A Groundbreaking Collaboration

In 2009, a groundbreaking collaboration developed among NJEA, the New Jersey State Legislature, the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE), the office of the governor, and the New Jersey Center for Teaching and Learning (NJCTL), which is a nonprofit charitable foundation formed by NJEA.

Their goal was to replicate the success of a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education initiative that I developed at Bergen County Technical High School in Teterboro. The program was grounded in ninth-grade physics and tenth-grade chemistry, subjects for which there were only enough teachers to instruct fewer than half of all New Jersey students. Thus, an immediate goal was to dramatically increase the number of teachers for these subjects.

This collaboration resulted in legislation enabling NJCTL to pilot a program to create new STEM teachers using a new approach: teaching current teachers mathematics or science and how to teach those subjects, regardless of their previous teaching assignment or academic background. NJCTL quickly became the Number 1 producer of physics teachers in the United States and, by 2010, was also a leading producer of chemistry teachers.

Assemblywoman Mila Jasey and State Sen. Teresa Ruiz sponsored both the 2009 pilot legislation and the 2012 legislation that ensured NJCTL could permanently continue this important work.

The Results

Today, NJCTL plays a key role in positioning New Jersey to lead the nation in STEM education. While much work remains to be done, the state is on a powerful, positive trajectory toward this goal.

The new teachers produced by NJCTL are providing many more New Jersey students with opportunities to study science and mathematics. There is a strong, effective focus on students from underserved backgrounds.

New Jersey has become the Number 1 state in the U.S. for learning physics, as measured by both SAT II and Advanced Placement (AP) results. Similarly, New Jersey has become the Number 2 state for chemistry, as measured by SAT II and AP results. (Source: Hanover Research. See njctl.org/who-we-are/research/ctl)

Background Information

NJCTL is an independent, nonprofit charitable organization founded in 2007 by NJEA with the mission of empowering teachers to lead school improvement so that all children have access to a high-quality education.

NJCTL invests in teachers to make their work simpler, more effective, and less stressful by providing comprehensive, free, editable kindergarten to AP science and AP mathematics classroom course materials. In the process, expenses are reduced for districts by eliminating the need for textbooks. These materials are used in New Jersey, across the United States, and in 183 countries. In 2018, more than 820,000 files were downloaded by 225,000 unique visitors to
njctl.org.

Since 2009, these same materials have served as foundational course materials for NJCTL to train teachers in physics, chemistry and mathematics. Along with social constructivist classroom pedagogy, well-trained teachers are successfully leveraging this foundational approach to drive strong student outcomes.

NJCTL’s team of educators continuously works to improve NJCTL courses using data-driven findings to exceed demands in learning standards, enhance the interactive nature of coursework, and engage learners through reasoning and real-world connections and implementations. These educators serve as a dedicated faculty to build, coach, and guide an ever-increasing cohort of effective STEM teachers.

In Trenton, students take physics in the ninth grade.

The NJCTL Endorsement Program

Teachers with certification in any subject area may enroll in courses to learn the content, and how to teach the content, of physics, chemistry or mathematics. The full program consists of 30 credits in science, 38 credits in K-12 mathematics, or 24 credits in middle school mathematics. After completing the program, passing the necessary Praxis examination(s), and completing the application process with the NJDOE, teachers receive an endorsement in their new subject area.

Because they begin teaching while they are studying more advanced content, their prior learning is reinforced, and districts have a teacher for the introductory course in that subject without having to wait for the candidate to complete the full program.

Teachers with certification in any subject area may enroll in courses to learn the content, and how to teach the content, of physics, chemistry or mathematics.

Evolving to Learner-scheduled Online Courses

NJCTL has had great success with its programs but recognized two obstacles to providing all teachers access to the opportunity to earn a new STEM endorsement: cost and location. Both have been addressed by shifts in NJCTL’s instructional model.

The program in place through 2017 required 300 hours of in-person classroom time. It was not possible to have enough locations to be convenient to all teachers. Also, teachers who had family responsibilities, second jobs, coaching or other duties could not participate. After several years of piloting online courses, the creation of many thousands of videos made it possible to transform to an anytime, anyplace model of education. All NJCTL courses are now accessible online, and teachers can start them at their convenience because traditional academic calendars are not used.

Students in Trenton, and in other school districts throughout New Jersey, study physics in the ninth grade through the New Jersey Center For Teaching and Learning’s (NJCTL) Progressive Science Initiative. For 10 years, many teachers in New Jersey have been earning their endorsement to teach physics, chemistry and math through the NJCTL’s endorsement program.

Donor-Funded Scholarships

At $275 per credit, NJCTL tuition is about one-third the cost of traditional university programs. Nonetheless, not all teachers can afford the $5,000 to $10,000 to pay for their own endorsements. Tuition is also a problem in cases where districts do not have the necessary funds but need teachers with these shortage-area certificates.

Fortunately, donors have provided scholarships to cover up to 75 percent of tuition for as many as 35 teachers each year. These donors, Thompson Family Foundation, Bayer USA Foundation, Morgridge Family Foundation, and the Celia Lipton Farris and Victor W. Farris Family Foundation, recognized that a $5,000 investment could put a qualified, motivated teacher of science or mathematics in a classroom, potentially improving the lives of thousands of children over the coming decades.

Graduate Credits and Master’s Degree Program

Colorado State University-Global Campus (CSU-Global) provides our students with regionally accredited graduate credits and a path to a master’s degree. Students submit their transcripts to CSU-Global and pay the institution $85 per credit to get a CSU-Global transcript. Up to 18 earned credits may be applied toward a CSU-Global master’s degree with the remaining 18 credits consisting of online courses from CSU-Global for $450 per credit.

Current Progress

In total, 377 teachers (280 in physics, 85 in chemistry and 12 in mathematics) will have completed an NJCTL endorsement program by June 2019. Teachers in NJCTL endorsement programs are more diverse than are those of traditional programs. Of our alumni and currently enrolled teachers, 55 percent are female, 16 percent are African-American and 11 percent are Hispanic.

Middle school and K-12 mathematics teachers began courses in 2018, and NJCTL will be training computer science teachers starting this spring.

Dr. Robert Goodman is the executive director of the New Jersey Center for Teaching and Learning. He was named the 2006 New Jersey Teacher of the Year and was a physics teacher in Bergen County Technical Schools. Goodman was a founding member of the NJCTL board in 2007. He left the board when he became NJCTL’s executive director in 2009. He received his bachelor’s degree in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a Masters in the Art of Teaching Physics from SUNY Stony Brook, and a doctorate in science education from Rutgers.

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