N.J. requires continuing education for teachers Unions back move, but school systems balk at paying cost

May 07, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

TRENTON, N.J. -- The state Department of Education voted unanimously yesterday to require teachers to take 100 hours of continuing education every five years to enhance their classroom skills.

Until now, New Jersey had been one of the few states that had no requirement for continuing teacher education.

Teachers in New Jersey are licensed after a year in the classroom and granted tenure for life after three years without having to step foot in the classroom as a student again.

"This is something we should have done years ago," said Dr. Orlando Edreira, a board member from Elizabeth. "I don't think 100 hours is enough."

Teachers supported the measure, but local school boards waged a heavy campaign against it, saying that local taxpayers would be saddled with its costs.

The new measure, which is part of New Jersey's education code, does not specify who will pay for the teacher training or precisely what courses will qualify for the additional training.

Robert Boose, the executive director of the New Jersey School Boards Association, said the state was leaving it to local leaders to negotiate with each teachers union about who would pick up the costs.

"We say to the state, 'You want this requirement. We think it's great. Now help us when we go to the table,' " Boose said.

According to the new code, a teacher who did not complete 100 hours of training every five years could lose a teaching license, but that would not be automatic.

The original version presented by the Whitman administration last year tied continuing education directly to licensing.

The school boards association said the department gave in to pressure from the New Jersey Education Association, the statewide teachers union, when it changed its proposal this year.

Leo Klagholz, the commissioner of education, said it was more important for the state to lay out the new standards in the education code than to decide who would pay for the cost of in-service training, employee reimbursement for tuition, release time and substitute teacher salaries.

"There is nothing in the code on compensation of tuition reimbursement," Klagholz said. "The responsibility lies with the individual to meet the requirements. And some districts are already providing tuition reimbursements. It's a negotiable thing."

He also said that state officials did not anticipate many problems with teachers complying because the specifics of what courses would qualify for the credits would be worked out by panels at the state and local levels, which would have teachers as half their members.

"I am absolutely confident that teachers are going to rise to the occasion and do the job," he said.

A spokeswoman for the New Jersey Education Association, Lynn Maher, agreed that teachers would be eager to comply.

"When you're talking about professional development, you don't find a lot of teachers who don't want to participate," she said. "They're excited. They're thrilled. They can't wait. We expect to see a new era of professional development ushered in in New Jersey."

The board voted for the measure without dissent, and board members said it would go a long way in improving classroom instruction.

"You get more bang for the buck in improving teacher training than anything else you can do in education," said S. David Brandt, a board member from Cherry Hill.

Pub Date: 5/07/98

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