Sunday, December 9, 2012

Alternate Route to Undermining Teaching

It's not enough that the Christie Administration has bashed teachers as union mules and the source of New Jersey's fiscal ills. It's not enough that the governor has promoted private partnerships with public schools to avoid paying the state's fair share of education aid to school districts in need of money. It's not enough that he's advocated for merit pay based on an evaluative model that is reliant on faulty research. And it's not enough that he's attacked NJEA officials personally because of their private organization salaries.

Now the governor's administration wants to make it easier for charter schools to hire lesser qualified teachers simply, it seems, for ideological reasons. How is he doing this? By proposing that alternate route teachers who want to work in charter schools be able to earn teaching licenses with fewer requirements than those people who want public school teaching certificates. If you ever need any more evidence that the governor hasn't a clue about how to attract and train quality teachers, then here's your proof.

Let me state from the outset that I have taught the alternate route New Pathways to Teaching in New Jersey (NPTNJ) program since 2003. It's a wonderful program that has trained thousands of people in New Jersey to become qualified, knowledgeable, effective teachers. It asks these prospective teachers to take hundreds of hours in pedagogy, theory, educational psychology, literacy and mathematics instruction, and classroom management techniques. They need to have at least 30 hours of college credit in their chosen discipline. Once teachers are hired by a school (either public or private) they need to be observed and are required to have a mentor teacher from their school's staff. All of these things are done to ensure, as best we can, that those new teachers have the practical and theoretical skills that will allow them to succeed in their new field. Besides, the state says they have to do this.

But not, apparently, if you want to teach in a charter school.

For reasons I can only assume are arbitrary, unthinking and ideological, the new state rules for alternate route charter school teachers are different. From the article:

Under the proposal, the charter schools would no longer need to meet the existing requirements that their alternate route teachers have at least 30 hours of credits in their content area, nor would they need to have a set number of hours of classroom training before they are hired and once they are hired. They would also not be required to have a mentor teacher as rookie teachers do in the public schools.

This is being done because of the word most associated with charter schools. This word is supposed to be able to solve the problems that public schools have, like the fact that New Jersey's public schools are among the nation's best, or that we have among the highest SAT and Advanced Placement Test scores in the country, or that we have the best trained teachers in the country thanks to an organization whose first objective in to ensure that only the most highly qualified teachers are in the classroom, or that we are the envy of both teachers and parents in other states.

The word is supposed to signal to the public that the stodgy old public schools are stuck in the past and that throwing more money at them would only be a waste of taxpayer resources. The word is supposed to bring to mind the most effective trait we need in education today.

That word is flexibility.

Charter schools should have the flexibility to hire people who are underprepared for classroom teaching.

They should have the flexibility to hire people who have less than the requisite knowledge, 30 credits in an academic discipline, that most every college in the country believes is the bare minimum a graduate should have for a 4-year degree.

They should have the flexibility to teach without the help and guidance of a mentor teacher who can help them navigate the intricacies of the profession in a supportive, nonevaluative manner.

They should have the flexibility to hire people who have fewer hours in the classroom, fewer classroom experiences upon which to draw, and fewer student contact hours either teaching or observing in a classroom with an effective teacher.

This is stunning, not just for its outright ignorance of what constitutes effective teacher training, but what it will mean for the quality of charter school teachers in the future. And yet, the Christie Administration believes that this will ensure their quality. Perhaps that's why they announced this plan with as little fanfare as possible and buried the change deep within the State's Professional Licensure Code. Here's the link. Have fun.

This change is bad enough, but when you pair it with another Christie goody on education, it makes even less sense. The state announced on Friday that it will partner with the Princeton-based Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship Foundation to recruit smarty-pants college students in math and science to teach in New Jersey's worst performing high schools.  These prospective public school teachers will luckily be able to shadow mentor teachers and will earn Master's Degrees after they're finished with the program.

Why can't the alternate route charter school teachers get the same advantages? Must have something to do with flexibility. Maybe they should hire personal trainers and physical therapists to address that.

I've trained hundreds of teachers over the course of my career are mentored scores of others. Teaching is a difficult job and one that needs to be done right. The new charter school rules are an insult to educators and will create a two-tiered system of teachers within the schools and the state. The Christie Administration is again applying ideology in place of thought. It's a mistake they've made time and time again.

Guess they don't learn too good.

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