NYS Exposed Follow-Up: Issues continue with teacher certification system

December 16, 2016 04:48 PM

ROCHESTER—School districts are desperate to find good teachers.  The state Department of Education says New York is nearing a teacher shortage yet it seems to be standing in its own way when it comes to certifying qualified educators.

A few weeks ago, News10NBC did a story with a local teacher who wanted to get recertified. Angela Cocchiara was caught in the red tape with the New York State Education Department (NYSED) after she met all the requirements for recertification but hadn’t heard back in months from the state about the status of her application.

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After Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke called NYSED, Cocchiara’s certification was processed and she’s now able to apply for teaching jobs. Since that time, several other teacher candidates have come forward who are having similar issues with processing.

Andrew Meuiner has been a high school math teacher for eight years, most recently in Rhode Island. His wife’s job recently brought them back to New York. He was hoping to get into the classroom as quickly as possible. "I figured because I had already been certified, it wouldn't be that much of an issue,” he tells News10NBC.

He was wrong, despite having two current state certificates in Connecticut and Rhode Island, a national board certificate, an undergraduate degree in Mathematics and education and a master's degree in instructional leadership, he’s been told by NYSED he needs four more courses in order to teach high school math in New York. A spokeswoman for the commissioner tells us his case is complicated but the department is committed to helping. They've offered an initial certificate which would allow him to teach 5th-9th grade math until he meets the new standards.

"This is the type of coursework you might do if you're pursuing a doctorate in mathematics. So, I understand New York wants its teachers to be well-qualified in the content areas that they're asking them to teach in but this seems to be a little over the top,” he tells News10NBC.

As Meuiner works through the complicated certification process, it’s made worse by the fact the state’s “Teach” website is difficult to navigate and phone lines normally have long hold times. "They do have a hotline, there's usually quite a wait to get through to them, sometimes they don't allow you to get through, there's just a message saying call back another time... so it's frustrating,” he says.

He’s not alone. Carol says via email, "I am a working teacher trying to get a second certificate.  The problem:  You cannot get through to NYS by phone without a long hold time."

Brian adds, "I would say on average that the website is non-responsive and won’t load about two-thirds of the time."

News10NBC requested an interview with NYS Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, her spokeswoman declined but provided information via email which confirms the unit processing teaching applications is understaffed.

NYSED’s IT department is also working to upgrade the “Teach” system online which may be slowing down the process.  The department, she says, is hoping the backlog will be alleviated as the work is done and vacancies are filled.   

For Meuiner and other teachers like him, time is of the essence, “I've been contacted by several people asking me if I'm available to teach and I have to say, I'm not certified,” he says.


Jennifer Lewke

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