I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Will NJDOE Turn Charter School Teachers Into Indentured Servants?

Last week, the New Jersey state Board of Education held hearings on regulatory changes for the state's charter schools. Probably the most significant -- and most controversial -- of the Christie administration's proposed revisions were changes to the certification requirements for charter school teachers.

Basically, the Department of Education wants to create a new certification just for charter school teachers. From what I can tell from reading the proposed regulations (available at NJ Spotlight), a prospective teacher who did not go through traditional college-based training -- what's referred to as an "alternative route" -- would follow a different path toward getting certified than would an alt-route teacher working in a public school.

A quick primer on alt-route: in New Jersey, there are a series of steps a prospective teacher has to take to be eligible for hiring. Once those are completed, she receives a Certificate of Eligibility (which can also be with Advanced Standing). She can then be hired by a district, which leads to a Provisional Certificate. While teaching, she takes courses and is mentored by a qualified teacher with a standard certification (I've been a mentor several times). If all goes well, the Provisional Certificate becomes Standard after a couple of years.

The ostensible reasons for all of this are:

1) No one gets to go into a classroom without at least meeting some very basic requirements. With the CE, a teacher has to have, for example, some college credits in French if they're going to teach French. They also have to take what's known as a "24-hour course," which is a short sequence that covers the basics of teaching (it can be done over a few Saturdays at many of the state colleges).

The point is that the state is making sure that students don't wind up with a teacher who is completely clueless. Obviously, no system is perfect, but I think the CE requirements are reasonable and not particularly onerous. Sure, you have to cough up some money for the tests and the course. But if you've got a college degree -- and that's a requirement -- I'd say it's not an unreasonable amount.

2) Once you've got a gig, you have to get your full training if you want to keep it. The cost is more significant: $1,000 for your mentor, plus about $1,500 to $2,000 for your coursework (less if you have Advanced Standing). But that can vary: many alt-route teachers go on to earn their masters degree, which costs more but also means you get a boost in pay on a district's salary guide.

So how does the charter school certification process differ? As near as I can tell:

1) The certificates would be issued under a pilot program, and only by a select number of "high-performing" charters. What happens to these certifications if the pilot is discontinued? I don't know...

2) Some of the requirements for getting a charter school CE are eased; most significantly, the 24-hour course is not required. Which means, I believe, that a charter school could have a teacher take over a classroom with NO training in pedagogy whatsoever.

3) An alt-route charter teacher only has to do 50 hours of professional development, compared to 200 hours for a public district alt-route teacher. But I see nothing in the proposed regulation that imposes any restrictions on what those 50 hours of PD would actually be.

Keep in mind that we already have an example of charter schools running their own teacher training outfit: the Relay "Graduate" "School" of "Education," a "graduate school" that doesn't have any actual scholars in its faculty, and gives its degrees based on highly dubious measures of student "growth" (see Bruce Baker and Carol Burris for more on Relay).

4) A charter school certificate would only be valid for a charter school teaching job.

This last one is important, if only for this reason:

This is from my report on the finances and staffing of NJ charters from last year. At every stage of their careers, New Jersey's charter school teachers make less money than teachers in public district schools. Yes, there are some notable exceptions (see my report for details), but the overall trend is toward lower pay"

Now, a key tactic in keeping pay low is to keep a staff inexperienced. But constant staff turnover can exact its own costs; in addition, it's hard to expand if you have to rely on teachers who only plan to stay at your school for a few years. Worst of all for the charters: it may be that they are taking in teachers early in their careers, only to have them move later to higher-paying jobs in district schools.

I'm still looking into research on this, so I can't say how much of a problem it may be. But keeping charter school teachers in a separate certification category can only help to slow any movement of those teachers toward public district schools with their higher salaries. And that could help quash wage pressures for charters, who wouldn't have to compete with district schools for personnel.

Furthermore, as Bruce Baker points out in this post, the 50-hour requirement sets up a money-making scheme for the charters, where they basically raid the paychecks of their own staff:
Other options exist for recapturing portions of teacher salaries. But as is true for the Turkish Tuzuk, documentation of these schemes may be difficult to obtain from privately-managed charter schools that often claim these agreements are exempt from public disclosure laws. One common model is the “company store,” where employees are required to purchase goods and/or services from the affiliated entities. This model can be used for visa processing fees for foreign labor, but might also be used for obtaining relevant credentials, professional development, or even housing.[vi]
For example, founders of New York and Newark, NJ area charter schools and management companies have established their own Graduate School of Education (Relay GSE), staffed primarily by themselves—current and former employees of the charter schools and management companies. Relay GSE was criticized in public hearings over its use of under-credentialed and inexperienced faculty to deliver its programs, but was eventually granted accreditation.[vii]
The Relay Board of Trustees includes founders of KIPP, NYC; Achievement First; and affiliates of Uncommon Schools.[viii] In New Jersey, Relay’s graduate programs are offered on-site within North Star Academy,[ix] a Newark charter school affiliated with the Uncommon Schools network (established by a founder of Relay GSE). The Dean of Relay, Newark, is a co-founder of North Star Academy.[x] Former teachers from the affiliated charter schools report being obligated as a condition of employment to obtain credentials (MA degrees and related certifications) from Relay GSE. That is: employees at the charter schools are having a portion of their salary taxed to pay tuition to a “graduate school” run by founders of their own charter schools, operated within their own charter school facility (lease agreement unknown), where courses are often taught by their own teaching peers having only slightly more advanced education and experience.[xi] We elaborate on this example in Appendix A. [emphasis mine]
And so the proposed regulations lead charter school teachers into a sort of indentured servitude: Under the proposed regulations, a charter teacher would be stuck paying for the limited professional development her boss offers, and she couldn't leave for a better paying public district.

This is a really lousy deal for charter school teachers -- which is why, when I spoke at the NJEA Convention this year, several charter teachers told me they were against the proposed regulatory changes. Who can blame them? Why should they be stuck in lower-paying jobs? Why can't they access our state's universities for their professional development?

And even more important: how does any of this help charter school students?

ADDING: The memo from the NJDOE has some really awful analysis; stand by...


Julie Borst said...

"The memo from the NJDOE has some really awful analysis" *snort* This appears to be the norm. "Analysis" for them seems to be "we decided the outcome and now we're doing contortionist gymnastics to 'prove it'."

main street liberal said...

It's off-topic, but here is an important article-linked to by Diane Ravitch-
about Betsy DeVos: