Assembly Committee Hears Recommendations on Building Better Teachers

John Mooney | October 28, 2014 | Education
But committee chairman thinks changes more likely to come in administrative code rather than through the law

Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan Jr.
The Legislature yesterday held a two-hour hearing on a package of recommendations for improving teacher preparation and induction, but it looks like the next steps will likely come more through administrative regulations than any new laws.

The Assembly education committee took testimony from a number of stakeholders who helped put together a report “Taking Back the Profession.” The lead groups included the New Jersey Education Association, New Jersey Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, and New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association.

The testimony was largely a repeat of the presentation that the coalition, called the Garden State Alliance for Strengthening Education, made when releasing the report last month. Discussion centered on core pieces of the report: teacher mentoring, “professional learning communities” in schools, and a proposal for a new tier of teacher-leaders.

Afterward, in an interview, the committee’s chairman said the Legislature may not have the prime role going forward, and he will next approach the administration to see where it can address at least some of the issues and recommendations through existing law and the administrative code that is set to carry it out. That code is set by the State Board of Education.

“I’ve always said that new legislation is the last recourse if we can do some of this through regulation,” said state Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan (D-Middlesex), the committee chairman.

Some measures will be tougher to attain without additional money, he said, and probably nonstarters at the moment, given the state’s fiscal crisis. One prominent proposal, for instance, was fully funding the state’s requirements that new teachers be mentored for at least a year by their trained — and paid — peers.

“A lot of the recommendations involve money, and we know where that is going,” Diegnan said.

But he indicated that recommendation for improving existing supports and embedding more collaborative training and planning among teachers through so-called “professional learning communities” could happen without much cost.

Acting State Education Commissioner David Hespe, who’s department did not testify yesterday, said last night that the administration was already reviewing the report and its recommendations.

“We’re looking at a lot of the same issues already,” Hespe said in an interview. “We are very pleased to see the report looking at these issues as a continuum, from preparation through induction through professional development and an opportunity for career educators working to give back as teacher-leaders.”

Still, even simple recommendations have their hurdles. One recommendation from the report calls for a new state commission to explore many of the issues concerning teacher preparation, be it through traditional university-based programs or the state’s “alternate route” program.

The report suggests that a commission of 22 members, with virtually all the major groups represented. But Diegnan said during the hearing that he worried any time someone suggested a group that large. He said afterward that he wasn’t sure a state commission was even required.

“I think we know what we need to do,” he said.

But Hespe was more inclined to side with the idea of an outside group at least laying out the options for the state, indicating that teacher preparation in particular is a complex balance of needs.

“For certain issues, I think we would need a task force to look at it more,” Hespe said.

The report offers a host of recommendations for teacher colleges and other programs, including requiring university professors to be teacher-certified and pressing stronger collaborations between colleges and schools.