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Administration Releases New Code for Teacher Training, ‘Alternate Route’

Proposals get lukewarm reception from teacher-education colleges and educators themselves

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The Christie administration released yesterday its new code detailing how teachers are to be trained and licensed. It drew a decidedly mixed response from those representing the colleges who will be doing the training and from the teachers themselves.

Top staff of the state Department of Education presented the proposed code at the State Board of Education, proposing an extensive array of changes as to how student teachers are to go through the system and how the state’s “alternate route” will be redesigned.

The proposals double the time that teacher candidates will need to serve as student teachers in a district, as well as the time required for those taking the alternate route.

But representatives of the state’s colleges and universities that train the bulk of the teachers said they had plenty of questions about the new proposals.

The schools, along with the state’s top teachers unions, collaborated on a report this fall that laid out their own plan for improving teacher education, including stronger requirements for preparation and more support once on the job.

“We were disappointed to not see more of the extensive work that was put forward,” said Joelle Tutela, president of New Jersey Colleges of Teacher Education, who attended the state board meeting yesterday.

Accompanied by a dozen other college representatives, Tutela said there were some positive aspects from her membership’s perspective, including tougher requirements on the alternate-route programs.

But they were limited. She said the department had reached out to the group for suggestions, but it did not seem to take them to heart. “They had started dialogue with us, but then we didn’t see what they were proposing until 72 hours before the [state board] meeting,” she said.

Among several concerns, she asked whether the requirement for more student teaching time came with the additional resources that would required, financial and otherwise.

“That sounds great, but we need the supports to make it happen,” Tutella said.

Leaders of the New Jersey Education Association, the teachers union, were mixed in their reactions as well. They also said the administration had skipped over some of the strongest recommendations from the coalition’s proposal last fall.

One proposal the NJEA is pushing is for a new level of “teacher leaders,” something left out of the administration’s proposal yesterday. A legislative bill that would start the process of creating such a tier is to be voted on in the state Senate today.

“We are at the height of needing teacher leaders, and as we need standards everywhere else, we need standards there, too,” said Marie Blistan, the NJEA’s vice president who attend the board meeting yesterday.

Blistan also worried about the new time requirements for student teachers, when there is already pushback from classroom teachers who worry about the added pressures that come with teacher evaluations.

“We as a profession have always welcomed student teachers, but now there seems to be some reluctance from those wanting to go into teaching and also those who worry we are putting our evaluations in the hands of [student teachers] who are in the classrooms,” she said.

Assistant state education commissioner Peter Shulman said after the presentation that he was aware of the concerns, and he hoped for further discussions in the weeks and months ahead.

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