N.Y. Regents Open Door To Alternative Route to Teaching

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Pressed into action by the prospect of widespread teacher shortages, New York state's board of regents has opened an alternative route into the profession.

The move, which New York officials have long resisted, comes just as the state's education chief attempts to crack down on unlicensed teachers in troubled New York City schools. Commissioner of Education Richard P. Mills has threatened the city's schools chancellor, Harold O. Levy, with a lawsuit if he continues to allow unlicensed teachers to work in the 99 city schools the state has designated as among the lowest-performing in the state.

Mr. Mills points to the alternative pathway, approved by the regents last month, as a new tool for helping the nation's largest district meet its outsized needs for qualified teachers. One-third of the city's 77,000 teachers are either uncertified or nearing retirement age, compared with about one-fifth for the state as a whole, according to state officials.

"I thought it was my responsibility to help, and that's why the regents and I provided a number of helps," Mr. Mills said. That assistance includes the alternative route and expedited funding from a $25 million teacher-recruitment package passed by the state legislature last session, Mr. Mills said.

"But it comes down to local actions to make sure that especially the children in the lowest-performing schools have qualified teachers," he added.

Different, Not Easier?

Harold O. Levy

The alternative route does not open the door to public school teaching particularly wide. But until last month, New York had been one of only 10 states without a structured way to usher new people into a teaching career when they lack education coursework. Under the new rules, participants will be required to have degrees in the subjects they plan to teach and B averages. While they teach, the new hires will sign up for programs run by colleges or universities offering mentoring and the equivalent of an education degree in evening, weekend, and summer classes over as long as two years.

"We're not creating an easier way to become a teacher, but a different way," said Joseph P. Frey, the state's assistant commissioner for quality assurance. "The regents were not willing to sacrifice quality for quantity."

Until now, teachers who passed the two tests required of all aspiring teachers but lacked the compulsory education courses could eventually get regular licenses by taking the courses piecemeal. And the new teachers could enter the classroom without any preparation. The recently approved plan demands that teachers without regular licenses undergo at least 200 hours of training before they begin teaching.

In the past two years, the regents have stepped up licensing requirements for all teachers, and they have barred the hiring of any unlicensed teachers after 2003.

Pushing the Deadline

Meanwhile, in New York City, administrators are scrambling to meet a state requirement that took effect last September prohibiting unlicensed teachers from being hired in low-performing schools known as "schools under registration review." Despite the law, some 580 such teachers were hired for the so-called SURR schools last year, although only about 360 have been asked to continue teaching in the coming school year.

Aides to Mr. Levy said that the 1.1 million-student district was working at least to get those teachers temporary licenses—denied them last year—by ensuring that they pass the two required tests. Some may also go the new alternative route, according to Vicki Bernstein, an aide to Chancellor Levy.

New York City is, in fact, the only district in the state that will be experimenting with an alternative pathway this summer. In cooperation with the City University of New York, it established a program especially to prepare 250 new teachers for the SURR schools.

"We had a fantastic response, over 2,000 applicants for 250 positions," Ms. Bernstein said, adding that other "aggressive" recruitment efforts have also emphasized finding teachers for the low-performing schools.

"We are making every effort to comply" with the commissioner's order, issued July 17 along with the notice of potential legal action, Ms. Bernstein said, despite shortages especially among people willing and qualified to teach special education, mathematics, science, and in languages other than English.

But Mr. Levy has refused to promise that only licensed teachers will staff SURR schools when the schools open next month. In an April letter, he told the state commissioner that the chances were "slim"—a response that clearly rankles Mr. Mills.

"The system always says this can't be solved—there's always a reason it can't happen," the commissioner said. "But the regents have said the problem has got to come to an end."

Some experts see room for action by both the city and the state. "New York City has been notorious for its sloppy and haphazard hiring and recruitment practices,'' said Craig D. Jerald, a senior research analyst with the Education Trust, a Washington group that promotes a high-quality education for poor and minority students.

"But improving hiring and recruitment is not a panacea," Mr. Jerald added, in part because the city cannot afford to pay salaries that are competitive with the surrounding districts'.

Vol. 19, Issue 43, Page 29

Published in Print: August 2, 2000, as N.Y. Regents Open Door To Alternative Route to Teaching
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