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Teachers union sues to prevent weakening of teacher certification standards for charter school instructors

Teachers union representatives filed suit in Manhattan State Supreme Court today to prevent the Charter Schools Committee of the State University of New York from creating a new and less rigorous set of certification standards for some of the state’s charter schools.

In a news conference outside the Supreme Court building on Foley Square, United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said: “It is not easy to become a fully certified teacher in New York, nor should it be.  All our kids deserve to be taught by teachers who have gone through a rigorous process, but the Charter Schools Committee has just approved a measure that would toss these standards aside for charters — all because some charter schools have trouble meeting them.”

Andy Pallotta, the president of New York State United Teachers, the UFT’s state affiliate, said: “This proposal tells the people of this state that we care more about nail salon customers than charter school children. How can New York State demand that manicurists need 250 hours of instruction, but propose letting charter teachers get certified with far fewer hours of training?”

Under current rules, teachers must have a bachelor’s (and eventually a master’s) degree, complete coursework in their subject area, have extensive supervised teaching experience and pass certification exams.

New regulations approved by the SUNY Charter Schools Committee at its meeting Oct. 11, 2017 would remove or reduce most of these standards, including fewer hours of instruction in teaching skills, only a week of practice instruction and only one certification exam, among other lighter standards.  The lawsuit charges that the new regulations, “do not require a candidate to have completed a bachelor’s degree.”

Charter schools — which already are permitted to have a limited number of uncertified teachers — have pressed for reduced certification standards because of sky-high teacher turnover rates. According to the most recent data from the state Education Department, charters had a nearly 40 percent annual turnover rate of teachers, versus a 14 percent rate for public schools. In some charters, more than half the teachers left from one school year to the next, making it difficult for the schools to maintain the required percentage of fully certified teachers on their faculties.

The UFT/NYSUT lawsuit, which asks the court to overturn the Charter School Committee’s action, said the new rules would not only “significantly undercut the quality of teaching in SUNY-approved charter schools,” but also would create “an essentially fake certification process, one not valid for employment in New York’s public school districts, other charter schools or the public schools of other states.”

The lawsuit also charges that the SUNY Charter Schools Committee exceeded its legal authority, noting that the state legislature did not delegate to the SUNY Committee “any authority to promulgate regulations concerning teacher certification” for the charters under its jurisdictions.

Among the public critics of the SUNY Charter School Committee’s attempt to reduce teacher certification requirements are SUNY’s own teacher education programs. Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa and State Education Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia described the new rules as “an insult to the teaching profession.”

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