January 2016 Issue - New York State Certification
December 21, 2015

Union-led campaign to fix teacher certification process gains traction

Author: By Darryl McGrath
Source: NYSUT United
From left, UUP Vice President for Academics Jamie Dangler; Sue Robb, an associate dean at SUNY Brockport; and University at Buffalo’s Patricia Recchio, teacher certification officer, and Jevon Hunter, assistant professor. Photo by Darryl McGrath.
Caption: From left, UUP Vice President for Academics Jamie Dangler; Sue Robb, an associate dean at SUNY Brockport; and University at Buffalo’s Patricia Recchio, teacher certification officer, and Jevon Hunter, assistant professor. Photo by Darryl McGrath.

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.