Plan Outlines Second Look at Teacher Preparation in New Jersey

Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto is showing support for a plan being pushed by teachers unions in New Jersey that would reconsider how to train and retrain some teachers.

Written by the Garden State Alliance for Strengthening Education, the 61-page report discusses the need for a committee that would review the state’s teacher preparation requirements both for colleges and alternative settings, as well as creating a support system for new teachers.  One proposal discussed the creation of a new tier of “teacher leaders,” which would create the state’s first teacher hierarchy within the classroom setting.

 “The idea of giving them the tools and resources to keep expanding their knowledge, we need to give them the support to continue to grow,” Prieto said yesterday.

One of the main concerns highlighted in the report dealt with teacher preparation, offering the idea of creating a state commission to determine how to improve these programs.  The commission would look at everything from admission policies to student teacher support.

The concern stems from the growth of teacher preparation programs within the state and the growing debate over which type of program is better — the traditional university route or “alternative route” programs such as Teach for America and Relay Graduate School of Education.

State Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan said a committee hearing is underway, and that he is hopeful the quick creation of a study commission, after which would be a push for legislative and regulatory changes, including the “teacher leader” idea.

“I think a significant amount of this can be done through regulation,” said Diegnan in an interview yesterday. “I think legislation should be pursued only when you have to, but I do think a lot of this can be done with bipartisan consensus. When you look at it, it’s pretty common sense stuff.”

Some of the proposals within the report are expected to meet with opposition, such as one which would require all teachers in a teacher-education program to become certified, including the teacher-training faculty, as well as another proposal which seeks to form partnerships between universities and school districts, especially for the purposes of student teaching.

The “teacher leader” proposal is also expected to find some opposition.  The idea is to create a new level of senior or master teachers, who would be designated through a separate teacher credential.  However, there have already been some debate with regards to what requirements need to be fulfilled to become a master teacher, and how much pay should come with the position.

Another proposal sure to meet with controversy is one the would require new teachers to have mentors for two years instead of one, which would involve extra funding.  The report finds this to be a critical inclusion, as studies have found that almost 50% of all new teachers leave the profession within 3 years.

“The quality of support new teachers get, the quality of their mentoring, and their induction during those early years, is critical,” said Patricia Wright, executive director of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association. “No less critical is ongoing professional learning.”

The report also discusses the creation of “professional learning communities” that would allow teachers to collaborate and give them a voice within their programs.