N.J. Legislators Plan Education Bills To Counter Kean's Proposals
Trenton--Angry at being excluded from the planning of Gov. Thomas H. Kean's education-reform program, members of two key legislative panels told New Jersey's education commissioner that they will proceed with plans for their own reform package.
Members of the State Assembly's education and higher-education committees roundly criticized Mr. Kean and Commissioner of Education Saul Cooperman during a joint public hearing on a pair of bills sponsored by the committees' chairmen. Commissioner Cooperman said the bills would, in effect, sabotage the reform plan that he and the Governor have proposed.
But the lawmakers told Mr. Cooperman that the Kean administration's proposal to allow prospective teachers to bypass the traditional college teacher-training program, earning their certification through one-year internships in the public schools, was an insult to educators that would turn children into "guinea pigs."
"After 25 years in the profession, I will not let the commissioner of education use teachers as a scapegoat in this state," said Assemblyman John A. Rocco, who is a professor of education at Rider College in Lawrenceville.
The teacher-certification proposal, part of a broader package of education reforms unveiled by Governor Kean and Mr. Cooperman last month, has drawn the most atten-tion--and criticism--from a variety of education groups.
Among other proposals, the reform plan would raise to $18,500 the salaries of beginning teachers who pass a new state competency exam, establish a merit-pay system that would award $5,000 bonuses to those designated as "master teachers" by their districts, and set up a state academy for the advancement of teaching, open to mid-career teachers.
While the salary increases require legislative approval, most of the reforms can go into effect with only the approval of the state board of education, whose members are appointed by the Governor. The administration wants the reforms in place by 1985.
Leading the Opposition
The New Jersey Education Association (njea), which has been feuding with the commissioner since he won approval in June for regulations that require teachers to have taught in a subject area before they are granted seniority within it, is leading the opposition to the certification plan. The njea says the proposal will weaken colleges' teacher-training programs because students will avoid those programs if they know they can get a teaching license with a liberal-arts degree.
"Cooperman should not be allowed to ram through his recent proposal that asks no more than a degree, a test, a five-day cram course, and simply a lot more first-year observation," the njea president, Edithe A. Fulton, told the Assembly panel.
Strong support for the njea's position was in evidence at the hearing, as Democratic lawmakers detailed the two bills they introduced a week after Governor Kean announced his proposed reforms.
One measure, sponsored by Assemblyman Joseph V. Doria, would upgrade the performance standards for students in teacher-education programs and establish a new category of temporary certification. The new category would require provisional teachers to be in good standing in a degree-granting program to retain their teaching credentials.
A second bill would establish a 35-member state commission to study the quality of education in New Jersey. Some observers saw the bill as an effort to stall the Kean administration's efforts.
Mr. Cooperman said that while he thought some aspects of the Doria bill were good, he would prefer that the committee delay action, so that the state board of education could hold public hearings on the commisioner's proposal without a competing plan in the legislature.
Although the committee members took no formal action on the bills, they vowed to follow their own path so long as the commissioner refuses to compromise.
"We want the state board of education to know that we have the right to participate," Mr. Doria said. "The legislature is a co-equal branch of government."