It comes as no surprise that in New York the SUNY Charter School committee voted to approve its controversial regulations that will allow SUNY authorized charter schools to certify their own teachers. Faced with criticism that ranged from teacher educators to the state teachers’ union to the Commissioner of Education to the state Board of Regents, SUNY altered the rules slightly, increasing course hours but cutting time spent in classrooms. According to the Times reporting, even Kate Walsh of the National Council on Teacher Quality, a self-appointed watchdog on teacher education that rates teacher preparation programs without ever bothering to visit them, spoke dubiously on the regulations as passed:
“It’s, ‘Here, we’ll make our candidates go out and take, what is this, a three-credit course that everybody will roll their eyes and say, “This isn’t very helpful,” but higher ed will get the dollars, so you get higher ed off your back,’” Ms. Walsh said. At the same time, she said, “I don’t understand how you justify reducing the practice time to 40 hours, which is not even two weeks of school.”
Teacher certificates earned at a SUNY authorized charter school will still only be good for teaching at another SUNY authorized charter school, so it is an open question about whether or not this will be a large pipeline for charter schools who are still held to state requirements that a large percentage of their teachers hold valid teaching credentials and are seeking to bypass that by doing it in house. What is clear is that charter chains like Success Academy, which boast very high scores on state tests and very little tolerance for even mildly divergent behavior, are pleased since they will no longer have to bother with new teachers who have actually learned to teach and have existing teaching experience and knowledge of pedagogy. The immediate upshot of the SUNY vote is that such schools no longer have to bother pretending that teaching is more than performance of a script informed by an enthusiastic reading of Teach Like a Champion.
I wrote about these proposed regulations, as did many education bloggers, when they were released for public comment. Unsurprisingly, I found them appalling. In order to circumvent their difficulty in recruiting and retaining qualified teachers, the charter school sector proposed that their schools, which disproportionately operate in urban environments with largely minority student populations, be allowed to provide the barest minimal training, justifying it because they get high test scores, and call it “teacher certification.” Compared to the actual programs of teacher preparation – including extensive coursework and work in classrooms as well as a rigorous external performance evaluation – the now passed regulations amount to the slimmest preparation, 16 credit hours of instruction and less than a week worth of time in an actual classroom. Presumably, it is okay for black and brown children to be taught by teachers far less prepared than their peers in richer and less diverse schools. Add in the incredibly incestuous relationship between charter schools, their donors, the Governor of New York, and the appointees on the SUNY Board, and the ethical quagmire here is obvious…even by Albany standards.
Dr. Bruce Baker of Rutgers University reminded his social media followers that some charters actually have a financial interest in this arrangement:
The “Company Store” metaphor harkens back to pre-labor union days when workers could be paid in company scrip that was only good for use in the store run by the company itself. In the charter school case, many of the schools that will operate SUNY approve “certification” programs will gain back teachers’ salaries in models already proven by Relay “Graduate School” of Education:
Former teachers from the affiliated charter schools report being obligated as a condition of employment to obtain credentials (MA degrees and related certifications) from Relay GSE. That is: employees at the charter schools are having a portion of their salary taxed to pay tuition to a “graduate school” run by founders of their own charter schools, operated within their own charter school facility (lease agreement unknown), where courses are often taught by their own teaching peers having only slightly more advanced education and experience.[xi] We elaborate on this example in Appendix A.
Another way for affiliated charter schools to channel money to Relay is to set aside a portion of their budget to subsidize graduate education—but only at Relay GSE. That is, some EMOs (including Uncommon) have a practice of paying for graduate degrees obtained from Relay, but not from any other institution (unless the teacher can prove that Relay does not offer a degree in the same field). Teachers agreeing to pursue their degrees from Relay with school support must complete those degrees or, as noted earlier, are required to reimburse their EMO for any/all tuition reimbursement they received.
While this model is not as well tested in New York State, the SUNY Charter School Committee just opened the entire system of SUNY authorized charter schools to give it a try.
Education blogger and Rutgers graduate student Jersey Jazzman, however, pointed out a very important potential consequence of the scheme that may not turn out so well for charters who decide to bypass traditionally prepared teachers. New Yorkl charter schools with high turnovers of teachers get to “free ride” on the salary scales at district schools because their teachers, mostly in possession of traditional teaching credentials know they can move on to positions where their salary scales and benefits are guaranteed by union contracts:
But teachers who start their careers in charters will only stay a few years because they know they can move on to better paying and less stressful careers in public district schools. In this way, the charters “free ride”, as Martin Carnoy puts it, on the public school districts, who by paying experienced teachers more create incentives for charter teachers to enter the profession. The charters never have to pony up for these incentives, making them free riders.
But the SUNY credentials are only good at other SUNY authorized charter schools, meaning a new teacher who get “certified” this way has no option to teach anywhere else. So either the SUNY schools will have to find a continuous stream of new teachers who do not mind that their experience is not applicable teaching anywhere else and who will begin and end their careers in charter schools, OR they will have to cough up benefits and salary and working conditions that will keep their teachers. There is not an inexhaustible supply of young college grads looking to teach with no prospects of a career in the work — otherwise Teach For America would not find itself struggling to fill its corps in recent years.
The SUNY Charter School Committee has clearly seen all of this and offered a big “meh” as the height of their concern. But if quality education is the actual goal of charter education, they will not get there by ignoring the evidence that experienced teachers are more skilled than inexperienced ones and by replacing adequate funding with choice and calling it a day, especially in a state that is still billions of dollars a year below it’s target for education funding from a decade ago.