Educating Educators: Senate Hearing On Proposed Changes To Education Masters Programs

May 12, 2010

The Senate Democratic Majority held a hearing on proposed changes to higher education criteria regarding the education of future teachers today, led by Senator Toby Ann Stavisky (Chairwoman, Higher Education Committee) and Senator Suzi Oppenheimer (Chairwoman, Education Committee). 

The hearing focused on the recent decision to greatly expand the role of alternative teaching programs at higher education institutions, allowing them to create their own master’s degree programs which could prepare teachers in dramatically different ways than is happening now.

The program brings to the fore the question of which mode of preparation better prepares future teachers: learning in a classroom, or teaching in a classroom.

Testimony was provided by leading state education institutions and organizations, including:

  • David M. Steiner, Commissioner, State Education Department
  • Nancy Zimpher, SUNY Chancellor
  • Dr. Robert Bangert-Drowns, Dean of UAlbany’s School of Education
  • Steve Allinger, Director of Legislation, NYSUT


Senator Stavisky (D-Whitestone) said, “Teaching has become an increasingly difficult position as achievement gaps have widened and the number of high needs schools has risen. The question of how to better prepare teachers for the classroom needs to be addressed and this hearing has provided the necessary forum for discussion.”

Senator Oppenheimer (D-Mamaroneck) said, “Today’s hearing was a useful discussion on the importance of teacher preparedness.  I am pleased we had this opportunity to hear from top education leaders on how best to prepare our teachers for their essential role in readying our students for the challenges of the 21st century.”

On April 20th, the Board of Regents adopted recommendations to implement a graduate level teacher preparation pilot program based on the concept of institutional learning. The program provides for alternative teaching programs which would grant graduates a Professional Master’s of Arts in Teaching degree. The program would focus on placing teachers in high needs school districts where close to 50% of current teachers leave the system within the first five years of teaching.

David Steiner, New York State Education Commissioner, said, "Effective teacher preparation is crucial to raising the quality of education throughout our state. Thus I am delighted that the Senate Higher Education and Education Committees are holding this hearing to learn in depth of the Board of Regents reforms in this area."

SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher said, "I applaud Senators Stavisky and Oppenheimer for convening a discussion on the future of teacher education in New York. As a system, SUNY prepares more teachers than any other institution in the state, and our new strategic plan calls for transforming teacher preparation as part of a seamless education pipeline from cradle to career."

Teacher preparation in New York has been the job of higher education institutions and organizations of teacher education for years and the state is one of 38 that requires a master’s degree to become certified and teach in the classroom. Questions have been raised, however, on whether or not a degree from the classroom properly prepares one to teach young students.

Institutional Teacher Education

Academic institutions and organizations argue educating a teacher to the level of a master’s degree involves more than simply training them; teachers must have substantial depth and breadth of knowledge that is traditionally researched, taught, and fundamentally underlines the work being done at teaching institutions.

They also enforce the belief that teachers must remain up-to-date on new findings in their area of academia and professional work. There has been considerable breakthroughs in research regarding how young minds respond to different forms of teaching and the psychology behind it. They believe the study of education cannot be removed from the process of educating a teacher.

Another aspect of the institutional belief is that the State has the capacity to support and enhance exiting teacher education programs through improvement of standards, adding resources and strengthening certification processes and requirements. If resources are diverted to small, new, unproven local programs there will no longer be the opportunity to strengthen existing programs.

Providing an Alternative Path for Teachers

Until recently, the path for college graduates in attaining a master’s degree and their teacher certification consisted of attending graduate school classes and performing student-teaching apprenticeships. Education schools had a virtual monopoly on the teaching profession. There have been criticisms, however, that teaching schools are too focused on theory and not enough on the craft of effective teaching.

The pilot program approved by the Board of Regents focuses on opening up teacher preparation for a new skill set that has yet to be addressed by teaching institutions. Alternative teaching programs, such as Teach for America, have existed for some time now, but they are not accredited academic institutions and therefore not allowed grant degrees and teacher certification. These programs rely on a hands-on approach to teacher education by using a residency program comparative to the medical field. This places college graduates, typically without a background in education, in the classroom which provides them with real experience in how to effective handle the classroom.

Teaching has never been more difficult, as teachers today are asked to achieve significant academic growth for all students and the diversity of needs for students grown exponentially over time. Advocates of the alternative teaching program believe that actual interaction with student in the classroom can better prepare graduates to become great teachers and ensure the futures of children’s lives and the education program are bright.