N.J. wants to adopt more rigorous standards for teacher candidates

Becoming a teacher in New Jersey would require additional training time for student teachers and higher standards for substitutes under revised rules proposed today by the state Department of Education.

The update to state policy would affect future students pursuing a teaching degree through a traditional four-year college progam as well as future substitutes teachers and those transitioning into teaching through alternative routes, like Teach for America or other programs.

"We need to make sure the next generation, the next 150,000 teachers in New Jersey are prepared," Assistant Education Commissioner Peter Shulman said after presenting the proposed changes. "By simply thinking about preparing them in a similar manner that we have prepared them before, I don't think we are advancing the conversation."

Shulman noted several times during his presentation that current requirements are not strong enough, making it too easy to get into a New Jersey classroom, especially for substitutes and out-of-state teachers.

Under the proposal, those who pursue a teaching career though an education program at a college or university would have their student teaching requirements doubled from a semester to an entire school year. They would also now need to teach in two different school settings, including spending time with special needs students.

The GPA requirement for students pursuing a teaching degree was recently raised to 3.0 from 2.75 and those students must also pass a teacher performance exam under recently approved regulations.

"It's having a higher bar initially, having a more aligned clinical base preparation and then having a higher bar before I get certified," Shulman said.

Shulman also said the current alternative-route programs can be ineffective because candidates are allowed to jump from program to program, which causes the sequence of instruction to be disrupted. The new requirements would require start-to-finish training in one program.

Meanwhile, those programs would be extended from one year to two with additional mandatory hours.

"It's too easy to say, 'You know what, I want to be a teacher,'" Shulman said. "That doesn't make sense for our kids."

Substitute teachers, currently required to have an associate degree or 60 college credits, would now be required compete a bachelor's degree, though current substitutes would likely be grandfathered in, Shulman said. The state also wants to lower the number of consecutive days one substitute can spend in a classroom.

The new regulations would also strengthen the requirements for out-of-state teachers, almost all of which are currently accepted in New Jersey under what Shulman called "porous rules." New Jersey would now require evidence of effective teaching in two of three years within the last four to earn a permanent license.

The state consulted The New Jersey Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, as it developed the proposal, NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer said. The two sides agree on some elements but not on everything, Steinhauer said.

"I would applaud the board for taking action on the things that they have been working on and things that we have brought to the table for them," he said. "I think they are making an honest effort to come to agreement on a lot things. I think this is a great first step."

One of the lingering issues is the higher standard for substitutes, which the NJEA believes could result in a shortage.

The state board will accept public testimony about the proposed regulations at its March 4 meeting.

In addition to the stronger requirements for teachers, the state also wants to begin collecting more data on its teacher candidates and the teacher programs at colleges and universities. The state wants to gain a better of understanding of the education programs' strengths and weaknesses, Shulman said.

Other data that will be collected will help guide prospective teachers into the subjects with the highest demand, he said.


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