New regulations proposed by the state Department of Education could raise the academic bar for college students interested in becoming teachers.
Those who teach and hire new teachers support the proposal because they already expect more than the state requires.
"We already are more selective," said Claudine Keenan, Dean of Education at Richard Stockton College. "And it is a buyer's market (for school districts). They can be choosy."
The regulations proposed at a state Board of Education meeting this month would raise the minimum grade point average for entrance into a college teacher education program from 2.5 to 3.0, with a few exceptions.The GPA required at graduation to be eligible for state certification would increase from 2.75 to 3.0.
Prospective teachers would also have to take a standardized test of basic skills or have an SAT math/reading score of at least 1,120 for entrance into the teacher education program. They would have to take another performance assessment to obtain a license starting in January 2016. Traditional teacher education candidates with scores that are at least 10 percent higher than the minimum passing score could have a GPA of between 2.75 and 3.0.
Education advocates said a 3.0 GPA is for practical purposes already the standard in a competitive job market, especially since neighboring states, including Pennsylvania and Delaware, already require the higher grade.
"(The 2.75 GPA) makes our candidates not competitive if they want to leave the state," said Donna Jorgensen, Interim Dean of the College of Education at Rowan University. "And no principal will hire someone with a lower GPA if theycan get someone who is higher. A 3.0 is not unreasonable if we want the best and brightest to be teachers."
The Atlantic County Institute of Technology hired several new teachers for the 2013-14 school year. Director of Curriculum Johanna Johnson said she does not recall that any of those interviewed had a GPA of less than 3.0.
"My recollection is that these candidates have 3.275 plus," she said in an email. "The teacher candidates we interviewed are really well prepared, are articulate, and appear to have good language skills and writing skills. Perhaps it is because we pre-sort our applications and interview only those who we feel are viable candidates based on their resumes."
Recently, the issue has gained national attention.
Data presented by the state Education Department found that nationally only 23 percent of teachers come from the top third of all college graduates.
Meanwhile, the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, and the American Federation of Teachers have all proposed higher entry requirements for teacher education programs.
The New Jersey Education Association has not yet formally taken a position on the proposal, but spokesman Steve Baker said they have traditionally supported high standards for all teachers. But, he said, the state should also make sure that the profession is attractive to high-performing students and that teachers are treated like professionals.
"It has to be a two-way street," he said.
Several state colleges already require more than the state minimum.
Students entering Kean University in the fall of 2012 were required to have a GPA of 3.0 or higher to be admitted to teacher education programs and must maintain this GPA throughout the program. Students must also pass all three parts of the Praxis I teacher examination in Reading, Mathematics and Writing.
Rowan University requires students to maintain a 3.0 average in the teacher education program or not be recommended for certification. Jorgensen said students can get a degree with less than a 3.0, but not an education degree, but it is not much of an issue there.
"A very high percentage of graduates are above 3.0," she said.
The state Department of Education could not provide data on how many new teacher candidates in the past year were certified with less than a 3.0.
Raising the minimum GPA was last proposed by the state in 2000, when it was 2.5. An informal survey by the state Department of Education that year showed that 33 of 100 alternate-route candidates had GPAs below 2.75 but only nine of 100 candidates from New Jersey college teaching programs fell below the 2.75.
One concern about the higher GPA is that it could reduce the diversity of the teacher pool. The proposed regulations do include some flexibility, allowing colleges to accept as many as 10 percent of candidates with at least a 2.75 in the alternate route program. Those candidates would get extra attention and would still have to achieve the 3.0 by graduation.
Stockton's Keenan said she supports the sponsorship and flexibility option to improve diversity among teachers.
"It is still largely a white, female profession," she said. "We want to change that."
Keenan said two-year community colleges also must be brought into the process to make sure transfer students can meet new requirements, since many teacher candidates statewide transfer in from community colleges.
Those interviewed agreed GPA alone does not determine whether a teacher will be good, but is a strong indicator that they are more likely to be effective.
"Like in all other professions, you can be brilliant on paper, but not in the practical application, so numbers aren't everything,"Johnson said.
Jorgensen said the GPA should not be the only factor, but that while a student with a very high GPA still might not make a good teacher, a student with a low GPA is less likely to be an effective teacher.
"Some students will think that student teaching will bring up their GPA," she said. "But that GPA should be a warning sign that they have not mastered the subject matter. In today's world, a 2.75 is a pretty average GPA."
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