TRENTON – State education officials are working on changes to ease a deepening concern in schools across the state – that there aren’t enough teachers, particularly in some subjects.

Proposed rules would reduce the testing required for many new teachers and speed up the process for veteran educators to take on new subjects, among many other revisions.

Making it easier to be a teacher in New Jersey

Julie Bunt, acting chief of staff for the state Department of Education, said the state wants to add flexibility and new pathways to address areas of teacher shortages.

“The department set out to increase the quality of the educator workforce while maintaining the quality of education standards we owe the students of New Jersey,” Bunt said.

Part of the changes are focused specifically on math and science teachers, which have been in short supply even before the wider shortages now challenging schools.

Some would make it easier for, say, a chemistry teacher to take on biology classes by cutting in half, from 30 credits to 15, the number of content-area course credits needed to qualify.

Others make it easier for teachers of other subjects to add a math and science endorsement through enrollment in a specialized educator preparation program that provides content and mentoring as they transition to the new subject.

“This removes barriers for teachers that are already certified, already teaching, and they already have some pedagogy under their belt and know how to teach students,” said Tanisha Davis, director of recruitment, preparation and certification for the state Department of Education.

They’d still eventually need the 30 content credits to be certified but under the change they could get started in a math or science classroom with six credits.

“Ultimately they will be gaining all of that content knowledge at some point,” Davis said.

More teacher candidates would be exempt from having to pass the basic-skills Praxis test for reading, writing and math, by having an advanced college degree or scoring in the top half on a test like the SAT. That would save them $150. They’d still need to pass the Praxis for the subject area they’ll teach.

Lowering standards for teachers?

The ideas were met with resistance by the State Board of Education at its August meeting, in part because the hundreds of pages of changes were presented to them with limited advance notice. The board got the information four days before their meeting but without a chance to ask questions ahead of the formal first public discussion.

Board members also had concerns with the content, not just the process. Vice President Andrew Mulvihill said it might be appropriate to lower the standards but not in a way that brings in people who aren’t appropriate to teach.

“We want as many teachers as are needed, but we want them to be qualified,” Mulvihill said. “We want them to be good teachers.”

Bunt said the proposed rule changes include guardrails through its requirements for professional learning and extra mentoring.

“We have systems and maintain the systems that will protect the quality of the educators that we’re putting in front of our students,” Bunt said.

Cost of applying for a job as a teacher

President Kathy Goldenberg took issue with a section that seems to shift responsibility for setting certification fees from the board to the department. She said certification fees should be eliminated – that there shouldn’t be a fee to apply for a job.

“We’re supposed to be eliminating barriers to entering the field, P.S.,” Goldenberg said. “And for people who are looking for jobs, to ask them to pay in order to be considered to me is contraindicated.”

The process for enacting the new rules is a lengthy one that could take until next April or longer to be completed. The department hopes to have the new approach in place for the 2023-24 school year.

Michael Symons is the Statehouse bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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