Legislature Approves Bill To Address Shortage In Math And Science Teachers

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TRENTON – A bill which would create an alternative method of endorsing teachers in specific subject areas in order to address shortages was approved by the state Senate on Thursday by a vote of 36-0, receiving final legislative approval.

The bill, S-1718, would establish, on a permanent basis, a number of the provisions of an 18-month pilot program developed in the Department of Education to address the state’s shortage of mathematics and science teachers. The bill would direct the Commissioner of Education to establish a program to issue subject area endorsements in math and the sciences – or any other subject area identified by the U.S. Department of Education as facing a shortage – to certified teaching staff members authorized to work in New Jersey public schools who do not currently hold such endorsements. Under the program, the state Board of Examiners would issue subject area endorsements to teaching staff members who pass the appropriate state test of subject matter knowledge and meet any other criteria as set by the Commissioner of Education through regulation.

“We have a responsibility to our kids to make sure they receive a top-notch education in order to compete in an increasingly global marketplace,” said state Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, a sponsor of the bill. “However, when our schools are facing down shortages in key subject areas, not only is the quality of education jeopardized, the availability of even fundamental education comes into question. This bill would ensure that we have enough quality teachers at all levels and in all subject areas to meet the need, without compromising an inch on the quality of the education our kids receive.”

“This bill would make sure that New Jersey schools have access to a qualified and dedicated workforce whenever shortages in any subject area may arise,” said state Sen. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee. “It would create an alternate path for subject area endorsements for teachers who demonstrate proficiency in any given subject and a desire to teach that subject. Ultimately, it would ensure that New Jersey is better-equipped to meet the demand for quality teachers in every school district and every educational discipline.”

The bill sponsors noted that the current shortage of science and math teachers at the high school level is especially severe in urban communities. They said that the 18-month pilot program – which was created as a result of S-2707, a bill advanced during the 2008-2009 Legislative Session – has resulted in 80 new Physics teachers and 25 new Chemistry teachers in New Jersey, more than four times the number produced by all universities in New Jersey during that same time period. These new science teachers taught about 10,000 New Jersey students who may not have been able to study physics or chemistry without the pilot program.

“As someone who teaches in an urban community, I recognize that our district and many others throughout the state are having a difficult time meeting the demand for teachers proficient in math and science,” said Whelan, who teaches in Atlantic City. “My feeling is that if a qualified teacher shows sufficient subject knowledge and a desire to teach, the state should help facilitate placing that teacher wherever they can and will do the most good. This program will make it easier for existing teachers to receive their subject area endorsements, so that they can shift to where they’re needed most.”

The bill now awaits the Governor’s signature to become law.

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