Editorial: Raise GPA Standards for N.J. Teachers Seeking Certification

September 19, 2013

As state Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf presents his “Education State of the State” address to top school officials today at the Commissioner’s Convocation in Jackson, two measures in play aim to raise the bar for new teachers and increase diversity in classrooms across the state.

Cerf intends to revive a stalled plan he says will “ensure all novice teachers meet a minimum bar for knowledge and pedagogical skills before entering the classroom.”

Beginning next September, he’d wants teachers to graduate with at least a “B” average while completing their higher-education degrees. Right now, a “B-“ — or 2.50 to 2.75 grade-point average — is acceptable.

Citing research that a “high-quality teacher is the single most important in-school factor to increase student achievement,” state education officials say raising the standard also follows a trend in other states.

Officials also plan a new final exam for aspiring teachers that covers “basic reading, writing and mathematics skills.” State education officials hope to roll it out in September 2015, The Star-Ledger’s Salvador Rizzo reported.

Meeting the more rigorous standards is a reasonable expectation for the men and women entrusted with educating New Jersey’s children. As teachers in training, they should be held to the highest standards of excellence to, in turn, encourage that achievement in their students.

On another front, legislation introduced in the state Assembly proposes a pilot program to encourage African-American, Hispanic and Asian men to leave their private-sector jobs, earn alternate-route certification and teach in disadvantaged school districts.

As bill sponsor Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (D-Camden) sees it, the program would be an engine for employing more minority men and placing them in schools where they would serve not only as qualified teachers but as role models.

“We know that a tremendous number of households these days are being run by females, and many by grandmothers,” Lampitt says. “Many of our young people don’t have significant male role models in their lives. Successful minority men who teach can be those role models.”

Unlike the controversial changes in tenure and TEACH-NJ, the landmark bill setting new requirements for teacher evaluations, there appears to be accord concerning the two initiatives.

Given the bitter battles between Gov. Chris Christie and the teachers union in the past, we hope for continuing cooperation toward enhancing educational opportunity.

The two measures, though small steps in the larger context of imminent changes in the state’s educational system, represent advances that will ultimately benefit New Jersey’s 1.4 million public school children.