December 2010 Issue
November 19, 2010

Speaking out on teacher prep

Author: Darryl McGrath
Source: NYSUT United
Caption: Carol Braund of the Health Sciences Center chapter of United University Professions speaks at a work group meeting. Listening is Steve London of the Professional Staff Congress, which represents academic and professional staff at the City University of New York. Photo by Betsy Sandberg.

The question cuts to the very core of college and university programs throughout New York: Who should define the way the state's next generation of great teachers and principals is prepared for the classroom?

NYSUT's higher education leaders say education faculty — experienced practitioners whose methods are backed by proven research — are best equipped for this tremendous responsibility.

State Education Commissioner David Steiner, however, says data on student achievement outcomes is not aligned with teacher preparation, especially in urban schools.

As a major project of his administration, he is trying to institute sweeping changes in the way schools of education and the teachers they train are evaluated.

This is a debate in which NYSUT refuses to take a back seat. In response, NYSUT has formed the Teacher/School Leader Preparation Work Group, whose 20 members are all NYSUT higher education leaders, and many of whom are education faculty.

The group is charged with developing recommendations that NYSUT leadership can use in advocating with national and state policy makers.

"This is an opportunity to have a voice in this very important discussion and to advocate for effective, innovative and concrete preparation programs for teachers and new school leaders," NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira told work group members.

Neira has told Steiner that education faculty cannot be left out of changes he effects, and that the state must listen to educators who put proven practices to use in their curricula.

NYSUT expects to continue using the work group to shape its response and stay at the forefront of this discussion.

Steiner's proposal covers three distinct yet related areas:

  • a mandated, uniform performance-based assessment of new teachers and school principals;
  • the introduction of new teacher preparation pilot programs that would allow outside institutions such as museums and for-profit organizations to provide preparation for new teachers and principals; and
  • the establishment of a database that would track and profile higher education preparation programs.

These proposals would be phased in over several years.

Of particular concern to NYSUT is the proposed start date of May 2013 for the performance-based assessments of new teachers and principals — a deadline that would not allow schools of education time to prepare for such major changes.

Steiner is the former dean of the Hunter College School of Education, a background that clearly influences his approach in the State Education Department.

In developing the proposals, Steiner consulted with the deans of schools of education at colleges and universities around the state, but not with frontline education faculty or practitioners.

Jacqualine Berger, a UUP member and president of the UUP Chapter at Empire State College, echoed the thoughts of her fellow work group members when she forcefully reminded Steiner that faculty cannot — and will not — be ignored.

"While it's really important that you're talking to the deans of the schools of education, it's also really important that you talk to us, because we haven't been part of the process," she told Steiner at his recent meeting with the work group.

Members of the work group say they will continue to advocate for teacher preparation and certification based on sound best practices and proven research.

Programs already have sophisticated assessment plans in place. Changing these plans will incur considerable expense and faculty time.

The work group is considering several ways to educate Steiner and the Regents about the impact on students and schools of education, including the potential out-of-pocket costs to teacher and school leader candidates.

If the proposed assessments of teacher candidates go forward as planned, those candidates would be expected to pay a fee for portfolios and assessments. Successful completion of those tasks will be mandated for their certification.

Teacher and school leader preparation programs would be required to use these assessments in their programs prior to graduation. That means they would need to be in place far in advance of May 2013.

The group plans to meet again early in the new year.