|Cindy Matute Brown, the president of the Golden Door Charter School Education Association, testified at the Nov. 2 State Board of Education meeting against lowering standards for teacher, principal and business administrator certification in the state’s charter schools.
The New Jersey State Board of Education today moved proposed revisions to the state’s charter school regulations one step closer to adoption, but dropped a controversial provision that would have severely weakened certification standards for charter school teachers, principals and business administrators. NJEA has long opposed any weakening of professional certification standards for New Jersey teachers and had strongly objected to creating a separate, lower standard for teachers in charter schools.
The certification proposal would have created a five-year pilot program in certain public charter schools, granting those schools the authority to recommend a provisional and standard certificate for their teachers, principals and business administrators based on a loose set of criteria far below what is required of such individuals in the rest of the state’ s public schools.
Mark Biedron, the president of the State Board of Education, spoke against the proposed pilot.
“Over the past three years we have been raising the bar and adding new requirements for teacher certification—raising the GPA, adding tests, increasing classroom teaching time—all in the spirit of getting better teachers for our children,” Biedron said. “Now with this pilot program we are being asked to reduce those requirements for this small group of schools and being told that this is best for our children. I’d like to know how both things can be true.”
After considerable discussion from all eight State Board members, five voted to remove the pilot from the proposed regulatory changes: Biedron, Board Vice President Joseph Fisicaro, Edithe Fulton, Ernest Lepore, and Ronald Butcher. Only board members Jack Fornaro and Andrew Mulvihill voted to retain the pilot. Board member Arcelio Aponte abstained, citing concerns with the lack of clarity from the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) on how many charter schools would participate in the pilot and how data would be collected to determine the pilot’s effectiveness.
NJEA applauds decision
NJEA leaders welcomed the removal of the pilot certification proposal.
“With this provision struck from the proposed revisions to charter school regulations, all teachers, principals and administrators—regardless of whether they work in a traditional public school or a public charter school—must meet the high standards parents and students have come to expect,” said NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer. “I am delighted that the State Board took a stand for high-quality teachers and administrators in all of New Jersey’s public schools.”
NJEA leaders and members had consistently and strongly testified against the proposed watering down of certification standards. Among them were NJEA members who work in charter schools including Teaneck Community Charter School Education Association President Jaime Valente and Golden Door Charter School Education Association President Cindy Matute Brown.
“Calling for loosening standards on teacher certification is beyond alarming, particularly when the Christie administration has imposed severe consequences on teacher evaluations so heavily weighted on test scores,” Matute Brown said in public testimony to the board on Jan. 4. “Why would we require one certification for teachers in one traditional public school and a lesser certification for a charter school right down the street? Why are traditional public school teachers subjected to additional Pearson-created testing for certifications, while charter teachers are not?”
NJEA Vice President Marie Blistan put the board’s decision today into a national context.
“We must protect high quality public education in New Jersey,” said NJEA Vice President Marie Blistan. “With the nomination of billionaire Betsy DeVos—a privatizer who bankrolled the proliferation of unregulated, unaccountable charter schools in Detroit— to serve as U.S. Secretary of Education, it’s clear that the Trump administration wants to undermine public education. It’s absolutely essential that we do everything we can to defend the high standards that have made New Jersey’s public schools the best in the nation, “ Blistan added. “The State Board’s action to protect teacher certification standards in New Jersey from being eviscerated by unscrupulous corporate charter school operators was the right thing to do.”
In another positive development, the NJDOE stepped back from proposals to permit charter school students to participate in school district extracurricular and sports programs without the approval of the host school district. Under the revised proposal, such activities are limited to high school interscholastic sports and the host district must approve that participation.
NJEA, nonetheless, remains opposed to many of the other proposed changes to charter school regulations.
“The attempt by the governor and his Department of Education to create a subpar form of certification for teachers in public charter schools was among the worst of ideas in the proposed regulations,” said NJEA Secretary-Treasurer Sean M. Spiller, applauding the failure of that proposal to advance. “However, there are still many problems with the remaining proposals. NJEA will continue to stand against the adoption of these regulations because they would continue a dangerous trend toward giving special preference to charter schools and putting district schools at a disadvantage.”
Among the items that remain in the proposed regulations include:
- Creating single-purpose charter schools, such as a single-gender school. NJEA believes that this proposal would violate civil rights protections and other statutes at both the federal and state levels.
- Allowing charter schools to create preschool programs. The proposed regulation was previously modified to stipulate that charter school operators may not create preschools in districts that do not already have their own preschools. However, the proposal still creates a disincentive for preschool students to enroll in a traditional public school when they reach kindergarten.
- Removing the limitations on at-home instruction provided by a charter school by lifting the requirement that students can receive at-home instruction from a public school, charter or traditional, only for reasons of illness or injury. This change would require the host district to bear the additional costs of the home instruction.
- Creating an incentive for charter school operators to exploit district assets for the benefit of an individual charter school.
With the weakened certification regulations struck from the proposed charter school regulations, the State Board voted to have the remaining revisions released for public inspection in the New Jersey Register, the publication of record for such regulatory proposals. After a minimum of 60 days for public comment on the remaining regulatory proposals, the board may vote to adopt them.