Last week, New York City schools received two pieces of contradictory news, which made for an interesting contrast in how teachers are viewed.
In the first, the Department of Education will now require principals to staff vacancies with teachers from the Absent Teacher Reserve, also known as “the rubber room,” where pedagogues who have been let go from previous positions and haven’t managed to find another are paid their full salary to sit and do nothing because they cannot be fired, even in cases of misconduct or incompetence.
In the second, SUNY proposed regulations that would allow some charter schools to certify their own teachers, rather than requiring Education Master’s degrees and certification exams, the way that traditional public schools do.
The response to the latter was predictably hysterical.
But at no point were the following realities addressed:
- In March 2017, the NY State Board of Regents moved to eliminate the Academic Literacy Skills Test for prospective teachers. The argument in favor went, “we already know that our licensure candidates have a Bachelor’s degree which in my mind means that they already have basic literacy and communication skills.” Charter school teacher candidates also are required to have Bachelor’s degrees. So why shouldn’t the presumption of competence apply to them as well?
- In order to staff his pet Pre-K For All program (and the promised 3-K For All), Mayor Bill de Blasio went back on his campaign promise that every teacher in every classroom would have a Master’s degree in Early Childhood Education. Instead, the DOE is offering positions to candidates with a Bachelor’s degree – in any subject, who have some classroom experience, and are planning on eventually getting a Master’s degree. Many of the charter school teacher certification programs are a combination of classroom learning and hands on practicum, including mentoring by a master teacher, just like in the UPK model.
- NYC private schools frequently hire teachers who have Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in their subject areas, rather than in education. The BASIS network, which operates two private schools in NYC and nationally-ranked charter schools in other parts of the US, goes as far as having two teachers in the classroom, one specializing in content and the other in pedagogy.
- If private or charter schools end up with a dud teacher, they can fire them, quickly and easily, even in the middle of the year if the situation is particularly dire – I’ve seen it happen. And they don’t have to keep paying them, either. Which means they have the budget to hire a replacement.
Meanwhile there was also pushback for the plan to force unwanted teachers onto helpless principals (including a petition), especially when it became clear that the worst performers would be inflicted on the neediest students.
Although it was funny – or sad, depending how you look at it – to watch the arguments break down along ideological lines. The same people screaming, “won’t anyone think of the children!” when it came to potentially under-qualified charter school teachers, were whistling blithely and looking the other way when it came to returning teachers who’d already been proven incompetent back into the classroom.
Alternately, those who are all for reimagining teacher training for charters screamed bloody murder about the possible lowering of public school teacher certification standards.
As of now, the majority of NYC kids attend traditional public schools. And less than half of them graduate college-ready, as determined by the city’s own Comptroller (whose kids, for the record, last year attended a private preschool – obviously, the man reads his own reports).
Presumably, all of those traditional school graduates had state-certified teachers (just like the nearly 1,000 currently twiddling their thumbs in the rubber room). Which suggests that a diploma from a teachers college is hardly a magic bullet for student achievement.
There is no guarantee that an alternative hiring and certification method will be a one-size-fits-all panacea, either. But don’t we owe it to our kids to at least give it a try?
When we talk about school choice, let’s allow parents to decide what sort of teacher certification they are comfortable with based on the schools they pick for their kids to attend. They can then judge for themselves, year by year, if they’re happy with the results, and either stay or go as they see fit.
It’s a solid bet the kids won’t care, either way. As long as their teacher is a good one.