NYSUT’s push to fix the state’s deeply flawed teacher certification process is making steady progress, drawing Regents, State Education Department staff, professional associations, students and lawmakers into the three-year effort.
What started as the union’s call for changes to a single assessment for future teachers — the educative Teacher Performance Assessment, or edTPA — has expanded to an all-out campaign for major changes to the entire certification process.
“It is because of the actions of our members that the Regents and SED are participating in discussions about the certification process,” NYSUT Vice President Catalina Fortino said.
“The concern our members who work in teacher education feel for their students has brought us this far. We do not yet have solutions to the many problems we still see with the certification process, but we have made progress, and we are going to continue pressing for substantive changes.”
United University Professions, NYSUT’s higher education affiliate that represents academic and professional faculty at the State University of New York, introduced a 2016 legislative agenda that includes a plan to address the declining numbers of students studying to become teachers. The proposed Recruiting and Educating Teachers for All program is designed to attract and retain teachers by recruiting underrepresented and economically disadvantaged individuals to the teaching profession.
“The teaching profession is in crisis, with enrollments in New York’s teacher education programs down by nearly 40 percent in a four-year period ending in 2013,” said UUP President Fred Kowal. “Who will be there to teach our children years from now? It’s a problem we can’t wait to address.”
Modeled after SUNY’s successful Educational Opportunity Program, the initiative would provide financial assistance and support from counselors to help future teachers earn their teaching degrees. Students would have to be state residents and meet strict income guidelines.
The union is also calling for a change to the state’s procurement law that would stop for-profit testing companies from making a profit off of teacher candidates by charging —and recharging — them fees to take mandatory exams.
Currently, testing companies can enter into contracts with the state to develop and assess tests for free. The companies then administer the tests and charge students fees for their products; students can end up spending $1,000 or more to take and retake tests.
The test companies have little incentive to fix flawed exams, since they profit every time a student retakes a test. The UUP plan would shift oversight to the State Education Department.
UUP’s statewide task force on teacher education has also identified numerous content and computer format problems with the state’s new certification exams.
In town hall style-meetings held at Buffalo State, SUNY New Paltz and other campuses across the state, teacher education faculty have openly discussed specific problems with the exams with Regents and SED officials.
Teacher education faculty from the Professional Staff Congress, which represents faculty and staff at the City University of New York, participated in a town hall-style forum in December about the certification process.
Regents Kathleen Cashin and Charles Bendit, who co-chair the Board of Regents Higher Education Committee, called the forums to specifically address the effect of the new exams on future teachers; the effect of the exams on the racial and ethnic diversity of the state’s future teachers; and the autonomy of teacher educators, who, many say, have had to change their curriculum, and not for the better, to accommodate preparation time for the new exams.
More campus meetings with Regents are expected this spring.