Melissa Howard was all set to become a social studies teacher last year after graduating from SUNY Cortland. Then the state's new teacher certification process came along.
Howard passed the exams, but was so frustrated over how the state mismanaged the rollout she organized a petition seeking to delay the implementation of one of the tests — edTPA, the educative Teacher Performance Assessment. Some 7,000 people signed her petition.
The outcry by NYSUT, its higher education affiliates and teacher preparation students like Howard ultimately prompted the state to create a safety net for edTPA and the other required certification exams. But Howard has since revised her career plans. She is now a graduate student in political science at George Mason University in Virginia. Though she no longer wants to teach, she does want to change an education system that is driving out enthusiastic and eager prospective teachers. The certification snafu, rigid Common Core standards, ramped-up teacher performance reviews and an over-reliance on testing all played into her decision.
"I don't like the idea of having to teach to a test," Howard said.
Catherine Faughnan, who graduated from SUNY Cortland last May, said she, too, dropped her plans to become a teacher because she was increasingly turned off by the thought of teaching to the formulaic Common Core with no certainty that she would have job security, given the tightened standards for both tenure and annual performance reviews of teachers.
Faughnan worried that if she could not find a teaching job, she would find it difficult to apply her teaching degree to other careers. She is now earning her master's degree in public administration at SUNY Binghamton, and says the change offers "a broader career path than teaching."
In a year when enrollments in New York's teacher preparation programs are expected to decline again, NYSUT and its higher education affiliates are asking some tough questions about the loss of bright, engaged future teachers, and exactly what the state intends to do to counter the very real prospect of a critical teacher shortage in New York state.
"The State Education Department should be taking the lead in asking why so many college students are suddenly and dramatically either not going into teaching at all, or are earning their teaching degrees but not their New York certifications," said NYSUT Vice President Catalina Fortino, who oversees higher education issues for the union.
"Our members and higher education leaders have been meeting with Regents to explain the problems with teacher certification, and raising public awareness about the racial and economic inequities of the certification process."
NYSUT higher education leaders from both United University Professions, which represents academic and professional faculty at SUNY's state-operated campuses, and the Professional Staff Congress, which represents faculty and staff at CUNY, raised those very issues during small-group meetings with individual Regents throughout the summer. The unions are pressing for a comprehensive SED review of the new certification exams.
The unions also plan more small-group meetings with individual Regents. Faculty and programs at private colleges, and professional associations representing educators in the field, have joined forces with the unions at forums and in meetings with Regents.
"Students are being scared away — the enrollments are plummeting — and the pool of candidates is continuing to decline," said Jamie Dangler, UUP's statewide vice president for academics. "And the fact that other states are hiring our graduates means there are jobs, so that goes against the State Education Department's assertion that this is an overcrowded profession."
New York City schools filled 5,000 vacancies this summer and had about 13,000 applicants for those slots, which a spokesman said is fairly typical. Albany's schools just hired 97 full-time and 11 part-time teachers, and 58 of those openings were new positions.
Despite a robust need for teachers, enrollment in teacher preparation programs statewide has declined by 40 percent — more than 25,000 students — in the five years between the academic years of 2008–09 and 2012–13, the most recent year for which figures are available.
At the same time, teacher shortages are growing around the country, particularly in subject areas such as mathematics, special education and a range of sciences and technology education.
Hardest hit are Arizona, California, Indiana, Kansas, North Carolina and Wisconsin, all states that have attacked teachers' due process and seniority rights and have seriously cut funding for public education.
The disparity between the pool of available teachers and teacher openings will grow over the next few years if students continue to reject teaching as a profession. Teaching vacancies are expected to hold steady and even increase with retirements. According to the New York State Teachers' Retirement System, 20 percent of the current teaching force could retire right now; over the next five years, almost 30 percent of teachers statewide will be eligible to retire.
Couple this with another mounting concern NYSUT, UUP and the PSC are raising with the Regents: An already overwhelmingly white teaching force in New York is likely to become even less diverse under the new certification process, said Michael Fabricant, the PSC's first vice president and a member of NYSUT's statewide workgroup on teacher preparation.
In some of the state's teacher preparation programs, the racial disparities are startling — hundreds of white students compared to a handful of students of color, according to the latest available federal Title II data, which is from the 2012–13 academic year. At Canisius College in Buffalo, only slightly more than 9 percent of the students are black and Latino. At SUNY Brockport, black and Latino students form 12 percent of the teacher prep program. However, the disparities are not uniform. At SUNY Old Westbury, 40 percent are black and Latino; at CUNY's Queens College, it's 72 percent. Yet the majority of programs are still not highly diverse.
The unions assert that the poorly designed tests could be unfairly driving out students of color. Fabricant said higher education faculty are raising serious questions about attracting and keeping dedicated young teachers of color.
"I'm not sure that the state is, as a matter of policy, even thinking about those questions," he said. "Race matters here."
Teacher prep enrollments
More and more students are turning away from pursuing education as a career. Federal Title II data shows a sharp decline in teacher prep program enrollments in New York state, particularly from 2011–13 when edTPA and other new certification exams were being rolled out. Note too, the drop from 2009–11. The state's first APPR law passed in the Legislature in 2010.