“We’re using some people differently and tapping into volunteers a little differently, but if it’s a priority for you, there are ways of accommodating their schedules,” he said.

At Elkhart, full-time interventionists work with students in kindergarten through third grade who need extra help learning to read.

But the school doesn’t have the budget to hire the same professionals to work with older students. The three student paraprofessionals are helping bridge that gap, learning from the interventionists so they can work with fourth and fifth grade students.

Recently, the three started getting groups of students that they pull out during class to give them extra work on reading skills.

One exercise they worked on with fourth grade students recently was helping them identify if words had an “oi” or “oy” spelling based on their sounds. Students sounded out their syllables and used flashcards to group similar words.

Districts across the country have looked at similar approaches to help attract and prepare teachers for their own schools. In Denver, bond money voters approved last year is helping pay to expand a program this year where paraprofessionals can apply for a one-year program to become teachers while they continue working.

In the partnership at Elkhart, students paraprofessionals take longer than that, but in their first and second year are already learning how to write lessons during their afternoon classes and then working with teachers at the school to deliver the lessons and then reflect on how well they worked. Students say the model helps them feel supported.

“It’s really helping me to become more confident,” said Stephanie Richards, 26, the third paraprofessional. “I know I’m a lot more prepared.”

Schumacher said the model could also work in the future with students from other teaching schools or programs. It’s a small but important part, he said, toward helping larger efforts to attract and retain teachers, and also diversify the ranks.

“You’re doing something for the next generation of folks coming in,” he said.

surprise!

Teachers in Millington and Knoxville just won the Oscar awards of education

PHOTO: Milken Family Foundation
Millington English teacher Katherine Watkins reacts after learning that she is the recipient of a 2017 Milken Educator Award.

Two Tennessee teachers were surprised during school assemblies Thursday with a prestigious national teaching award, $25,000 checks, and a visit from the state’s education chief.

Katherine Watkins teaches high school English in Millington Municipal Schools in Shelby County. She serves as the English department chair and professional learning community coordinator at Millington Central High School. She is also a trained jazz pianist, published poet, and STEM teacher by summer.

PHOTO: Milken Family Foundation
Paula Franklin learns she is among the recipients.

Paula Franklin teaches Advanced Placement government at West High School in Knoxville. Since she took on the course, its enrollment has doubled, and 82 percent of her students pass with an average score that exceeds the national average.

The teachers are two of 45 educators being honored nationally with this year’s Milken Educator Awards from the Milken Family Foundation. The award includes a no-strings-attached check for $25,000.

“It is an honor to celebrate two exceptional Tennessee educators today on each end of the state,” said Education Commissioner Candice McQueen, who attended each assembly. “Paula Franklin and Katherine Watkins should be proud of the work they have done to build positive relationships with students and prepare them with the knowledge and skills to be successful in college and the workforce.”

Foundation chairman Lowell Milken was present to present the awards, which have been given to thousands of teachers since 1987.

PHOTO: Milken Family Foundation
Students gather around Millington teacher Katherine Watkins as she receives a check as part of her Milken Educator Award.

The Milken awards process starts with recommendations from sources that the foundation won’t identify. Names are then reviewed by committees appointed by state departments of education, and their recommendations are vetted by the foundation, which picks the winners.

Last year, Chattanooga elementary school teacher Katie Baker was Tennessee’s sole winner.

In all, 66 Tennessee educators have been recognized by the Milken Foundation and received a total of $1.6 million since the program began in the state in 1992.

You can learn more about the Milken Educator Awards here.