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29th August

First Published in The New York Sun, August 29, 2003

By Andrew Wolf

Thousands of suddenly ex-teachers are standing on unemployment lines because they failed to meet qualifications for state certification. Doubts remain about whether the same standards will be applied to those hand-selected for the higher posts in New York City’s school system.

The chair of the Assembly Education Committee, Steve Sanders, reports that 25 of the 113 Local Instructional Superintendents still lack the proper state certification to hold their posts. That number was even higher when the $135,000-ayear educrats were appointed by Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and the deputy for instruction, Diana Lam, last spring, the State Education Department reports. Mr. Sanders raised this issue with Mr. Klein at a public hearing in early July.The chancellor assured the assemblyman that anyone not in compliance with state law would be removed by the start of school.
For the entire pedagogical staff, that means Tuesday. Children arrive at school the following Monday. It will soon become clear whether Mr. Klein is serious about complying with state law, or will once again make it up as he goes along, like he did when trying to replace the 32 Community School Districts with 10 regions, without securing the appropriate changes from the Legislature.

It is not clear why 22% of the Local Instructional Superintendents, known at the Department of Education as “LISes,” and in the deeper trenches of the school system as “lizards,” still don’t have the required certification as “School District Administrators.” The “help wanted” advertisement in newspapers last winter and the official Department of Education job posting both listed SDA certification as a required qualification for the position. Obviously, in the zeal for “reform,” yet another corner has been cut. Although most of the lizards have a lesser form of certification that permits them to run a school, but not a district, at least two lizards have never even been classroom teachers.

The problem for Mr. Klein if he retains the 25 underqualified lizards is that unlicensed superintendents cannot evaluate the work of the dozen or so principals they supervise. Any principal given an unsatisfactory rating under such circumstances would have excellent grounds for appeal.

This has not escaped the attention of the principals’ union, the Council of Supervisors and Administrators. CSA maintains that only the 32 designated “Community Superintendents” can act as rating officers for the principals.

Mr. Klein looks at the 32 superintendents as a mere formality and has made it clear that they are there for little more than window dressing. Mr. Klein’s attitude can only result in a conflict with the CSA.The union takes the community superintendents seriously; they have issued special notebooks to all principals and instructed them to chronicle the contacts they have with their lizards and superintendents. Look for a blizzard of grievances and lawsuits — especially if uncertified lizards give unsatisfactory ratings to principals.

To be fair, the entire issue of certification needs to be revisited — but not at the whim of Mr. Klein, Ms. Lam, or even Mayor Bloomberg, but by Mr. Sanders and his colleagues in the Legislature when they return to Albany. Most of the fired teachers were let go because they failed the Liberal Arts and Science Test, an exam that any reasonably bright high school senior should easily pass. Those who believe that the disproportionate number of minorities failing the exam makes the requirement somehow “racist” miss the point. How will today’s New York City public school students receive a quality education if they are taught by less-than-literate teachers? On the other hand, a certification requirement that new teachers must obtain a master’s degree within five years should be re-examined. Unfortunately, those degrees are often totally worthless.

It’s worth noting that certification is hardly a prerequisite to good teaching. The most elite private schools don’t require that teachers be certified, as the Manhattan Institute’s Sol Stern dramatically pointed out to former schools chancellor and Dalton School parent Harold Levy. If uncertified teachers were good enough for Mr. Levy’s children, Mr. Stern asked, then what was the point of requiring certified teachers in public schools? Testing may be the only way to reliably screen out the clearly unqualified in a system as large as New York City’s. But as for many of the other requirements, particularly the need for a master’s degree, a new look is certainly in order.

Until we change the rules, Mr. Klein needs to play by the ones we have. Three-thousand former teachers will be watching to see if the same laws that have ended their careers will be applied to these better-connected, educrats.

© 2003 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.


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