September 13, 2017

Activists to SUNY: Say no to ‘fake’ certification for charter teachers

Author: Sylvia Saunders
Source: NYSUT Communications
rally
Caption: NYSUT President Andy Pallotta fires up the crowd in Saratoga Springs. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

Activists to SUNY: Say no to ‘fake’ certification for charter teachers

What do we want? Certified teachers!

When do we want it? ALWAYS!

That was the battle chant at a rally outside the SUNY Board of Trustees meeting Tuesday, as more than 60 activists protested a plan that would allow charter schools to bypass state certification standards and “certify” their own teachers with minimal in-house training and just a couple weeks of field experience.

Marchers, including a broad array of teachers, higher education faculty, retirees, parents, unionists and community activists, said the SUNY Charter Schools Institute’s proposal is insulting to students and teachers alike.

Activists carried signs saying “Real teachers for ALL,” “No EZ-Teach!” and “All students deserve qualified teachers!”

NYSUT President Andy Pallotta said the charter school industry is pushing for the two-tiered system because they’re having trouble recruiting and retaining teachers.

“Maybe if they showed respect for the teachers they had, they wouldn’t have all the turnover,” Pallotta shouted into a bullhorn. “Just because they’re having this problem, we can’t let them superimpose a lower standard … It’s disgusting to treat children different because of what school they go to!”

Jamie Dangler, vice president for academics of United University Professions, called the fake certification scheme “beyond belief.”

“It fails on all counts to meet even minimal standards in the field … and would deny students the right to have qualified, well-prepared and professionally mentored teachers in all classrooms,” said Dangler, whose union represents academic and professional staff at SUNY.

“Citizens of this state would not accept a lower tier of unqualified practitioners in fields such as law, medicine, engineering or any other profession,” Dangler said. “How can it possibly be acceptable to institutionalize a lower tier in the teaching profession?”

NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango noted the state’s entire education community — superintendents, principals, college faculty and even the State Education Commissioner and Board of Regents — has risen up together against the SUNY proposal.

Earlier in the day, the Board of Regents approved a special resolution strongly urging SUNY to immediately withdraw the plan, citing a broad range of legal issues.

“It’s a slap in the face to teachers and it’s a slap in the face to families and students,” said Jamaica Miles of Citizen Action, clutching her 3-month old baby, Roman.

Protesters were joined at the rally by State Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, D-Round Lake, who noted the plan would shortchange the state’s most vulnerable students.

“Where do charter schools start up? They set up where schools are struggling, families are struggling and kids are struggling,” Woerner said. “This is an important thing to be fighting about. This isn’t right for our kids.”

While activists marched outside a Saratoga hotel, the SUNY Board of Trustees was inside meeting in executive session. Activists planned to speak during a scheduled public comment session, but the microphone was limited to just one representative.

Billy Easton, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education, spoke on behalf of the group, telling the board that creating a separate and unequal two-tiered system would be unconstitutional.

“For SUNY trustees to consider — 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education — (allowing) a two-tiered system, one for the public at large and the other that focuses on black and brown students … it’s really unconscionable.”

Easton gave trustees a letter signed by more than 40 community groups, including the New York State NAACP and other civil rights organizations. “We look forward to your moral leadership on this critical issue,” he said.

SUNY Board of Trustees Chairman Carl McCall assured the crowd that no decision had been made and the next step will be to hold an open public meeting to get more comment.

“We have heard you,” McCall said. “We know this is a momentous issue. And we are going to do everything we can to end up, as we always have been, aligned with you with respect to how we can best educate our students.”