Fine Print: Proposed Teacher Professional Development Rules

John Mooney, Education writer | September 14, 2012 | Education
No more 100-hours requirement, more flexibility for districts and teachers

What it is: The Christie administration last week presented its Education Transformation Task Force report, with more than 400 recommendations for streamlining and eliminating requirements on school districts. Among the changes is a rewriting of the state’s rule that every teacher have 100 hours of professional development every five years, instead proposing more individualized plans less driven by clock hours.

What it means: The development of the state’s existing rules a decade ago was months, if not years, in the making. Among the first of the code changes that the administration is proposing this time around, revisions are sure to take some time — and considerable debate.

What is specifically proposed: The report presented last week calls for a series of changes in the requirement and even the definition of professional development. For instance, it places much more emphasis on learning through collaborative teams of teachers, such as shared planning time, and more job-embedded professional development.

The report’s rationale: “This professional development requirement is currently measured purely in hours completed, not by whether the professional learning advances student learning.”

Still on the clock: While the proposal would do away with the 100-hour requirement every five years, it would still have roughly the equivalent measure, expecting teachers to complete at least 20 hours a year.

New committees: Where current code requires a slew of different approval levels for professional development plans in each district, the new proposal would streamline the process give the school superintendents greater control. It would also replace the state’s existing Professional Teacher Standards Board with a new State Committee on Professional Learning.

Where code is critical: Much of the state’s oversight of schools is driven by New Jersey law, such as the recent tenure reform measure passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Chris Christie. But teacher licensure is one area in which much of the most critical details are written in administrative code, with the State Board of Education the final arbiter. As the report reads: “This is a critical chapter of code. The efficacy of our educators is the single greatest contributor to student achievement that is under the Department’s direct control.”

Other proposals: This is not just about professional development, with the administration also proposing changes to a number of key areas concerning teachers in the classroom and how they are licensed. For instance, it would ease how substitutes are credentialed, and also the requirements on second career or so-called “alternate route” candidates to make it easier for former private school teachers. It also proposes new rules for school nurses and coaches.

The process: The professional licensure code is the first in what is expected to be a stream of formal code changes to be proposed by the department to the State Board of Education in the coming months. Officials have said it could take a full year to roll them all out. The president of the state board, Arcelio Aponte, said yesterday that the board is waiting for the first ones to be presented, possibly in time for the board’s October meeting. “We are eager to get this going,” he said.