Critique of the 'New Jersey Model' Falls Short in Its Predictions

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In his Aug. 28 Commentary ("The 'New Jersey Model': Biases, Not Facts"), Martin Haberman offered a critique of New Jersey's alternate route to teacher certification in response to my own Commentary on the issue (Education Week, June 5, 1985). He raised several points of speculation about the program. The following are Mr. Haberman's predictions and our responses:

"Will [Mr. Cooperman] permit independent experts from outside the state to evaluate his methods of judging the results of the plan? I predict that Mr. Cooperman will not allow [this] to occur."

By the time Mr. Haberman's article was written, we had already provided letters of support for the proposals of two major out-of-state universities to conduct external evaluations of the alternate-route program. In addition, the alternate program was initially approved for a five-year period by the New Jersey Board of Education with a mandate that the results of such an evaluation be presented publicly prior to re-adoption. These facts could easily have been researched by Mr. Haberman before he wrote his critique.

"Will Mr. Cooperman inform parents, prior to the beginning of the fall semester, that their children are being taught by teachers he has 'provisionally' certified? ... I predict Mr. Cooperman will not allow [this] to happen. ... The parents and the public will not be told who the 'alternately certified' teachers are or where they are teaching."

Parent groups have been among the strongest supporters of alternate certification and were among the first groups in the state to express such support. One reason we received this support was our openness in exposing existing problems of teacher preparation and certification and in setting forth solutions for a full year of public discussion before the changes were adopted.

As a result of our open process, parents in New Jersey are very much aware of the 42-year history of the use of "emergency" certification in the state. They know that the emergency system allowed people who lacked college degrees, subject preparation, and professional training to take over a classroom without any special instruction, supervision, or assistance--while all too few within the education profession objected.

They also understand a paradox of the system: At the same time that weak candidates are being certified routinely through the traditional teacher-preparation programs, many outstanding, talented people are being turned away or discouraged from teaching because professional training is not available to them in an alternative format.

Parent representatives served on our state commission, which recommended that the emergency system be replaced by a rigorous alternate route--one that would provide a legitimate avenue for talented people wanting to enter teaching.

The commission recommended that those seeking alternate certification be required to hold a degree in the subject they would teach, pass a state test of subject competence, and be offered employment by a district that has contracted to provide instruction, supervision, and support. Parents recommended that before taking charge of a classroom, the alternate teacher receive 80 hours of instruction and serve for one month under an experienced teacher. They further recommended that during the first year of being responsible for a classroom the teacher receive 120 additional hours of instruction, as well as supervision and assistance from a district support team.

It is fair to say that parents supported our program and participated in its design not with a feeling of having been misled by us, but with a sense of having been provided with facts about teacher preparation and certification that had previously been withheld from them.

We will not only announce to parents the names and school districts of provisional teachers but also present fellowship awards to the top 15 candidates. The competition for these awards among districts and communities helped lead to the employment of 110 high-quality provisional teachers whose average subject-matter test score on the National Teacher Examinations, for example, was just below 700--much higher than that of our traditional candidates.

Yet when we encounter professors' criticisms of our program despite its standards, we are forced to ask: "Where were you during the 40 years of emergency certification? Where are you now with respect to those states that still use emergency systems? What accounts for your tolerance of the emergency system and your vocal opposition to alternate training?"

"A few alternately certified teachers will be placed in difficult urban schools (but will receive plenty of support and excellent help from the local schools and colleges) to 'prove' the program works in all settings. Few of the teachers will be placed in schools where parents are very active and aggressive (for ex-ample, elementary schools in middle-class suburbs.)"

Alternate teachers who meet entry qualifications are employed by local districts, not placed by the state department of education. Of the 100-plus alternate teachers hired, over 30 were employed in urban districts. Most were employed in suburban districts, where parents are active and aggressive, and 21 percent were hired as elementary teachers. These facts, too, could easily have been obtained by Mr. Haberman in advance of writing his Commentary.

"Schools of education in New Jersey will be co-opted into providing help for the new system. ... The education schools will be positioned to receive criticism if the program does falter."

Actually, the participation of schools of education was determined long before Mr. Haberman predicted it. In fact, my original Commentary stated that education schools were assisting us in implementing the alternate route. We invited such participation not for the devious reasons suggested by Mr. Haberman, but because we believe that education faculty members are a valuable resource for providing formal instruction to provisional teachers.

The accusation of co-optation makes it impossible for us to escape criticism. If we had excluded schools of education, we would have been criticized for doing so. Having invited such participation, we are accused of co-optation.

"School principals and classroom teachers who participate in the observation of alternate teachers will not recommend firing any of them. (Firing teachers leads to lawsuits.) Instead, they will certify almost every teacher they observe, but will simply not hire the less able ones for their own districts."

This is the only one of Mr. Haberman's predictions whose accuracy remains to be seen. Given the high caliber of the 100-plus provisional teachers, the rigor with which they were chosen, and the intensity of the program, it is possible most will succeed. Many, in fact, have had prior success in teaching--14 of them as university professors.

We know from experience that many collegiate teacher-preparation programs, despite their lack of selectivity, have very low "wash-out" rates. Yet with such programs it is difficult to interpret whether the retention rates are due to program effectiveness or to dilution of standards.

"In developing the alternate-certification plan, Mr. Cooperman has received the cooperation and support of the universities, almost every school of education in New Jersey, the majority of the state's most reputable educators, the school boards, the state parent-teacher association, and the New Jersey affiliate of the National Education Association. (The lonely exception was Marcantonio Lacatena, president of the New Jersey State Federation of Teachers.)"

For accuracy, it should be noted that the New Jersey State Federation of Teachers, despite its title, represents teachers in only three of the state's 620 school districts. The organization primarily represents the education faculty of New Jersey's state colleges.

"As the need for teachers increases in the next decade, schools of education, as they seek to raise standards, will cut down on the number of graduates. The effect will be that several states, in need of teachers, will emulate 'the New Jersey model."'

Local administrators have not found the alternate program, with its rigorous standards, a convenient or easy response to teacher shortages. States that want only to increase the numbers of available teachers need only turn to the emergency procedures they already have in place.

On the other hand, states wanting to increase the quality of their teacher pools might well adopt the New Jersey approach. We have replaced the loose "emergency" system with a rigorous alternate route that allows the employment of capable people who previously would have been discouraged or turned away. We have enacted a statewide minimum salary of $18,500 for all beginning teachers. We have established a tuition-loan program whereby 100 college students who are preparing for teaching careers may receive loans of up to $30,000, portions of which will be forgiven for each year of public-school teaching. We have established fellowship programs for the most promising alternate teachers. Finally, we have tightened standards in the traditional certification route and have established a test to screen out those who have not mastered the subjects they wish to teach.

An indication of New Jersey's interest in quality over quantity is found in the fact that although this year we attracted 110 high-quality people through our alternate program, our test also screened out over 500 people who in previous years would automatically have been certified.

Vol. 05, Issue 05, Page 17

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