NYS Exposed: Certification delays in midst of teacher shortage

December 02, 2016 12:23 AM

ROCHESTER -- A teacher shortage is looming here in New York State.

School districts are so desperate for qualified teachers, they are trying to snag them while they’re still in school.

The New York State Education Department, colleges and teacher unions are working to encourage more people to go into the profession but in some cases, state certification issues are significantly slowing down the process.

Angella Cocchiara has always wanted to be a teacher. "It’s what I wanted to do since I was in the third grade," she tells News10NBC.

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Cocchiara graduated from SUNY Cortland in the early 2000s, got her master’s degree and was a certified elementary education teacher when she hit the job market. "There was just so many people looking for those jobs and there was like maybe one or two of them at each school district,” she recalls.

She searched for a teaching job for five years but when she couldn’t find one, took a full-time position at a credit union. Her certification lapsed but her passion to be a teacher never did so she’s now trying to get back into it.

The number of teachers in New York state has fallen by nearly 10 percent in the past decade, one-third of the teachers who remain are at or approaching retirement age and there’s been a 40 percent decrease in enrollment in SUNY teaching programs. Knowing those facts, Cocchiara has been working hard to meet all the new standards for certification so she can get in the classroom as soon as possible.

"It's been really tough, I've had to take three tests over again, and those three tests cost between $75 to $100 each and then I had to do the application which costs another $100, so that's like $400 and then I had to do 75 hours of professional development while working full time,” she says but she’s completed the work.

The problem? Cocchiara’s account on NYSED’s website, where she’s uploaded all her information, hasn’t been updated by the state since July. "I don't know what's going on because I've emailed and I'm just getting no response back,” she says. In the meantime, she’s missing opportunities to apply for open teaching positions.

Certification issues aren’t isolated to people looking to return to the teaching profession. Education programs at local colleges are also trying to help teacher candidates navigate the process. "There was a belief, a sense that perhaps we had saturated the market with too many people who were prepared to teach, I think as a result of that, the certification exams were all changed, the expectations and pressure on the teacher preparation programs have all been changed to make it much more difficult for people to become certified... It used to be a couple of exams, we now have 5 or 6, the students are paying upwards of $1,000 to become certified out of their own pocket,” says Dr. Jennifer Ashton, an Assistant Professor in the Education Program at SUNY Brockport.  

Many students at SUNY Brockport have teaching-jobs waiting for them upon graduation. "We're hearing more and more from various districts who would like to interview our candidates who are graduating in the spring," says Dr. Janka Szilagyi who is the Chair of the Education Department. She attributes the teacher shortage not only to a more challenging teacher certification process but the public backlash triggered by the implementation of the Common Core standards and the new teacher evaluation process.

A spokeswoman for NYSED didn’t answer direct questions about whether there was any issue with the certification website, only telling News10NBC that Angella Cocchiara’s certification re-issuance will likely be issued by the end of the week. 

In regards to questions about streamlining the certification process and the teacher shortage in general, the department says: “Earlier this year, Commissioner Elia, along with SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, launched a months-long listening tour as part of the TeachNY initiative, to receive feedback from teachers and school leaders as well as college faculty and administrators throughout the state. TeachNY is a movement to lift up the teaching profession and to ensure that New York and the nation will have the high quality educators needed for the future.  Commissioner Elia is working proactively to promote the power of teaching and to secure investment in innovative educator preparation.”


Jennifer Lewke

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