How State’s Teachers Get Trained, Licensed Comes Under Board’s Scrutiny

John Mooney | March 5, 2015 | Education
Questions raised about proposed reforms in standards for both alternate-route and traditional college-level education programs

teacher training
The Christie administration’s plans for reforming the way teachers are trained and licensed for the classroom continued to hit speed bumps yesterday, with a variety of groups and educators raising concerns before the State Board of Education.

  • Would doubling the classroom time required for student-teachers hurt more than help?
  • Should the popular “alternate route” program be held to the same standards as college-based programs, and how so?
  • Who should be the final arbiter of program quality in the first place?
  • The public hearing was the first in what the administration said will be a lengthy review process before the state board. The state’s point man on the issue said there is much fine-tuning to do.

    “This is not about disparaging the alternate route or the traditional route,” said Assistant Education Commissioner Peter Shulman. “This is about raising the bar for everybody, and getting the most for kids.”

    The state’s reform proposal is voluminous, revising and rewriting large swaths of the state’s regulations pertaining to teacher certification, induction and retention.

    Among the most notable proposed changes is lengthening the classroom time for student teachers from one semester to two semesters, expanding the alternate route to require two full years of training, and requiring substitute teachers to have at least a bachelor’s degree.

    For each of these issues, as well as others, there were a host of questions and concerns raised yesterday, as close to two dozen advocates and officials – many of them from teacher colleges — spoke before the board.

    For the colleges, many of the questions had to do with the standards for alternate route teacher certification. The approach supplies as many as one-fifth of all new teachers in the state each year through streamlined on-the-job training.

    Launched in the mid-1980s and one of the first of its kind, New Jersey’s program was meant to encourage people in mid-career or outside the usual teacher-education track to enter the classroom.

    But as it grew to provide as many as 40 percent of new teachers in some years, it has also been plagued by a wide disparity in the quality of the programs themselves.

    The administration said its aim is to strengthen the alternate-route standards, doubling the required time for on-the-job training to two full years. It would also more than double, from 24 to 50 hours, the time of training required during the summer before entering the classroom.

    At the same time, however, the proposed reforms would also not require national accreditation of the alternate-route programs, while the state commissioner would have the authority to unilaterally approve new ones.

    “By not requiring national accreditation for alternate-route providers, the department continues to endorse two categories of teacher-preparation programs,” said Ana Maria Schuhmann, former dean of Kean University’s teacher education program.

    “The primary goal of teacher accreditation is to improve learning of all … students,” she said. “I believe we want this for all of our students in New Jersey, not just for those whose teachers have been prepared by accredited (college-based) programs.”

    The discussions revived the debates of decades past over the value of the alternate-route path. Not only has the route provided a large number of teachers to the system, but it has also become an employment pipeline for such national programs as Teach for America.

    Some of the concerns raised yesterday came from representatives of the vocational and technical schools, which pull many of their teachers from the ranks of industry.

    “The most important factor for (career and technical education) teacher success is industry experience,” said Judy Savage, executive director of the New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools.

    “Anything that limits eligibility or extends the process will make it harder to recruit good candidates and could ultimately create a shortage of CTE teachers in certain areas,” she said.

    Board members also pushed back on some of the proposed alternate route changes, while others questioned whether enough was done to improve the teaching credentials of professors in the colleges and universities. Among the proposed changes is requiring that those instructors themselves hold teaching licenses.

    Shulman, the assistant commissioner, said the concerns and questions being raised will be taken into consideration, and that more changes will be made before the final version of the proposed teacher-training reforms is brought before the state board.

    But he also said that the original impetus of the changes was simple: “We hear all the time from principals and administrators that they can’t find enough teachers who are ready for the classroom.”