A proposal recently approved by a committee of the State University of New York Board of Trustees will allow publicly funded charter schools to hire teacher candidates with only 40 hours of student teaching experience in the SUNY-authorized charter schools, and that will likely spread to other charter schools.
The alternative certification is designed to address the challenge faced by charter schools to find and hire certified teachers. But this so-called solution is likely to create a new problem by placing unqualified teachers in classrooms, ultimately undermining learning in public schools. The approval from the board’s charter schools committee means that SUNY-authorized charter schools can apply to participate in the proposed certification program.
The state Education Department, the state Board of Regents, and the United Federation of Teachers all object to the program, claiming it violates state law. The courts may ultimately overturn the law, but the State Legislature should pass a bill prohibiting the certification of any teachers who do not meet existing state licensure requirements.
Supporters of reducing or even dismantling teacher preparation requirements for charter schools contend strong student achievement justifies such proposals. However, they provide no research data to substantiate this claim. Given that charter schools do not have to accept students with special learning, language or behavioral needs, the charter school student population cannot be easily compared with other public schools, which are legally required to accept all children in the district. As a result, the argument for less teacher preparation is fundamentally flawed.
Indeed, the proposed regulations will create a second-class category of teachers with limited career mobility. The rate of teacher turnover in charter schools is already high, with 40 percent annual turnover, compared to 14 percent turnover for public schools, according to the state Education Department. In some charter schools, more than half the teachers leave from one school year to the next, creating the very problem this so-called solution is designed to address. Those charter school teachers who decide later to move to better-paid positions in the public school system will still need to go through the normal certification process.
State requirements mandate that a candidate complete 100 hours of field experience prior to student teaching, which then requires a minimum of 40 days of full-time student teaching (for a first-time certification, additional certifications require more in-school observation and student teaching). The approved charter regulations suggest that a mere 40 hours of student teaching, which are supervised by a teacher who may not even be certified in the area being taught, is sufficient to give the candidate the full range of instructional and classroom management skills. No ongoing professional development appears to be required once a teacher has gained this special teaching license. Such limited preparation puts the education of students at SUNY charter schools at risk.
Further, by establishing this alternate route for charter school teachers, the state will undermine teacher education programs designed to prepare students according to existing standards. This puts the education of students in K-12 classrooms at risk for more than a generation.
The fact that the state has one of the most stringent certification structures in the nation is not a matter of shame. In fact, it is a point of pride — evidence of our community’s desire to place the best possible instructors in the classroom. The new certification for SUNY charter schools will dismantle this structure, and will compromise the success of our children.
Benjamin Rifkin is dean of Hofstra University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.