Regents decision questions traditional teacher certification

On April 20, the New York State Board of Regents approved a program allowing alternative teaching groups such as Teach For America to create their own masters degree programs in teaching.

As a result, students hoping to become teachers in New York can opt not to attend graduate programs at conventional universities, instead choosing to receive certification through these alternative programs.

Race to the Top, President Barack Obama's federal education grant program, emphasizes progress in teaching and allows the creation of alternative routes to certification. This, along with the lack of teachers willing to teach in low-income communities, pushed the board toward a unanimous decision, according to an article in the April 20 issue of The New York Times.

The board's decision has elicited both praise and criticism. To some, it undermines the theory and pedagogy involved in creating able teachers. Others believe the decision creates an opportunity to learn practical teaching skills from within the classroom.

Education professor Jane Morse questioned whether a program like Teach For America would have the expertise to create a master's program. She said that New York recently lost its bid to get federal funding from Race to the Top and that the board's decision is based on a desire to receive these funds.

"It's a good idea for people who have the most important job in the country to have training beyond the undergraduate level," Morse said. According to Morse, the requirements of the Teach For America program - a liberal arts degree that does not necessarily have to be related to education and a five-week course in teaching theory - do not provide the knowledge necessary for a teacher to execute his or her responsibilities.

"[The college] started promoting Teach For America a few years ago and maybe they should have thought about it more deeply and considered promoting their own School of Education," she said. Morse added that Teach For America has a very high dropout rate: "[Participants] do not stay teachers."

According to Teach For America's Web site, about 63 percent of Teach For America alumni remain in the field of education as teachers, principals, policy advisors and leaders and staff of education.

According to the site, studies have found that "Corps members have a greater impact on student achievement than even the veteran and certified teachers in their schools."

Senior Brian Hartle, a Teach For America recruiter, explained some of the benefits of the Board of Regents Decision. "It makes a master's in education more accessible and it may attract people who were not thinking of going into education in the first place," he said.

"Teach for America exists because there is a shortage of teachers in low-income areas," Hartle said. "[Students in these regions] are usually three or four years behind their affluent peers. Teach For America was founded to close this gap."

Osman Alawiye, dean of the School of Education, having accepted and collaborated with Teach For America on campus, said he would prefer that its master's program be offered in collaboration with an established graduate degree program rather than completely superceding the existing rules and teaching methods.

"We have the infrastructure and the know-how, and bypassing these [models] and going to private vendors is not the best option," Alawiye said.

Alawiye said his primary concern is the effectiveness of these potential new graduate programs to prepare teachers because they do not incorporate the research and background that many traditional education programs do.

The state of New York requires teachers to obtain a master's degree within five years of landing their first position.