New York State has two charter authorizers, the SUNY Charter Institute and the Board of Regents; each operates separately and maintains different standards for charter approval and charter renewals. Most charter schools have been authorized by SUNY, whose reputation is “charter friendly,” as evidenced by their recent move to extend the Success Academy charters years before their expiration date. The Regents reputation is close scrutiny and close monitoring and working closely with schools; SUNY plays less of a role in on-going support of the schools. (See list of SUNY charter schools here)
Charter schools fall into two categories, the charter school networks, charter management organizations (CMOs) that operate multiple schools, the prime example is the Success Academy Network, the Eva Moskowitz schools, 38 schools located in New York City. The other category, referred to as community schools, or “mom and pop” schools, are single operator schools. There are currently 227 charter schools in New York City, about 1800 public schools
(Check out an earlier blog post that reviewed the charter school law and the current debate over teacher recruitment and certification).
Briefly, in July the SUNY Charter Institute proposed changes to their own regulations that would allow SUNY charter networks to “certify” teachers, the “certification” process would be wholly within the network and the State Department of Education would have no role in approving the process.
The Charter Institute argued it was more and more difficult to find certified teachers, although under the law charter schools staffs may include up to 15% uncertified teachers; public schools may only employ certified teachers
In spite of hundreds, maybe thousands of negative comments, including oppositional comments from the commissioner, the chancellor and the unions the SUNY board approved the new regulation. (Read the regulation here )
Upon approval Commissioner Elia and Chancellor Rosa posted scathing criticism of the action (Read Rosa-Elia response here)
The teacher unions immediately announced that they intended to challenge the actions in the courts.
The SUNY Board of Trustees is appointed by the governor, and, the head of the board, Carl McCall is a close political ally of the governor.
The governor, up until now, has been a vigorous supporter of high standards for teachers. In the fall of 2014 the governor and the Board of Regents engaged in an almost vitriolic exchange of letters over the path of education in New York State. In a 20-page letter dated, 12.31.14 Jim Malatras, the New York State Director of Operations, laid out a path for education in the state. In the section dealing with teacher education Malatras wrote,
The Board of Regents also used Race To The Top funds to pilot clinically rich teacher preparation programs that are deeply embedded in classroom practice with extended teaching residencies/internships in schools rather than brief student teaching commitments. These preparation programs partnered with high-need schools to provide clinically rich experiences in return for the candidate’s commitment to serve in a high-need school where there is a shortage of well-prepared teachers.
In addition, the Board of Regents established new, more rigorous teacher and school building leader certification exams. Beginning May 1, 2014, new teachers must take and pass the Academic Literacy Skills test, which assesses a teacher’s literacy skills; a content specialty test, to ensure that teachers have the content knowledge they need to teach a certain subject; the edTPA, a teacher performance assessment that measures a teacher’s pedagogical skills; and the Educating All Students exam, which tests a teaching candidate’s ability to understand diversity in order to address the needs of all students, including English Language Learners and students with disabilities, and knowledge of working with families and communities. These new certification examinations ensure that teaching candidates have the knowledge, skills and abilities to be effective teachers.
In 2009 Merryl Tisch, at that time the head of the Board of Regents, and now a member of the SUNY Board of Trustees and the SUNY Charter Institute board, excoriated SUNY and called for legislation to move all charter schools to the Board of Regents. (Read NY Daily News article here)
Why has the governor moved from supporting rigorous standards for prospective teachers to virtually no standards?
One theory is politics.
Politics in education? Remember the Captain Reynaud line in the movie Casablanca, “I’m shocked, shocked, to find out that gambling is going on here.”
(Watch video clip here)
Governor Cuomo, his election for a third term a year away, is trying to assure that the charter school political action dollars will not be used to support a Republican candidate. While his actions may alienate the teacher unions, where can teachers go? They certainly wouldn’t go to a Republican, especially in the era of Trump, and, since Cuomo appears to be a shoo-in, they can’t afford to alienate the governor. There are far more important items: the property tax cap, levels of school funding, and, the decision over the moratorium on using student data to evaluate teachers.
Another theory: part of a multi-pronged attack on the so-called “public education monopoly” and teacher unions.
- Law suits challenging teacher tenure law, the failed Vergara case in California and current law suits in New York State and Minnesota.
- Supporting the use of student assessment data to measure individual teachers usually referred to as Value-Added Measures (VAM).
- The case currently before the Supreme Court that would impact union membership dues collection.
- And now, the beginning of an attack on teacher preparation programs, arguing that the programs do not produce better teachers, only create jobs in colleges, and, in this case charter schools, can do the job just as well and remove colleges as the teaching profession gatekeeper.
These attacks are all built on the belief that the marketplace should drive school success or failure. What is generally referred to as Portfolio Management or choice: public, charter, religious and private schools competing for students within the marketplace, the decision of parents, determining which schools survive and which don’t. The marketplace theory is based on the work of University of Chicago Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman.
Last week the Nobel folk announced the winner of the 2017 for economics – Howard Thaler, whose work directly challenges the centuries old views of the marketplace theory.
… people, in their economic lives, are everywhere and always rational decision makers; those who aren’t either learn quickly or are punished by markets and go broke. Among the implications of this view are that market prices are always right and that people choose the right stocks, the right career, the right level of savings — indeed, that they coolly adjust their rates of spending with each fluctuation in their portfolios, as though every consumer were a mathematician, too …. this orthodoxy has totally dominated the top universities, not to mention the Nobel Prize committee.
Thaler spearheaded a simple but devastating dissent. Rejecting the narrow, [view] that serves as a basis for neoclassical theory, Thaler proposed that most people actually behave like . . . people! They are prone to error, irrationality and emotion, and they act in ways not always consistent with maximizing their own financial well being.
In his 2008 book Nudge Thaler argues that all decisions are influenced by external forces, aka biases,
… many of the familiar arguments for why people should simply be left to make choices on their own, and especially for why government should stay strictly out of the way, have little practical force. In many important areas of choice that matter both to the individual and to the rest of us (for example, when overuse of medical care drives up our insurance premiums and our taxes), the operative question is not whether to bias people’s decisions, but in which direction.
Sadly, as Paul Krugman, another Nobel laureate economist bemoans, zombie ideas keep arising from their tombs.
Whether the decision to create “instant” teachers is strictly a Cuomo political gambit or yet another deeply embedded zombie idea we’ll never know, and, the final decision will either come out of the courts or the court of public opinion.
A simple solution would have been to create a SUNY charter school Teaching Fellows program. For more than twenty years New York City, utilizing existing state alternative teacher licensing regulations recruited candidates in “hard to staff” certification areas, partnered with local colleges: an intensive summer in school and college classrooms and assigned to a school in September with a retired teacher or supervisor as mentor. The Fellows took evening courses and earned a Masters and full certification in two years. Thousands upon thousands of New York City teachers are graduates of the Teaching Fellows program. The SUNY Board of Trustees instead chose to skip colleges altogether.
Whether the reason for the decision is politics or Milton Friedman acolytes the losers are the children.