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Teachers Union Sues To Halt New Rules Letting Charters Certify Own Teachers

By Amy Zimmer | October 13, 2017 12:37pm | Updated on October 15, 2017 8:04pm
 Students at Success Academy Upper West.
Students at Success Academy Upper West.
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DNAinfo/Emily Frost

MANHATTAN —A day after the State University of New York approved new regulations to make it easier for charter schools to hire teachers without master’s degrees — and even without bachelor’s degrees — the city and state’s teachers’ unions filed a lawsuit to stop the standards from being implemented.

The United Federation of Teachers, along with New York State United Teachers, filed the lawsuit Thursday in Manhattan State Supreme Court. The suit claims that the new standards, which allow SUNY-authorized charters to certify their own teachers, will water down the quality of educators in charters.

The rules' supporters say that charter schools face a serious teaching shortage and that the new requirements would let them expand their hiring pool. Critics include New York State Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa and New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, who called the changes “an insult” to the teaching profession.

“These regulations significantly undercut the quality of teaching in SUNY authorized charter schools by permitting insufficiently prepared individuals to educate large numbers of high needs students beyond that which is already allowed for by law,” the lawsuit states.

“Further, they would have the effect of leading potential educators through an essentially fake certification process," the suit continued, "one not valid for employment in New York’s public school districts, other charter schools, or the public schools of other states.”

The regulations, approved by the SUNY Charter Schools Committee on Wednesday, were tweaked from the original proposal, which would have cut the number of hours of classroom instruction a teacher must receive to only 30. This latest plan approved this week means they'll need 160 hours, but still significantly less than what is currently allowed.

However, the number of hours of working in a classroom before being certified dropped from 100 to 40 hours under the plan passed earlier this week.

READ MORE: More Students Are Taking AP Tests, But Racial Gap Remains Wide, City Says

Charters, under the current rules, are allowed to have up to 15 uncertified teachers — who are at least working toward their master's.

The rest must be certified just like teachers in traditional public schools. They have to complete coursework in their subject area, have extensive supervised teaching experience and pass certification exams — just like teachers in traditional public schools.

The new rules would not only eliminate the need for a teacher to ultimately need a master’s degree, it even seems to allow for teachers without a bachelor's degree, if the teacher has the "necessary knowledge and skills to successfully complete” a program administered by the Charter Schools Institute, the lawsuit says.

“This proposal tells the people of this state that we care more about nail salon customers than charter school children," Andy Pallotta, the president of New York State United Teachers, said in a statement. "How can New York State demand that manicurists need 250 hours of instruction, but propose letting charter teachers get certified with far fewer hours of training?”

The new rules would only apply to those charters authorized by SUNY, like Success Academy, KIPP and Uncommon — which have tough times retaining teachers.

According to the most recent data from the state Education Department, charters had a nearly 40 percent annual turnover rate of teachers. That compares to a 14 percent rate for public schools. In some charters, more than half the teachers left from one school year to the next. That has made it difficult for these schools to keep their required percentage of fully certified teachers on their faculties.

But charter school leaders say that many of their teachers are qualified even if they don’t have a master’s degree.

As many charters do not have unionized teachers staff, some of these schools believe the UFT's interest lies mainly in maintaining dues-paying members.

Many charters already have their own training. At Success Academy, which has been lobbying for years for new standards, teachers receive the equivalent of 13 weeks of professional development per year, the network has said. That includes a three-week intensive training before the start of the year and weekly sessions throughout the year.

“In the midst of a widely recognized teacher shortage,” Success Academy’s Eva Moskowitz said in a statement, "[the vote for the rules] ensures that kids of color will have access to great teachers and exceptional educational outcomes."