On Teacher Prep, Give SUNY Charter Schools A Chance to Succeed Where Others Have Failed

Blogs, Letters & Testimonials

September 13, 2017


The State University of New York (SUNY) authorizes and oversees more than 160 autonomous public schools that serve almost 75,000 students. Last month, SUNY’s Board of Trustees proposed a new set of alternative teacher certification pathways for SUNY charter schools with strong records of performance and invited comments from stakeholders and the public. Nicole Brisbane, Director of Democrats for Education Reform – New York, wrote in strong support of SUNY’s proposal and offered a few suggestions for making it even better. We are re-posting her officially submitted comments below. See also Education Reform Now’s new report “New Colleges Of Education – A Path For Going From Concept To Reality” which calls for teacher accreditation policies very much like those that SUNY has proposed.


On behalf of Democrats for Education Reform – New York, I am writing in strong support of the proposed rule for alternative teacher certification pathways for SUNY charter schools with strong performance.

There are two main reasons that the proposed rule should be adopted. First, in general the research indicates a weak relationship between specific teacher certification standards and student outcomes. Second, current teacher certification requirements are inconsistent with the underlying concept animating public charter school policy. Specifically, these requirements undermine the ability of public charter schools to operate autonomously and pursue innovations that enable them to serve children more effectively while at the same time being held accountable for proper stewardship of public funds and student attainment of high academic benchmarks.

First, let me be clear about our views on the importance of teacher quality. Every public school student deserves to be taught by a high-quality teacher. In fact, the research is clear that teacher and principal quality are the most important in-school factors affecting elementary and secondary school student achievement and long-term non-academic outcomes, such as income, incarceration, and health.[i] Nothing we do in schools compares to the impact of ensuring every child is taught by a proven effective, if not highly effective, teacher. These teachers can be identified and should be well-supported financially and otherwise.

Our review of the research along with that of others unfortunately also indicates there is no specific teacher preparation program input measure – not SAT/ACT score, postsecondary education subject matter training (beyond secondary level mathematics), program length, master’s degree attainment, institution selectivity, or current certification standards, including undergraduate grade point average – that accounts for more than a small percentage of teacher effectiveness as measured by associated elementary and secondary school student achievement scores.[ii]

According to a well regarded study by Drs. Allison Atteberry, James Wycoff, and Susanna Loeb, highly respected academics at the University of Virginia and Stanford University, the predictive impact of input metrics such as credential assessment scores, SAT/ACT scores, and general pathway into teaching (alternative versus traditional) explain less than three percent of teacher variation in classroom effectiveness.[iii] An exception exists with respect to secondary school mathematics and science teachers.

The proposed regulation strikes the right balance insofar as charter school operators will be empowered to hire on a provisional basis and recommend for standard certification those teachers who prove themselves ready for the rigors of the classroom based on a variety of metrics, including undergraduate grade point average, prior teaching experience, participation in high-quality alternative teacher preparation programs such as Teacher for America, coursework, and relevant work experience. In fact, we think it would be wise to add to the list of metrics actual first year teaching effectiveness in raising student achievement. Initial year value-added measurement is the single greatest predictor of future teacher effectiveness by a factor of seven.[iv] We also think it could be useful to include a metric that encourages more diversity hires in the teacher workforce since a majority of the charter student body is Black and Latino. Regardless, we believe and hope that adoption of the proposed regulatory change will lead to a higher quality and more diverse teaching force at least in our public charter schools.

Charter schools were founded on the idea that certain authorized public schools should be freed from nearly all education regulations and granted wide autonomy in operation in exchange for meeting clear, outcome-based public accountability standards.[v] Unlike traditional public schools, no teacher is forcibly placed in a public charter school where principals retain full authority over hiring and dismissal of their staffs. The fact that some of the same forces that want mandatory placement of teachers from New York City’s Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) pool – teachers who were sidelined in many cases because of disciplinary problems or bad teaching records and all of whom, by definition, are teachers no principal wants – are also among those who most vociferously oppose the proposed rule would be laughable if it were no so reprehensible.

Innovative practices embraced at public charter schools that show promising results contribute to a larger evidence base from which traditional public schools can draw and potentially change their practices as well in furtherance of student achievement and growth.[vi] The proposed charter school teacher certification regulatory change is consistent with that purpose. It is a “pilot program” limited to SUNY public charter schools with strong records of performance. In contrast, some have recommended there be virtually no screens for teacher licensure and certification in charter and traditional public schools beyond undergraduate degree and school or district subsequent recommendation – a position we do not endorse absent further evidence.[vii]

Too often in education policy, we conflate assurances with outcomes and fail to correct course when evidence is lacking and children are not learning to their full potential. Such is the case with teacher preparation broadly and teacher certification requirements specifically. In all my years in education, including those in my own classroom, I have never seen a successful school that is not led by an empowered principal working as an instructional leader. The pending charter school teacher certification regulatory change alters course and would empower school leaders further. It should be embraced, studied, and in turn modified or built upon further in the interest of all public school children. I urge its adoption. The status quo is just not working for children and families.


[i] See e.g., Chetty, Friedman, & Rockoff, 2011 (having a top five percent teacher for just one year raises a child’s lifetime income by $80,000)

[ii] See Mitchel & Aldeman, No Guarantees: Is it Possible to Ensure Teachers are Ready on Day One? (Bellwether Partners, 2016).

[iii] See Atteberry, Loeb, & Wycoff, Do First Impressions Matter? Improvement in Early Career Teacher Effectiveness 19 (National Bureau of Economic Research, 2013).

[iv] See Atteberry, note 3.

[v] See Barone & Lombardo, A Democratic Guide to Public Charter Schools, (Education Reform Now, 2016).

[vi] See Shanker, “A Charter for Change, Con’t: Less Truth – Fewer Consequences,” Where We Stand, New York Times, July 17, 1988 (“If schools are to improve, they’ll have to support a constant inquiry and search for new and better ways to reach youngsters. If they don’t, the public will look for something other than the public schools to educate our children.”).

[vii] See Mitchel & Aldeman, note 2.