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N.J. Commissioner Hits School Systems' Inservice Policies

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Saul Cooperman, New Jersey commissioner of education, has sent a letter to each of the state's approximately 600 school superintendents asserting that they are awarding salary increases to teachers on the basis of unsound staff-development activities.

"I am disturbed by the number of short-term workshops, seminars, conferences, and other informal experiences to which graduate credit is attached and for which teachers thus receive salary increments," Mr. Cooperman wrote.

"I am troubled also by the entrance of several private firms into the field of advanced teacher education and the willingness of some colleges to underwrite the offerings of these firms with graduate credit,'' he continued.

There are about 100,000 teachers in New Jersey. They, like their colleagues in school systems around the country, may gain salary increases by earning college credits, or, increasingly, by participating in school-system sponsored courses or workshops. (See Education Week, Sept. 22, Sept. 29, and Oct. 6, 1982.)

"I believe that the emerging emphasis on rapid accumulation of 'credits' for advancement on a salary guide demeans our profession and does not contribute to educational quality in the state," Mr. Cooperman said of this pay-raise-for-credit system.

Staff development is the work teachers do to sharpen their teaching skills and keep up-to-date in their fields. In addition to taking traditional graduate-level teacher-education courses, teachers in greater numbers have in recent years begun to work with a variety of private firms, some employing "moonlighting" education-school faculty members as instructors, that offer short courses, workshops, and seminars.

Education schools, looking for new sources of income in the wake of dramatic decline in enrollments over the past decade, have increasingly agreed to offer credit for these short-term activities.

For example, Monmouth College in New Jersey has allowed teachers to earn credits by submitting written summaries of workshop sessions at the annual New Jersey Education Association convention in Atlantic City.

In New Jersey, as in other states, school systems decide which staff-development activities they will award salary increases for. But New Jersey school officials say only some of them require teachers to get prior approval before taking courses and few check to see if the staff-development work completed by teachers is relevant to what they are teaching.

In his letter, Mr. Cooperman urged all school systems in the state to establish procedures for the review and approval of courses before they are taken.

He suggested that they take into consideration such factors as the numbers of hours of actual instruction in a course (while some graduate teacher-education "courses" are completed within a weekend, the state recommends that only one credit be given for each 15 hours of classroom instruction), the amount of reading required, the availability of books and other resource materials ("courses" are sometimes held in hotel rooms), the accreditation of the primary provider of the course, and the amount of written work required of teachers that is graded and returned to them.

While acknowledging the value of some short-term seminars and workshops, Mr. Cooperman wrote, "They are quite different in scope and in the depth of learning which results from courses which meet for many sessions over a period of months or during an intensive summer period."

New Jersey's school-boards' association and major teachers' union endorsed the spirit of Mr. Cooperman's letter.

"We are headed in the wrong direction if teachers merely amass a lot of credits that do not have any effect on their performance in the classroom," said Lloyd J. Newbaker Jr., executive director of the New Jersey School Boards Association. "School systems in the state vary in the way they handle graduate work by teachers," he added. "Some are scrupulous in what they give salary increases for; I suspect there are some that are not."

"The only thing about the commissioner's letter that we take issue with is its implication that the only meaningful staff-development takes place on a college campus," said James P. Connerton, executive director of the New Jersey Education Association. "That's ridiculous. We know of many short-term experiences that are extremely valuable."

Mr. Connerton's organization recently set up a professional-development academy that will identify and endorse what it considers to be useful staff-development activities for its 85,000 members.

Last year, T. Edward Hollander, the state's chancellor of higher education, appointed an ad hoc committee to investigate the quality of graduate programs in education in New Jersey. The committee has not yet submitted a report.

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