TRENTON — State lawmakers are looking at a package of bills designed to enhance diversity among New Jersey’s teachers and in its classrooms, including two hours of instruction for teachers every two years on cultural competency.

Sen. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, the purpose of the package of bills is to encourage new people to enter the teaching field and make sure all school districts can better reflect New Jersey’s demographics. She said 1 in 163,000 students in the state never have a minority teacher in their whole time in school.

“I just want people to be very clear: We are not lowering standards here. We are removing obstacles,” Ruiz said.

These are the bills that were endorsed by the Senate Education Committee at its Jan. 14 meeting:

  • S2825 Establishes loan redemption program for certain bilingual education teachers.
  • S2826 Requires State Board of Education to establish procedures for issuance of limited certificate of eligibility with advanced standing and limited certificate of eligibility for certain teacher candidates. Following two effective or highly effective evaluations, the teacher would be eligible for a standard instructional certificate.
  • S2827 Requires teachers to biennially complete two hours of professional development related to cultural competence. The instruction would include personal and interpersonal awareness and sensitivities, acts of microaggression in the classroom and implicit bias.
  • S2829 Establishes "Male Teachers of Color Mentorship Pilot Program;" appropriates $50,000.
  • S2830 Requires educator preparation program to report passing rates of students who complete certain tests and to disseminate information on test fee waiver programs, and permits collection of student fee for certain testing costs.
  • S2833 Establishes Teacher Apprenticeship Program.
  • S2834 Mandates training on culturally responsive teaching for all candidates for teaching certification.
  • S2835 Requires compilation of data and issuance of annual reports on New Jersey teacher workforce, including the number of vacant positions, new positions, eliminated positions, and anticipated retirements.

“Exposure to teachers of color, they don’t just lift Black students or Latinx students. They lift every student in the building,” said Woodbury Superintendent of Schools Andrew Bell.

However, Bell said research does show a particular benefit for Black students. Those who had at least one Black teacher by 3rd grade were 13% more likely to enroll in college. Those with at least two were 32% more likely.

Three of the bills would need to be considered by the Senate budget committee before the full Senate could vote on them. Others are being reviewed for possible changes. The bills were endorsed by the committee Jan. 14 but not called for votes at last week’s Senate voting session.

Francine Pfeffer, associate director of government relations for the New Jersey Education Association, said the NJEA has concerns with S2827, the professional development bill. She said the issue of cultural competency is an important, systemic one and needs to be addressed in that manner.

“Especially with that topic, we can’t have people sitting in a room watching a videotape while they’re sitting there playing on their phone,” Pfeffer said.

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Pfeffer says the union is concerned that every time another two hours of required professional development are added, it just becomes a compliance checkoff and doesn’t reach those who need it.

“The people who are benefiting from it were already there, and the people who really need that training aren’t going to learn anything from it and in fact you’re pushing them in the opposite direction,” Pfeffer said.

“I have a colleague who works in our professional development division who said to me, ‘Sometimes when you do that, you show people a video and you create more sophisticated racists,” she said.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.

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