Teacher Professional Development — the Quiet Controversy

Everyone seems to agree that the 100-hour rule is history, but what will take its place?

As the Christie administration presses for changes to teacher tenure and evaluation, upcoming revisions to teacher standards and the kinds of professional development that would be required could spark their own debate.

For more than a decade, the state’s teachers have been subject to rules enacted under former Gov. Christie Whitman that require they accumulate 100 hours of approved professional development every five years.

The 100 hours has long been controversial, however. The Christie administration has already signaled its intention to replace the requirement with one driven less by the clock and more by teacher evaluations and student achievement gains.

Most of the education groups have supported at least the discussion, but a nagging uncertainty has surfaced about what will replace the 100 hours and how new standards of professional development would be set and by whom.

In a draft proposal of the new code circulated to the state Board of Education this spring — and then quickly withdrawn — the state’s Professional Teacher Standards Board will be dissolved and replaced by a new State Committee on Professional Learning.

The 100 hours would be replaced by broader requirements that each school develop its own teams to determine professional development needs. The draft also included a new requirement for one classroom period a week of collaborative planning.

“Ending the 100 hours would be OK, as long as the time and resources are there to create real job-embedded professional learning,” said Patricia Wright, a member of the board and executive director of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association.

“Some of the changes could be very positive,” added Michael Cohan, director of professional development for the New Jersey Education Association. “It gets people to focus more on the collaborative approach.

But under the state’s draft proposal, “there are also no real guidelines,” Cohan said, “and it leaves it to each district and at the discretion of the principal and superintendent and not necessarily the teachers.”

The current teacher standards board has remained in place, but members said many of their terms have expired without reappointment. The creation of the board in the mid-1990s had been a major accomplishment for the state in setting some of t its first overarching standards for teacher quality.

“It’s a board in name only,” said Edithe Fulton, a member of the State Board of Education who has raised concerns about the board’s fate for months. “A lot of the members don’t come any more, there is rarely a quorum.”

The Christie administration is not talking much about its plans, saying the early proposal to the state board was only a draft that should not have been released. A new plan would come in the next few weeks, officials said.

Still, the administration have not hid their plans to make changes. An interim report of the governor’s Education Transformation Task Force that looked at red tape and bureaucratic burdens on schools suggested revisiting the 100 hours rule as one of its main findings.