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State Board Moves Toward Revamping Requirements for Teaching Candidates

In-class training time would increase from one semester to two semesters, alternate-route accreditation may get stricter

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The Christie administration took a big step this week in finalizing changes to the state’s rules for preparation and support of new teachers, following more than four months of back and forth with teachers unions and advocacy groups.

The State Board of Education gave its unanimous preliminary approval to the new code on Wednesday, accepting final changes in the length of time student-teachers are required to be in the classroom and how teacher-education programs are accredited.

The revamped code is now approved for proposal stage, under the state board’s administrative procedures. That means it will be published in the state registry and open for final public comment. Substantive changes at this point are typically rare before final approval.

State officials, in presenting the final proposal on Wednesday, said it was a collaborative process with groups such as the New Jersey Education Association and the New Jersey Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, which first put forth some of the code changes.

“This is one of the best processes we’ve had,” said state Education Commissioner David Hespe. “We are not at 100 percent consensus, but we are at a consensus where there is a mutual respect for our differences. It’s about the best outcome we could get.”

Added Assistant Commissioner Peter Shulman, who oversaw the process: ‘I don’t think there is anybody out there who can say they haven’t been heard. . . It’s been a pretty comprehensive and exhaustive process.”

As a whole, the proposal is not much different from what was first put forward in February, but many details were changed, each prompting their own debate.

For instance, the proposed changes still require that student teaching – now technically called “clinical practice” – include two semesters of classroom experience, up from the previous one semester.

But the latest proposal delays the start of that requirement until 2018-19, or for incoming freshmen, addressing concerns that colleges needed time to prepare for the expanded timeframe.

Nonetheless, the administration is remaining steadfast on the expanded time, and on Wednesday brought in officials and students from Rowan University, where one of its teacher-education programs already has the full-year requirement. In a program partnering with a Monroe Township elementary school, Rowan officials said the expanded time enables teacher candidates to better know the school -- and vice-versa -- and to build stronger relationships with the teachers who mentor them.

“Just as they are learning the curriculum, just as they are learning the assessments, we always wondered if they could have just a little more time to fill in the gaps,” said Stacey Leftwich, a Rowan associate professor who is the liaison with the school.

Another contentious topic was how much alternate-route programs – also renamed to “certificate of eligibility (CE) educator preparation programs” – would need to meet the same requirements of traditional university-based programs.

The initial proposal had been criticized as being too lenient, but under the latest changes, the alternate-route programs will need full accreditation by 2022.

Maybe some of the biggest changes dealt with requirements for substitute teachers. Initially, the administration proposed that substitute teachers be required to hold a bachelor’s degree and also called for limits on how long they could be employed in the same classroom.

Facing questions over whether that would severely limit the number of available subs, the proposal was revised to eliminate the bachelor’s degree requirement, retaining the current minimum of 60 college credits. But it tightened the time limits on the use of substitutes to no more than 20 total days in a year in the same classroom.

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