State Poised to Toughen Teacher-License Standards, Bolster Support System

Proposed code changes would increase time spent as student teachers, beef up ‘alternate route’ standards

teacher eval
A new teacher-licensing code will be proposed this week by the Christie administration, with officials saying it will strengthen and bring more accountability to the way New Jersey prepares teachers for the classroom.

Details will come in the formal proposal to be presented to the State Board of Education on Wednesday, but it is already known that the new code would lengthen the time prospective teachers would have to spend as student teachers and toughen some of the requirements for “alternate route” teachers.

The administration’s proposal follows the expiration of the previous (and voluminous) regulations at the end of last year, and comes at a time when the issues of teacher preparation and support have been getting renewed attention in the state and nationwide.

The state’s teachers unions, along with other education groups, have recently pressed for revamping the law and regulations to bolster training and support for teachers, as well for creation of a new tier of so-called “teacher leaders.”

Various legislative proposals have started to chip away at the plan as well, but several lawmakers say they are looking to the administration to take the lead in its regulations and code.

The administration’s proposed new code stops short of embracing every piece of the proposals by the unions and education groups — and makes no mention of funding.

But it does takes into account some aspects of those proposals, particularly in emphasizing a “continuum of professional learning,” said Peter Shulman, the state assistant education commissioner overseeing teacher quality.

“It’s from the candidate level in the preparation program, to the experience as student teacher, to then that of novice teacher and mentor,” Shulman said on Friday. “None of them is in isolation from another.”

Some steps addressing teacher preparation have already been taken. The state board last year approved raising the college grade-point-average required of new teachers to be 3.0, up from the previous 2.75. The state also approved an entrance exam that requires new teachers to demonstrate their abilities through a performance test.

The new code would put a focus on teacher-induction programs, whether in college and universities or through alternative programs, including New Jersey’s pioneering “alternate route” process that essentially trains new teachers on the job.

Shulman said one concrete change would lengthen the amount of time a candidate must be a student teacher. The requirement now is for one semester.
“We know that clinical experience is a difference maker, and 12 weeks is just not enough,” he said.

The “alternate route” process – which was started in New Jersey in the 1980s and has accounted for as many as one-third of new teachers in some years – is also targeted for changes, Shulman said, with higher standards that will more closely align it with the traditional route requirements, Shulman said.

The assistant commissioner said the “alternate route” program has proven to be uneven and inconsistent, with little tracking of how those teachers perform.

“We were pioneers with this, but somehow we lost our way,” Shulman said.

Undergirding the proposals, he said, is a better tracking of how well all the programs – university-based and otherwise — are preparing teachers, with more extensive data-keeping on the effectiveness of teachers once they are on the job.

This has been a controversial notion with colleges, but Shulman stressed that the administration does not plan rankings of programs. Instead, he said, plans are to use data to look at “strengths and weaknesses,” as well as needs within the state, whether they pertain to be certain subject areas or different types of teacher candidates.

“This gives us an inventory of data to what is really happening,” he said. “This will allow us to make a lot more informed decisions.”