NY Education Officials Make the Wrong Move on Charter School Teacher Induction

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The New York state education department has filed a lawsuit to block a controversial new rule allowing certain charter schools to certify their own teachers, claiming that the regulations will “erode the quality of teaching” across the state.

New York education officials move to block rules allowing some charter schools to certify their own teachers, Monica Disare / Chalkbeat NY

I find this to be a highly questionable move by Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa and state education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia. And the only way I can make sense of it is that they feel threatened by charter networks and want to exert greater state authority over charter autonomy.

Let me preface my argument by sharing my view of charter schools, since it is such an apparently contentious area of our politics. I work for and believe in NY public schools, and I do not buy into the ed reform narrative that public schools are all failing and charter schools should supplant them.

But I also don’t buy into the opposing narrative that charter schools are “privatizing” education and destroying public education. Or that they only “cream” high achieving students in order to derive mind-boggling results.

There are practices and operations from the charter sector that are incredibly valuable, and there are charter networks and schools that are doing incredible work serving their communities and students that should be scaled and emulated, especially here in NYC. And at this point in the game, the research on the charter sector in general is pretty darn convincing — unless you’re only reading Diane Ravitch’s or Valerie Strauss’s blog, in which case you’re the education equivalent of Trump watching Fox & Friends.

Highly effective charter operations have built an infrastructure around teaching and learning that can accelerate student learning. In too many public schools, we leave teachers and administrators on their own when it comes to communicating and supporting what effective instruction looks like. We all too often give them vague platitudes, complex compliance rules, and abstract concepts and then say, “Here, go apply this! Good luck!” and blame them when our initiatives don’t garner the results we expect.

That’s why I believe charters have their place alongside district schools. Their relative autonomy provides them with the leeway to develop more direct and intensive on-the-ground supports. And we should be learning from the best of them, just as we should be learning from all of the best of our schools that are performing contrary to expectations.

At the same time, I believe charters should be regulated, and that it’s the state’s prerogative to do so.

So Rosa’s and Elia’s pushback makes kneejerk sense in that they feel the need to exert state control over the charter sector in order to ensure positive student outcomes—which they are ultimately responsible for, regardless of the type of school.

But in the long-term, it really doesn’t make sense when you consider that NY’s charters are already well-regulated, and that the charter networks already in operation, such as Uncommon Schools, Achievement First, KIPP, Democracy Prep, and Success Academy, have a demonstrated track record of success.

These are networks that have extensive infrastructure built around instruction and accountability. They can take a new teacher with no certification and accelerate their ability. And if that new teacher doesn’t demonstrate results, they’ll get rid of them. That’s what being a charter school provides the leeway for.

So let them take unexperienced and uncertified entrants into the profession and develop them. And then when those new entrants get tired of having all their time drained away with few benefits from the charter school they’re working for, they’ll move into the public system with some solid training and experience.

Let’s be honest. Charter networks will probably do a far better job of preparing new teachers than the majority of our state’s certified teacher preparation programs. And this will be of ultimate benefit to the learning of NY state’s children, which our state officials can then take credit for.

Smorgasbord: Albany, Policy, and Diversity

I went up to Albany on Tuesday with other America Achieves NY Policy Fellows and we spoke with assembly members and senators and were welcomed and introduced by Assemblymember Patricia Fahy on the assembly floor. If you’ve been wondering whether educators should really be involved in policy, I can’t think of a clearer example of the “win-win” when educators point to a clear problem and a clear solution, and they obtain bipartisan support now being written into state regulations.

Principal Elissa Smith (from upstate New York) and special education teacher Jennifer Chernis (from downstate) identified a significant problem in the field that policymakers were not aware of: certified teachers working as teacher assistants couldn’t maintain or advance their state teacher certification. Their solution? Just add the addendum they suggested to the regulations! This was such a clear fix and win for legislators and for educators that they swiftly earned support from both Republican and Democratic representatives and their proposed addendum is moving forward into law. This will benefit a significant number of teacher assistants across the entire state of NY.

This is what can happen when you empower and equip educators to bring policy solutions to problems in the field. If you’re a NY educator interested in being a part of this, you can apply here. Here’s the other viable policy problems and solutions proposed by fellows:

In other news:

There is clear evidence that integration works. NY Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/09/opinion/integration-works-can-it-survive-the-trump-era.html (Also review the evidence in my policy paper above.)

Yet the track record of Betsy Devos, the barely confirmed and heavily contested new Secretary of ED, does not bode well for efforts to increase diversity in schools. CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2017/02/05/opinions/devos-racism-public-school-opinion-wong

Furthermore, Devos’s inevitable focus on school choice will do little for rural schools—the very constituency that has swept Trump and his Republican cohort into office. USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2017/02/02/devos-rural-america-school-reform-column/97362016/

Diversity is increasing in rural areas, not only in cities. If California is any indicator, there will be negative bluster around this diversity, but an eventual swing back to acceptance. While there are clear difficulties around an increase in diversity in any community, there is also a clear opportunity for starting by increasing exposure to a diversity of perspectives and backgrounds in our public schools. NY Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/01/upshot/strife-over-immigrants-can-california-foretell-nations-future.html

An important reminder that smart federal policy can have positive effects on education. The 74: https://www.the74million.org/article/marnie-kaplan-sometimes-government-is-the-solution-reauthorizing-head-start-10-years-later

And a reminder that education is important to long-term outcomes. “Educated people are generally healthier, have fewer comorbidities and live longer than people with less education.” BioRxiv: http://biorxiv.org/content/early/2016/09/13/074815

Some high schools are breaking out of the traditional school setting. Ozy: http://www.ozy.com/fast-forward/how-high-schools-are-demolishing-the-classroom/74603#.WJhZMNKDhIc.twitter

Teenagers who vandalized a historic black schoolhouse were ordered by a judge to educate themselves by reading some real literature. If only they had already been reading these books in school. . . NY Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/08/us/black-school-racist-sexist-graffiti.html?smid=tw-share

One researcher claims that there is little validity to Bloom’s taxonomy, the ubiquitous source of ranking “higher-order” questions and tasks. “The only distinction that is supported by research is the distinction
between declarative/conceptual knowledge (which enables recall,
comprehension or understanding), and procedural knowledge (which enables
application or task performance).” I, for one, would be more than happy to see these waste-of-time ranking taxonomies go the way of the Dodo. Teachers’ time will be much better spent actually developing educational tasks and resources. https://eppicinc.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/sugrue_bloom_critique_perfxprs.pdf

And here’s fish singing “in the coastal waters off Port Headland in Western Australia.” New Scientist: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2106331-fish-recorded-singing-dawn-chorus-on-reefs-just-like-birds/