U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Cindy Marten visited New Jersey schools this week as part of a nationwide tour designed to highlight how schools are best spending COVID relief funds.
While at Newark’s East Side High School on Wednesday, Marten highlighted the district’s use of the American Rescue Plan funds to create its “grow-your-own” teacher training program amid a serious state and national teacher shortage.
The program recruits students to take college credits while in high school, and then complete their education at Montclair State University. Students are not tied to the decision as they can continue as education majors at the university or choose a different path after high school.
For those who follow the path and graduate with a teaching degree and obtain the necessary certifications, Newark Public Schools have guaranteed contracts and job offers.
The state is experiencing a shortage of teachers in English as a second language, world languages, math, science, special education, and career and technical education, it told the federal government in June.
A group of students representing University High School, a Newark magnet school and East Side High School talked to Marten about the importance of the program during her visit. Both schools offer the Red Hawks Rising Teacher Academy program.
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Sitting in rows in the East Side High School’s multipurpose room in maroon and black T-shirts, students passed a microphone around to answer Marten’s questions about why they want to become teachers.
East Side sophomore Josua Perdomo said he likes the program because of the job that will be waiting for him at Newark Public Schools once he completes his studies.
“It is little to no risk but 100% return,” he said. “Originally I saw it was a possibility only, but now I see it as an opportunity.” The program he said, isn’t designed like traditional learning. “We get to solve real-world problems,” he said.
Marten called the Red Hawks Rising Teacher Academy program a model for upscaling teacher residency and apprenticeship programs.
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“President Biden is interested in knowing how money from the ARP funds are helping you,” she told students, noting that using funds to pay for the teacher academy is a long-term investment.
Following her visit with students, Marten told The Record and NorthJersey.com that ARP funds are paying for recruitment and retention bonuses, stipends and for professional development to give teachers a sense of efficacy in their workplace. “You kind of have to think with urgency and patience,” she said, by planning for the short term and the future on how to address these shortages using relief funds.
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Asked where the U.S. Department of Education ranks the teacher shortage among its priorities, Marten said it’s “a big priority” but the problem is not new.
“Quite frankly, the teacher shortage was around before there was a pandemic. It’s just that there is a spotlight on that now,” she said.
Marten’s visit this week to Newark and Princeton schools coincided with a “call to action” by the Biden administration, that invited school districts and state governments to use ARP funds to address the growing nationwide teacher shortage.
In a fact sheet released by the government, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said states should use federal grants to add programs that produce teachers and create “earn and learn” apprenticeships. He called for salary increases and loan forgiveness for student teachers. He also asked universities and schools to create partnerships that produce and support teachers.
New Jersey received $2.7 billion of the $122 billion the Biden administration released in relief funds to schools nationwide. Newark Public Schools received $177 million, the highest in the state.
Newark schools’ rising teacher program was launched in 2019 through a collaboration between the school district and Montclair State University. The state’s second-largest teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers, is the industry partner for the program. In February, the union offered stipends to high school students who complete it.
Students who complete the program in the spring will receive $1,500 and those who complete it during the summer will receive $2,500. Newark schools Superintendent Roger Leon said the stipends were offered to help retain students in the academy. He said the money was welcomed during the pandemic because it helped students focus on completing the program, which runs to 4:30 p.m. on some days, rather than dropping out to get part-time jobs after school.
Freshmen and sophomores exploring the teaching “pathway” take classes and work with elementary school children. Juniors and seniors take college credits after school and during summer academies at Montclair State University, effectively earning one year’s worth of free college credits before ever enrolling in college. The Newark Public Schools pays for the dual enrollment program offered to the juniors and seniors.
During the pandemic, the state temporarily increased the time teachers can provide instruction in subjects they are not trained in. It expanded the time that substitute nurses could work in schools. It also temporarily waived certain assessments that teachers are required to take to be able to begin working in schools and provided flexibility for scoring in performance assessments, reads the state’s plan submitted to the U.S. Department of Education on how it will spend ARP funds.
New Jersey passed a law during the pandemic that temporarily helped increase the number of substitute teachers by allowing undergraduate college students with 30 credits to teach. It also reduced the number of semester-hour credits required for some candidates to receive teaching credentials.
High schoolers who earn at least 30 college credits and maintain a 3.0 GPA are guaranteed admission to Montclair State University in the Red Hawks Rising Teachers Academy, said Mayida Zaal, associate professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning at the university and a co-founder and leader of the program.
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Pushing for a diverse teacher pipeline is a national and state priority. Gov Phil Murphy has allocated $1.3 million in the 2022-23 budget to diversify the pool of teachers and create more opportunities for teachers of color in the state.
Zaal, who is a first-generation Arab Latina with Colombian and Palestinian roots, graduated from public schools in Paterson and started her teaching career in New Brunswick.
She said she is committed to urban education.
“Having a robust pipeline of people who were willing and able to teach students in urban communities and do so from a place of care and real commitment to creating progress in those urban spaces was really meaningful to me,” she said.
Zaal was already running a Newark-based teacher residency program with Montclair State University and found that it was difficult to find young math and science teachers who would return to Newark to teach. The Red Hawks Rising Teacher Academy was created to find a solution to that problem.
New Jersey legislation requiring school districts to submit data annually on the New Jersey teacher workforce has passed the Senate. In 2009, there were about 13 enrollees in teacher preparation programs for every 1,000 students; in 2018, there were only about six, according to a study by think tank New Jersey Policy Perspective. This reflects a national trend of fewer candidates choosing to become teachers.
The teacher shortage in the state was made worse, the study said, by New Jersey’s shuttering, between 2012 and 2014, of a state program that allowed local candidates with expertise to become teachers through an alternative route without enrolling in a degree program.
Students inspired to teach by teachers
Students in the Red Hawks program talked of being inspired by some of their teachers.
Several students talked of how the program’s lead teacher at University High School, Mr. L. Snowden, impacted and motivated them to join and do better.
Melissa De Almeida grew up in Newark’s Ironbound section speaking Portuguese. She talked of how a teacher changed her life in seventh grade by speaking to her in English and Portuguese.
“Reading is the same thing in any language. Having that language barrier was such a difficulty for my family,” she said. De Almeida said she wanted to work with English Language Learners.
Freshman Adrianna Mejia remembered Ms. Mahon, a teacher who helped her get over her fear of math in middle school. “She made me fond of math because she was patient with me. She also made sure each student was OK,” she said.
“She would ask you, how’s it at home. And that’s what I loved about her,” she said. In eighth grade, Mejia learned that Ms. Mahon had died of cancer, but she had already been inspired by her. “I think people take for granted the amount of time kids are at school,” she said.
Mary Ann Koruth covers education for NorthJersey.com. To get unlimited access to the latest news about New Jersey’s schools and how it affects your children, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: COVID relief funds for NJ teacher shortage is Cindy Marten focus