Streamlining teacher certification and linking it to teacher evaluations

The peace between the teachers unions and the Malloy Administration ended Tuesday, one week before legislators convene at the State Capitol to get to work on a major education overhaul.

The battle comes from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy‘s shutting down the Connecticut Education Association’s initiative to allow educators to set the certification requirements for themselves. Instead, he plans to link the new teacher evaluation system with a new three-tier teacher certification system, where only the best teachers will get the “master certificate” label.

“It’s going to rankle some folks,” Malloy said during a conference call with reporters.

Ten minutes after he hung up, the CEA’s leader was criticizing the initiative.

“We are concerned,” Mary Loftus Levine, wrote in an emailed statement; Malloy’s proposal “would actually lower teacher standards,” she said.

Neither was the state’s other teachers’ union supportive.

“It’s disappointing. Up until now we’ve had a good relationship,” said Sharon Palmer, head of the state’s chapter of the American Federation of Teachers.

The death of a 1,000 education seminars

Teacher re-certification now is largely tied to attendance at education seminars or completing college courses. While districts must pay for their teachers to attend these seminars 18 hours each year, Malloy and his education commissioner are not convinced that the forums are worth it.

“I think there’s fairly universal agreement that it’s not producing the levels of improvement” necessary, Malloy said. “It’s high time we address that deficiency.”

Stefan Pryor, the education chief, was a little more blunt, calling many of the continuing education seminars “ineffective.”

A recent survey of the state’s superintendents by the State Department of Education said one-third think these continuing education courses are useful.

But Palmer said the seminars “make up for where our teacher [colleges] fall behind.” She gave the example of a seminar her union hosts on effectively managing the classroom or another on how to best teach students with autism.

“Where are [current teachers] going to get that training from if it’s not required?” Palmer asked.

Pryor said the plan is to move that training from an auditorium and into the schools. Districts will still need to show the State Department of Education how they are helping teachers through a team of coaches and offering some training for specific needs. But these will replace the 90 hours of required seminars teachers must complete every five years.

Palmer said she understands that teachers have been asking Pryor during his listening tour to do away with this continuing education requirement, but they may not yet realize the ramifications of such a shift.

“There is going to be a huge shout of happiness among many teachers, but then they are going to find out they can’t get the workshops they need to teach anymore,” Palmer said. “The districts are going to say ‘we’re not going to pay for you to do this’ because they no longer have to.”

Joe Cirasuolo, the leader of the state’s superintendent group, said he will be glad to see these continuing education requirements be thown out.

“It gets us away from a certification process that just depends on seat time at a seminar,” he said.

Connecticut is in line with many other states when it comes to the current continuing education requirements for their teachers, according to the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification.

Nabbing top teachers from other states

Students who graduate from colleges in other states face a difficult time getting a job in Connecticut, Pryor said.

“We should be rolling out the red carpet” for the best teachers, Pryor said. Instead, the state is stuck with a “labyrinthine” and a broken system.

Connecticut does not currently have agreements with any other state to align teacher certification requirements, but it does have an agreement to waive some of the specific college course requirements and accepts some teaching degrees from nearby teaching colleges, according to the annual guide on how to become a teacher in the state.

The state department processes 18,000 certificates each year, from in- and out-of-state teachers, according to NASDTEC. Each year, about 1,500 teachers from out of state are certified.

The plan Malloy and Pryor laid out Tuesday will give local school districts the ability to accept other state’s teaching certifcations and decide on their own whom to hire. They will still be required to have graduated from a teaching college and passed the Praxis exam, a national test for teachers entering the profession.

“There are teachers who simply can’t get certified in time to teach,” said Cirasuolo, who was a longtime superintendent in Clinton and Waterford. “That wait time right off the bat is turning teachers away from Connecticut.”

And for subjects that districts are having a hard time finding teachers for, this lag time isn’t helping, he said.

“It just makes it more and more difficult to find good teachers,” he said.

Plans for these top teachers

It was unclear Tuesday what the incentive will be for teachers to earn the “master teacher” status, aside from being identified as the very best.

Rhode Island and Louisiana are the only two states where a teacher’s continued license and certification renewals are dependent on a good evaluation, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality.

Malloy and Pryor said they hadn’t decided yet if Connecticut’s higher status would mean a larger paycheck.

“It could, we’re not necessarily requiring it at this point,” Malloy said.

Pryor said this is something that will be determined when districts bargain with the unions, but he added, “Those with exemplary ratings ought to be treated differently.”

Master teachers would be more marketable, the governor said. “There will be reason [for districts] to attract such teachers.”

Teacher pay varies significantly by a district’s wealth, and Malloy and Pryor have said they intend to direct money to the state’s lowest performing districts so they are able to attract the best teachers.

Officials from the CEA, which represents 80 percent of the teachers in the state, were not available to comment Tuesday.