A recent meeting between State Education Commissioner John King and the NYSUT Teacher and School Leader Preparation Workgroup continues the dialogue between practitioners and higher education policymakers.
The commissioner was joined by two of his higher education policy staff members: Deputy Commissioner John D'Agati and Assistant Commissioner Stephanie Wood-Garnett at the mid-September meeting at NYSUT headquarters.
The meeting provided higher education faculty members the opportunity to share with the commissioner and his staff, in a respectful, direct manner, that they want their input included in a range of issues, from data collection to the new exams for the initial teaching certificate. Many members are concerned about the edTPA (Teacher Performance Assessment), along with other new assessments for the initial certificate.
These are scheduled to affect those applying for certification beginning in May 2014. The edTPA is completed during the student teaching experience, and faculty members feel this decision has significant implications for program design. They also have concerns about the timeline for implementation.
"Our members have been actively engaging the state and insisting their concerns be heard and their ideas be considered," said NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira, who oversees higher education policy for the union and facilitates the Teacher and School Leader Preparation Workgroup.
The NYSUT workgroup's main goal is to respond to SED initiatives, primarily in the areas of certification of new teachers, and data collection and dissemination. Workgroup members have told SED that many of the coming changes have been designed without sufficient input from faculty, and that valuable knowledge and experience held by these experts is being overlooked.
The workgroup consists of faculty members from United University Professions, representing 35,000 academic and professional faculty at the State University of New York, and from the Professional Staff Congress, representing 21,000 faculty and staff at the City University of New York. Both UUP and the PSC have workgroups related to teacher preparation. This work has been led at UUP by Vice President for Academics Jamie Dangler and at PSC by First Vice President Steven London.
"Faculty members design and implement programs," Neira said. "They are often the last to be brought into policy decisions, yet they are the experts, and they know the ramifications of particular changes."
During the meeting with King, faculty members, including Nancy Schniedewind from SUNY New Paltz and Doug Selwyn from SUNY Plattsburgh, shared their perspectives on initiatives such as common core learning standards and overuse of testing in schools.
Other members noted that, in an age of mounting data collection, those doing the collecting need to exercise good judgment about accuracy. They noted that even though information can be quantified, the results might not provide a full understanding of what is being measured.
The workgroup is also making its voice heard through the development of a white paper — "Expanding the Definition of ‘College and Career Ready'" — in response to what many view as a narrowing of education goals and an excessive focus on standardized testing of elementary and secondary students.
NYSUT will continue to ensure that members have the information they need to maintain the role of faculty governance in the curriculum change process and to offer ongoing input on SED initiatives and policies, Neira said.
King indicated he understands there are areas of disagreement related to teacher preparation policies, and wants to hear faculty perspectives.
One outcome will be a follow-up meeting with workgroup members to offer input on the developing State Partnership Agreement with the national accrediting body through which all New York state teacher preparation programs must gain accreditation. SED also expressed interest in a suggestion made by PSC officer Michael Fabricant that the perspective of faculty members be researched in relationship to major changes in teacher and school leader preparation.
Neira said the dialogue with the commissioner will continue: "Our faculty members in teacher preparation programs represent the greatest collection of expertise on this topic in the state. We refuse to accede to turning over professional control regarding important elements of our profession that affect our students, and we will continue to demand a full and equal voice in this process."