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State May Ease Alternate-Route Rules for Charter-School Teachers

Education Department provision would provide more flexibility in hiring, training.

The Christie administration has proposed easing some of the state’s teacher-certification rules for charter schools, saying the move would give the schools more flexibility in hiring.

The provision, which is tucked deep within the administration’s Professional Licensure and Standards Code for NJ Teachers proposed new administrative code for teacher licensure], would essentially give charter schools their own alternate route similar to the state’s long-established and popular “alternate route” process for hiring public-school teachers who did earn a traditional education degree in college.

The proposal, which is now before the state Board of Education, is facing some resistance from the state’s dominant teachers union, among others. But it nonetheless moved ahead with preliminary approval at the board’s meeting on Wednesday.

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Under the proposal, the charter schools would no longer need to meet the existing requirements that their alternate route teachers have at least 30 hours of credits in their content area, nor would they need to have a set number of hours of classroom training before they are hired and once they are hired. They would also not be required to have a mentor teacher as rookie teachers do in the public schools.

State officials stressed that the charter-school alternate-route teachers would still need to pass a national exam in the content subject, and the charter schools would still need to provide in-school training and support for its teachers once they are on the job.

But the charter schools would have flexibility in how to do that, officials said, as long as they met the conditions of the state’s review.

“The rationale is increasing flexibility and autonomy in exchange for increased accountability,” said Amy Ruck, director of the state’s charter school office.

“Our belief is a lot of this (training) will be already be happening in the charter school,” she said. “Why require it in a prescribed way? This focuses more on the outcomes and less on the inputs.”

A number of other states have eased certification requirements for charter schools even more. Four states have no certification requirements at all for charter schools, and another 17 allow for some hiring of noncertified teachers, usually up to a certain percentage of staff.

The proposed certification rules for alternate-route teachers in charter schools would not be transferable to a public school.

“We believe this would be more the exception than the rule because it is not transferable,” Ruck added.

Not all are pleased with the move, with at least one board member and leaders of the New Jersey Education Association maintaining it sets up different standards for district school teachers than it does for charter schools. In a public hearing on the proposal last month, concerns were raised by the state’s principals association as well.

“With all the teacher evaluations now being required and the concerns about teacher effectiveness, you are now reducing the qualifications for teachers in charter schools?” said board member Edithe Fulton, a former president of the NJEA.

“I just don’t understand that. What’s the rationale?” she said yesterday, a day after she confronted the administration at the board meeting and cast the lone dissenting vote on the proposal’s preliminary approval.

The NJEA’s current vice president, Wendell Steinhauer, said the union has voiced its opposition as well and hopes to still meet with education department officials to iron out differences.

“I know charter schools are supposed to be laboratories of innovation, but I don’t think that should apply to certification,” he said yesterday. “They are still public school teachers.”

The proposed licensure code for public-school teachers has so far received little attention as it moves easily through the approval process, despite some significant changes in how teachers get credentials and are trained once on the job.

For instance, the administration would tweak the existing requirement that public-school teachers receive 100 hours of professional development over five years, instead moving to a 20-hours-per-year mandate but allowing for more flexibility in how that professional development is determined.

Board member Ronald Butcher said he’s not sure the 20 hours is any better than the previous 100 hours, saying it only further restricts teachers.

“The 100 hours was pretty arbitrary, and we have now moved to another pretty arbitrary number,” he said yesterday. “What if there was an opportunity to do 15 hours one year and 25 the next? Looking at the code, there is no flexibility for that.”

Butcher raised his concerns at the meeting, and state officials pledged they would revisit the measure in a year to see if it has some unintended consequences.

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