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New Teachers Should ‘B’ Ready for Tougher Standards

State proposes hiking minimum college GPA from 2.75 to 3.0 in attempt to improve quality of new educators.

In what is billed as another way to improve teacher quality, the Christie administration wants to require would-be teachers to have at least a B average.

Regulations that would raise the required college grade point average (GPA) of new teachers to 3.0, the equivalent of a B, were proposed yesterday by state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf.

The current minimum is 2.75, although at least half of the state’s teacher education programs already require a 3.0 for both enrollment and graduation.

The state has twice before tried to bring the statewide minimum up to 3.0, but fell short each time amid concerns that it would unfairly limit the teaching pool.

Those issues came up again yesterday at the state board meeting as Cerf’s staff, led by assistant commissioner Peter Shulman, presented the new GPA requirement as part of a wide-ranging package of changes in regulations for teacher preparation.

The package is just one of a series of initiatives the administration has pressed pertaining to teacher quality, highlighted by its controversial rules for a new evaluation system for current teachers.

Under the latest proposal, the administration would also raise the state’s GPA requirement for enrolling in a teacher-education program to 3.0, up from the current 2.5. It would also add a new basic skills exam for entering teacher programs and a new performance test that would be required to achieve certification.

Yesterday’s presentation was only the first step in the regulatory process. Shulman stressed that, if approved, the state would phase in the requirements over the next two years.

No teachers now certified or currently enrolled in teacher education programs would be affected. And he said there would be the potential of waivers or exceptions for candidates who could show their qualifications in other ways, such as high SAT scores or recommendations from their programs.

“We are being thoughtful and methodical and not rolling everything out at once on Day 1,” he told the board. “This will take some time, and we think, going a little slower, we’ll be able to learn more.”

Shulman gave familiar arguments for wanting to increase the thresholds, citing various studies showing that a small minority of teachers nationwide come from the upper academic tiers in college. He said New Jersey’s current requirements are less stringent than those of some neighboring states, prompting teachers to come here to take advantage of the lower standards.

Cerf is among state leaders who have questioned the efficacy of traditional teacher college programs, saying that many schools fall short in preparing teachers for the realities of the classroom.

The teacher unions themselves haven’t resisted much, with the national American Federation of Teachers among those endorsing a 3.0 requirement. In addition, more than 20 states have begun pilot programs using a new performance test for incoming teachers – the test was developed by the New Jersey-based publisher and test developer, Pearson Inc.

Shulman said the state has yet to pick a vendor, but he said such a test would be valuable for both teachers and their future employers.

“This is an assessment that can show you can actually perform in the classroom,” said Shulman.

Any move to raise the bar will also raise questions about teachers who will subsequently fall short of the higher standards. Several board members pressed Shulman on the issue of flexibility in the requirements and whether other factors would be used to judge a teacher’s potential.

“People come into the teaching profession for a number of reason,” said Ronald Butcher, a board member and former administrator in Rowan College’s education school. “If you want to attract high performers into the system, you want to look at a whole package of things and reduce the negatives that keep them out.”

Others used the opportunity to say that the teaching profession in the United States in general – and, perhaps, in New Jersey in particular -- hasn’t always been held in the highest regard.

“Especially under the current (Christie) administration, teachers are being told they aren’t always valued,” said Edithe Fulton, a board member and former president of the New Jersey Education Association. “You need to look at a lot of factors, and I think something has to change in how teachers are treated.”

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