(This is a guest post from Raymond Ankrum, Sr., the Executive Director of Riverhead Charter School. It was originally published here on his blog.)
SUNY, a nationally recognized charter school authorizer for New York State has recently made headlines for approving a new, innovative approach of allowing its high-performing charter schools to certify their own teachers. Charter schools in recent years have had a hard time staffing their schools with highly-qualified staff. Consequently, charter school teacher turnover rates are far higher than the teacher turnover rates for traditional public schools. According to a study on teacher turnover conducted on charter and public school teachers in Los Angeles, it was determined that charter school teachers leave at a 33% higher rate than teachers at a traditional public schools.
As a school leader in public charter schools, I have always operated under the mantra that no teacher education program was created equal. We would have some first year teachers that were extremely prepared for the classroom, while others were less prepared to take over a classroom. It comes as no surprise that colleges and universities are not in favor of this new teacher certification initiative. They would lose a ton of money if potential teachers were no longer required to obtain Master’s degrees in education. I am not sure what the world of education would do if out-of-touch college and university professors lost their soapboxes and had to move away from the theory component of teacher training, and deal with the complexities of the practice component of training teachers. One of my greatest takeaways from my teacher education program was that in theory everything works but in practice, well, that is a different story.
Moreover, another major player in opposing SUNY charters to certify their own teachers is the state’s largest teachers’ union. Those familiar with NYSUT should not be surprised by their stance. Anything anti-establishment, in my opinion, usually draws ire from NYSUT. I am not sure if they are upset because they did not have a say in the process or if this is just legal posturing and/or their usual malcontent for anything charter school-related.
Lastly, and most importantly– what about the Scholars? Success Academy, and other top performing charter schools that will have the honor of certifying their own teachers have literally knocked the ball out of the park with their performance on NY State assessments. If I were a teacher, and I had to make a choice on selecting a teacher education program by a college or university, or training with schools that have a proven formula for success (no pun intended), I would select the latter. How will this benefit the scholars? Having an in-house training programs will allow charters to build teacher capacity and stamina for the work. Two of the top five reasons teachers leave charter schools are lack of administrator support and job security. Charter schools would be more invested in keeping staff that they have trained from the ground up. Plus, it is a lot easier to hold charter schools accountable for staff attrition if they are, in fact, certifying their own teachers. We all want teacher turnover to decrease, and that will undoubtedly benefit scholars.
My opinion is that I like the idea, but I could eventually love it. I would want clear and transparent record keeping of staff attrition, exit interview statistics if/when teachers in these SUNY authorized charter schools leave, and a way to limit these certifications to in-network schools until a clear pathway towards certification can be agreed upon by NYSUT, SUNY, NY State Board of Regents, with at least two years of stakeholder input.