Teacher Preparation

N.Y. Chief, SUNY Chancellor Team Up to Overhaul Teacher Preparation

By Stephen Sawchuk — June 01, 2016 4 min read
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Two key New York education policymakers have come up with a roadmap for a total policy rewrite of how the state recruits, trains, and supports teachers.

TeachNY, as it’s called, is the product of a task force set up by state Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and Nancy Zimpher, the chancellor of the State University of New York system, which produces thousands of teachers for the state each year. Their goal is to use the partnership between the two to create a more coherent set of policies for the teaching profession.

“We have a lot of diversity in New York: over 750 school districts, 64 SUNY campuses, and schools of ed. that are very different. Between these two entities, we can solidify what is the best practice to get the best teachers in every classroom,” Elia said in a recent interview.

And it’s necessary because, according to the two, there are too many holes in current policy. Student teaching in the state’s teacher colleges range from programs that begin giving aspiring teachers classroom experiences in their first year of college, to those that still rely mainly on eight to 12 weeks of student teaching in the final year.

There’s no particular structure for compensating the classroom teachers who supervise rookies during their training. There’s no guaranteed mentoring program for new teachers. And there are few incentives for teachers to earn National Board certification, Zimpher added.

Elia and Zimpher will be going on a “listening tour” of the state’s 10 economic-development regions for the next few months. After that, they will get to work on seeking policy changes—Elia via the state Board of Regents, and Zimpher at the SUNY Board of Trustees, which must approve any changes across those campuses.

“All of those things are absent the kind of policy that we need. The report is an anchor document,” Zimpher said. “It looks like a laborious report, but out of it, mark our words, you will see very explicit policy.”

A Teaching Vision for NY

Among the report’s many recommendations:

  • Launching a public-awareness campaign to improve the perception of teaching;
  • Creating “academies” to pique the interest of middle- and high school students in teaching as a career;
  • Working with master teachers, nonprofit groups, and programs serving minority populations to improve the diversity of the teaching force;
  • Improving teacher preparation programming, including by creating room for experientation, emphasizing the clinical component, giving aspiring teachers lots of feedback, and by creating opportunities for content and pedagogy faculty to work together;
  • Supporting teacher induction for new teachers’ first two years in the classroom.

One of the report’s most interesting ideas is to set up advisory boards that will collect and disseminate data to teaching programs to help better match teacher supply and demand in the state. (New York has historically had an oversupply of elementary teachers, but growing need for special education and preschool teachers.)

These boards “will use department of education statistics that will tell us by disciplinary area and by high need rural and urban, how to do our placements in a much smarter way,” Zimpher said.

Similarly, SUNY wants to explore the idea of a urban-rural teacher corps to help get educators into those communities.

There are still a lot of challenges to getting this work done. For one, New York doesn’t exactly have a great track record on teacher-preparation quality control. As I reported a few years back, it gave multiple passes to troubled teaching programs back in the mid-2000s. (Those problems predate Elia, who succeeded John B. King Jr. just last year.)

The state also lacks a data system that connects higher education and K-12 institutions, which makes it harder to supply data to programs or evaluate results over time.

And while many of the TeachNY ideas seem fairly noncontroversial, there’s one opponent already: The state teachers’ union.

New York Stated United Teachers withdrew its support from the project earlier this year; one of its affiliates representing higher education faculty wrote a scolding letter shortly after the TeachNY report came out, claiming that its ideas were top-down and didn’t address policies in the state relating to teacher evaluation or licensing exams.

“TeachNY is a smoke screen that bolsters the failed policy of former Commissioner John King, which SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher appears to endorse,” said Fred Kowal, the president of United University Professions, in a statement. “It is insulting to SUNY’s teacher education faculty and staff, and seriously out of touch with the widespread rejection of the top-down reform agenda that has undermined the work of teacher educators and their students.”

NYSUT’s opposition appears to be rooted mainly in criticism of the edTPA teacher-licensing exam (which has been delayed four times now and is still under review), as well as the 3.0 GPA requirement that SUNY approved in 2013 for entry into its teaching programs and that the state instituted for all in 2015. It says both of those requirements will further reduce the supply of diverse teacher-candidates.

Photo: State University of New York Chancellor Nancy Zimpher speaks during a news conference in March in Albany, N.Y. —Mike Groll/AP-File

For more on teacher preparation in New York:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.