UMBA: If Murphy Is Serious About Addressing Our Teacher Shortage, He’ll Eliminate This Test

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Assemblyman Brandon Umba represents the 8th Legislative District, which includes parts of Burlington, Camden and Atlantic counties. He also serves on the Assembly Education Committee and the Assembly Higher Education Committee. This first appeared at nj.com.

There are currently hundreds of prospective teachers eagerly waiting to begin their career next school year, but they face the barrier of a stressful, daunting and costly assessment that would make most other professionals scoff. The governor has the power to end their nightmare now.

These teachers draw from a bigger parallel across the nation, which is the growth of a pervasive job market that forces young professionals deeper and deeper into debt to obtain the “necessary qualifications” to start their careers.

Imagine having to get a four-year degree, in most instances also obtain a master’s degree, pass a Praxis entrance exam and complete months of student teaching, all in the name of having a public service job? After completing all of that, the state says you’re still not good enough. You have to spend hundreds of dollars to complete an in-class, videotaped assessment that some private company concocted before you’re finally trusted to do your job.

That’s the reality of teachers in New Jersey — a state ensnared in a teacher shortage, but puts up every barrier imaginable to keep people, especially poor people, out of the profession. Every paid-for assessment, costly certificate and extra credit of college all builds up to create a wall that keeps out qualified people who can’t afford to spend tens of thousands of dollars just to start a career.

We can make that wall a little smaller by abolishing edTPA, the multi-hundred dollar, private assessment standing in the way of more teachers getting into the classroom.

The bill to end edTPA (S896) has been sitting on Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk since June. The governor hasn’t indicated one way or the other if he’ll sign the bill that unanimously passed the legislature, and he has until late September to make a decision.

A decision to roll back these unnecessary barriers needs to be made not only on this but on a whole host of careers that have historically been perfected through some schooling but mostly on-the-job experience. This has taken a recent turn for the worse in the last couple of decades, with nearly all white-collar or government jobs now requiring young adults to plunge themselves into record debt just to get in the door.

This is probably the single biggest catalyst for the country’s student debt problem. Student debt relief will only go so far when the wheel resets and a new group of borrowers crops up. It ignores the main issue, which is that most jobs just weren’t meant to require the type of schooling, entrance exams and certification we’re currently seeing.

America has moved away from its “apprenticeship” spirit, which is truly a shame. Learning on the job and job training have always been how we’ve built a robust working class. So while I’m advocating to end meaningless assessments like edTPA, I’ve also focused my first term as an assemblyman on growing apprenticeship programs. The first bill I got passed in the Legislature was creating more funding for teen apprenticeship programs that give young adults additional pathways that don’t include saddling themselves with debt.

Ending edTPA might only affect one profession, saving teachers a few hundred dollars, but it could be the start of a bigger trend that signals we don’t have to make every young adult spend a third of their lives paying for schooling and tests for their future careers.

We can start to empower the working class again to enter the workforce so they can hone their skills, find mentors and advance their careers, debt free.

As New Jersey lawmakers, we owe it to every young professional to search for the unnecessary edTPA-like barriers to other careers and stamp them out like they’re a pervasive species of Spotted Lantern Fly.

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