Common Core rules hurting student teacher preparation in St. Lawrence County and elsewhere
Sunday, April 6, 2014 - 8:34 am

By CRAIG FREILICH

The controversial Common Core standards and new standardized testing and teacher evaluations are making it very difficult to find educators willing to sponsor student teachers.

Just a few years ago, SUNY Potsdam was successfully placing as many as 240 teacher candidates per semester in schools. Today, the number they need to place is down to 60 or 65, but finding sponsors for the much smaller number of student teachers is harder than when four times as many were placed.

St. Lawrence University, which has a teacher education program, and SUNY New Paltz, another of what were once called the “state teachers colleges,” are experiencing similar challenges.

Changes in the teaching environment due to cuts in state aid to schools combined with the new Common Core standards and a new teacher evaluation regime are to blame.

“There is a concern that established teachers will be less willing to take on student teachers,” Potsdam Central School Superintendent Pat Brady predicted in 2012.

One of the provisions of the federal Race to the Top education effort in New York is a new by-the-numbers Annual Professional Performance Review, an evaluation aimed at measuring teacher performance. It’s based in part on their students’ performance under the Common Core standards that were rushed into implementation by state authorities.

Now many veteran teachers who would have taken the time to guide aspiring educators are concerned their own evaluations under new rules will suffer. As much as 40 percent of teacher job evaluations are to be based on the results of student tests.

Many teachers don’t wish to sponsor a student teacher because that would mean their students would be taught by a novice much of the time in the crucial weeks leading up to the state tests. And test results of students taught by a student teacher would probably not be as good as if their own teacher had taught them and reviewed important principles prior to the exams, teachers say.

SUNY Potsdam Field Experience Coordinator Amy Guiney confirms those observations.

“Some teachers are feeling overwhelmed by it all,” she said.

And Esther Oey, the teacher education coordinator at SLU, says she believes student teacher placement has been upset by “teacher reviews that are dependent on K-through-12 performance.” She says she has not been in her current position long, but that is her clear understanding of the situation.

“I’m assuming they must be feeling the pressures of the new APPR and its requirements to show progress among their students.

“I can understand why teachers would be hesitant to take a student teacher. But cooperating teachers are generally in support of student teachers. They find it invigorating. They see it as their own professional development,” Oey said.

In fact, she said, teachers who take on a student instructor can be offered inducements such as professional development credits and course tuition waivers, depending on the school. Private schools, she said, have more flexibility in what they can offer.

At SUNY New Paltz, Coordinator of Student Teaching Margaret Veve says she, too, has been having trouble getting student teachers placed. She said that on the Friday before the week that the student teachers there were supposed to start in their assigned classrooms, she still had seven or eight that hadn’t been placed yet.

Veve notes that teachers have been taxed because “it has taken so much time, really in the last two years, with the Common Core and the APPR, that it’s hard to get them to volunteer” to take a student teacher.

Peter Brouwer, the dean of the SUNY Potsdam School of Education and Professional Studies, says that lower enrollment by teaching students “has actually helped” ease the placement problem, but the needs of veteran teachers still put more demands on people like Guiney, Oey and Veve.

Brouwer said the successive rounds of teacher layoffs in the last couple of years, due to higher operating costs for schools and less help from the state, has projected “the popular image that there are not a lot of jobs in education, and there’s some truth in that. Especially in elementary grades, there is an oversupply of generalists. It’s a challenging job market, but not so much at the secondary level and among specialists” such as special education teachers.

But Brouwer said that “four or five times in my career in education I’ve seen these cycles” of layoffs, a lack of jobs for new teachers, “these peaks and valleys, and it’s happening again,” but he believes before long “it will be back to business as usual.”

Meanwhile he’s grateful that “Ms. Guiney has done a wonderful job building relationships with teachers and an excellent job placing students. And it would have been very difficult” if more people wanted to become teachers right now, he said.

Teachers, administrators and parents have long complained that while the new education standards were generally laudable, the rollout was confused and complex and resulted in fewer hours of instruction for the kids.

“With the new evaluation system, there is more pressure on classroom teachers reaching the standards, and that will be part of their assessment,” Superintendent Brady said.

“Two bad evaluations could mean removal. They’re questioning if there will be time enough to give appropriate instruction – time that could be taken up by teaching a student teacher,” he said.

More staff cuts have been forced on North Country districts since Brady made those comments two years ago and it leaves teachers concerned they are not getting enough support from the state or the time to teach what the kids are supposed to learn. And volunteering to take more time to help an aspiring teacher becomes less likely.