9-14-12 Education Issues in the News

NJ Spotlight - Fine Print: Proposed Teacher Professional Development Rules…No more 100-hours requirement, more flexibility for districts and teachers

By John Mooney, September 14, 2012 in Education|Post a Comment

What it is: The Christie administration last week presented its Education Transformation Task Force report, with more than 400 recommendations for streamlining and eliminating requirements on school districts. Among the changes is a rewriting of the state’s rule that every teacher have 100 hours of professional development every five years, instead proposing more individualized plans less driven by clock hours.

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What it means: The development of the state’s existing rules a decade ago was months, if not years, in the making. Among the first of the code changes that the administration is proposing this time around, revisions are sure to take some time -- and considerable debate.

What is specifically proposed: The report presented last week calls for a series of changes in the requirement and even the definition of professional development. For instance, it places much more emphasis on learning through collaborative teams of teachers, such as shared planning time, and more job-embedded professional development.

The report’s rationale: “This professional development requirement is currently measured purely in hours completed, not by whether the professional learning advances student learning.”

Still on the clock: While the proposal would do away with the 100-hour requirement every five years, it would still have roughly the equivalent measure, expecting teachers to complete at least 20 hours a year.

New committees: Where current code requires a slew of different approval levels for professional development plans in each district, the new proposal would streamline the process give the school superintendents greater control. It would also replace the state’s existing Professional Teacher Standards Board with a new State Committee on Professional Learning.

Where code is critical: Much of the state’s oversight of schools is driven by New Jersey law, such as the recent tenure reform measure passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Chris Christie. But teacher licensure is one area in which much of the most critical details are written in administrative code, with the State Board of Education the final arbiter. As the report reads: “This is a critical chapter of code. The efficacy of our educators is the single greatest contributor to student achievement that is under the Department’s direct control.”

Other proposals: This is not just about professional development, with the administration also proposing changes to a number of key areas concerning teachers in the classroom and how they are licensed. For instance, it would ease how substitutes are credentialed, and also the requirements on second career or so-called “alternate route” candidates to make it easier for former private school teachers. It also proposes new rules for school nurses and coaches.

The process: The professional licensure code is the first in what is expected to be a stream of formal code changes to be proposed by the department to the State Board of Education in the coming months. Officials have said it could take a full year to roll them all out. The president of the state board, Arcelio Aponte, said yesterday that the board is waiting for the first ones to be presented, possibly in time for the board’s October meeting. “We are eager to get this going,” he said.


Star Ledger editorial - Editorial: Chicago teachers' strike against reform a battle N.J. should watch

Published: Friday, September 14, 2012, 6:04 AM Updated: Friday, September 14, 2012, 7:15 AM

By Star-Ledger Editorial BoardThe Star-Ledger

The picket line in Chicago is now the front line in the fight for education reform in America, and it’s a battle we all have a big stake in. Because the union there, as in many states and cities, is fighting against the basic principle that teachers must perform well to keep their jobs.

It’s not about money. Mayor Rahm Emanuel offered an average 16 percent pay hike over four years, even while the city drowns in debt.

This is about how teachers do their jobs and how the system evaluates them. In the end, it’s about whether the aim of public schools is to prepare children for successful lives or to ensure job security for teachers who perform poorly. Are the schools there for the kids or the adults?

A city in need

There are three major problems in Chicago’s school system.

Basic skills: Seventy-nine percent of the Chicago Public Schools eighth-graders don’t read at grade-level proficiency, according to the U.S. Department of Education, and 80 percent aren’t up to grade-level in math.

Dropout rate: Chicago’s high school dropout rate is nearly 40 percent. But city officials celebrated that number this year — it meant the city’s graduation rate had surpassed 60 percent for the first time in five years.

College prep: Only 6 percent of Chicago Public School ninth-graders go on to earn a four-year college degree by the time they turn 25. If they’re black or Latino males, the rate is just 3 percent.

Sources: U.S. Department of Education, Chicago Public Schools, Consortium on Chicago School Research

If that sounds familiar, it’s exactly the debate New Jersey just went through as it reformed its tenure laws. The teacher unions here finally agreed to a tougher evaluation system, one that considers test scores as part of the package. But even they dug in at the end by refusing to yield on seniority rights.

So, when a school must shed teachers, it is the youngest ones who must go, even if they are all-stars. When a principal is charged with improving a failing school, that administrator still lacks the power to hire teachers based on merit alone. Those compromises will be crippling in systems — such as Newark’s — that are eliminating teachers, so fighting that next battle in New Jersey is an urgent need.

Chicago hasn’t gotten that far. Union officials there are resisting with a familiar and tired argument: They say teachers could be fired over poor student performance stemming from factors beyond their control, including poverty, hunger and lack of English skills.

But the evaluations don’t hinge on a single test score; they judge teachers based on the level of progress. It’s true that Chicago has huge numbers of poor kids who underperform in school. But what the city needs are teachers who can help these kids learn despite those obstacles. That is the measure of their success.

Chicago’s union, like those in New Jersey, also is fighting a reform that would let principals choose teachers based on merit, not seniority. That, too, is a fight worth fighting.

Newark is negotiating a new contract now and the union chief says his people are watching Chicago. Our hope is Emanuel stays tough. This fight is not just Chicago’s.