New Rules Continue Shift in What State Requires for Educator Training

John Mooney | December 4, 2013 | Education
Education department updates guidelines for devising professional development plans for teachers and administrators

Credit: NJTV
Richard Bozza, executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators.
New guidelines for ongoing training of principals and superintendents – including a revised chain of command for who signs off on the professional development plans — were sent to school districts yesterday by the state Department of Education.

It’s the latest step in the state’s move toward revamping the way it monitors its teachers and school administrators, both in how they are evaluated and how they receive ongoing training.

In mid-November, the state also released guidelines for professional development requirements for teachers, including those deemed in need of “corrective action plans” under the new evaluations required in the state’s tenure-reform law, TEACHNJ.

For both teachers and administrators, the latest guidelines provide few surprises, as many of the changes were included in new regulations approved by the State Board of Education earlier this year.

The most notable change for teachers is a move away from the state’s decade-old requirement of 100 hours of approved professional development every five years. The Christie administration is instead splitting that into 20 hours a year and focusing on more collaborative approaches, officials said.

Still, the guidelines also lay out specifics about how the rules are to be put in place on the ground, setting in motion the development by individual school districts of plans for their own employees.

“After all these many months, we’re pleased that these guidelines are finally out, and districts can start developing their plans,” said Richard Bozza, executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, which represents the state’s 500-plus superintendents.

The leader of the state’s principals group said she, too, was glad that the state was turning its attention to helping teachers and principals improve, and not just evaluating them.

The state’s school districts are in the throes of implementing a new evaluation system that will measure teachers and principals on a four-point scale, ranging from “ineffective” to “highly effective.”

“It’s good that we’re looking at the professional development side of this,” said Patricia Wright, director of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association.

“There are so many things happening right now that require intensive professional learning, and we’re going to have to do a lot of work in New Jersey to come up with ways to providing this (training).”

There are certainly some concerns about the new rules.

Bozza, of the school administrators group, said he had unsuccessfully pressed the state to maintain the current structure in which superintendents work with peers to develop their goals for professional growth.

The state’s guidelines now call for those plans to be developed with and approved by local school boards.

For school principals, one of the biggest changes is a shift from three-year plans to an annual professional development plan.

Wright said she hoped for more emphasis on collaborative approaches and not just having educators doing professional development on their own. She cited the increasing use of videotaped lessons as training tools, and said that would be inadequate.

“We need for the collaborative part of the job to be embedded in the professional learning,” she said. ‘We can’t move away from that, and I don’t think we have gone far enough. It is needed more now than ever.”

Teachers will also being seeing some significant changes, with corrective plans now required for those who are rated “ineffective” or “partially effective.” It also sets some parameters for teachers found to be “effective” or “highly effective,” saying that their training can shift more toward leadership or coaching roles.

Michael Cohan, professional development director for the New Jersey Education Association, said he is sorry that the new rules spell the end of professional development committees that were previously in place in every district and school.

Each teacher’s professional development plan will now be decided by the teacher’s direct supervisors.

“That has really changed the whole dynamics,” he said. “If they are fully engaged with the teacher, that won’t be a big change. But if they are seeing this as another requirement and mandate, that changes the whole thing.”