The issue of the school district accepting credits from Teachers Education Institute through the College of St. Rose has been a topic of discussion at school board meetings. At last week's meeting, the board clarified and updated the issue.
The College of St. Rose is an accredited institution. TEI (Teacher Education Institute) is not. However, if teachers take courses through TEI, it counts towards their salary upgrade, because the teachers receive credits through St. Rose. Board member Mirzoeff says that the provision for quality within the teachers' contract is being circumvented.
He adds that the course fee is paid to TEI, and presumes that the instructors are employed by them. Therefore, he says, the quality of instruction is suspect.
Mr. Mirzoeff also voiced concerns over the fact that the site of the courses is motels, which means that there are no libraries, labs, professorial associates, etc., available to the students. He also contends that the courses offered are "soft" in nature, claiming that teachers take courses titled Self-Esteem I, Self-Esteem II, Self-Esteem for Educators and Self-Esteem for Educators II from TEI/St. Rose. In his estimation, these courses are more like workshops that could be given on an in-service basis. He also characterizes them as "pop-psychology."
In a letter to the Commissioner of Education, Mr. Mirzoeff notes that from July '95-June'96, 40 of the district's teachers received advanced salary program upgrades. At $75,000 per teacher, that is $3,000,000 chargeable over time to future taxpayers. According to Mr. Mirzoeff, approximately 2/3 of these teachers took part of their course work through TEI/St. Rose. He feels that the College of St. Rose is selling its accredited status in a way that is detrimental to public education.
The acting deputy Commissioner of Education Jeanine L. Grinage responded to Mr. Mirzoeff's with a letter stating the following SED concerns regarding contract courses offered to teachers by St. Rose:
qualifications of instructional staff and the process by which they were evaluated
format for delivery of instruction (compliance with semester hour)
terms of the agreements entered into by the College and the non-degree granting partners
the College's control over curriculum, faculty selection and the "contract course" enterprise in general
complaints about the academic quality of these courses expressed by local school district personnel.
Ms. Grinage added that the SED is currently in the process of fact-finding regarding this situation.
At the board meeting of Nov. 18, Dr. Inserra noted that other universities engaged in this "third party" contract policy (e.g. LIU, Brooklyn College, Bridgeport). He commented that he applauds challenging the policy because it deserves to be questioned.
In a phone interview he commented further on this issue: "Our concern is that this course is of the rigor of a graduate level course, when in fact, we are now not certain that the university exercised proper controls over the offering."
Another part of the problem with TEI courses is that because they're ostensibly taken at an accredited university, the board automatically approves them.
In the meantime, there are several salary upgrades before the school board that are pending its approval and more in the "pipeline," working towards upgrades. Mr. Mirzoeff does not want to approve the ones that include TEI courses based on his belief that the taxpayers didn't get good value for their money. He says that the teachers have abused the system.
Board member Sandy Ehrlich disagreed with Mr. Mirzoeff. She said that you "can't change the rules after the game is over." She also doesn't believe that a course taken off-campus necessarily means it's of inferior quality. She feels that the matter of TEI courses has to be dealt with, but says that the teachers took these courses in good faith and should be paid according to their contractual agreement. "It's not fair to hold them up," she said.
Board member Bob Sheer commented that he feels that many people have manipulated the system. "It's not the teachers; it's the system," he stated. He said he hopes to see better upgrades in the future. He also asked about the quality of Internet courses, and distinguished these from "schools on a matchbox."
Board member Nancy Cowles remarked that the title of a course is meaningless. "We want to keep the staff growing and developing." She added that a course may sound "frivolous" but it could be productive. "We shouldn't dismiss anything out-of-hand because it's held in a hotel room."
Assistant Superintendent Ann Israel told Mr. Mirzoeff that at the time the TEI courses were approved, the school was accredited. She added that the "quality of course is not as clean or simple as Mr. Mirzoeff makes it."
The board also noted that the problem needs to be corrected in all districts, not just Port Washington. Also mentioned was the fact that the state provides the list of accredited universities.