Teachers unions and top state officials were quick to criticize the idea, arguing that putting less trained teachers in classrooms hurts students. To many charter-school leaders, though, the training they already offer inside their schools is more relevant than what education schools provide.
“Come to me with a degree in astronomy,” said Jeff Litt, the superintendent of Icahn Charter Schools. “If you spend a year with me, I’m going to turn you into a successful teacher.”
The proposed change would require SUNY-authorized schools to apply for permission to run their own certification programs. Those programs must include at least 30 hours of instruction, 100 hours of teaching experience under the supervision of an experienced teacher, and the completion of certain State Education Department workshops—all of which is far less than a typical prospective teacher would need to complete before becoming certified through the regular process.
Charter leaders like Litt say there is little evidence to support the idea that certified teachers are better at improving student performance than uncertified teachers. In fact, some studies do show certified teachers can be more effective than uncertified teachers, but the differences are relatively modest.
Even if the state’s current certification is no silver bullet, said Jonah Rockoff, an education researcher at Columbia University, the lingering question is: Can charter schools come up with something better?
“Great teachers have many complex skills, so the key is how charters will train these new hires,” Rockoff said in an email. “A master’s degree is no guarantee, but that doesn’t mean everybody can teach.”
A lot of schools say they already have come up with something better—and the state’s certification process is either an unnecessary nuisance or, worse, an impediment to progress.
At Democracy Prep Public Schools new teachers are required to attend four weeks of training during the summer, said the network’s CEO Katie Duffy. Once teachers start working, there is an instructional coach on staff to give feedback to teachers, which might involve videotaping and reviewing lessons with new teachers, she said. One day each week, students are dismissed early and the staff participates in professional-development workshops.
In the midst of that process—which Duffy considers the real driver of success—new teachers currently have to find time to take graduate-school courses.
“First of all, you don’t have the time to go back to school and you sure don’t have the money,” Duffy said. (Some networks, including Democracy Prep, do pay for continuing education.)
Steven Wilson, the founder and executive director of Ascend Charter Schools, feels the same way. At Ascend, Wilson said, they try not to give any first-year teachers the full responsibility of leading a classroom. Instead, they allow new teachers to learn the ropes under a mentor and help the new teacher gradually increase their workload over the course of the school year.