Q&A With Governor Tom Kean

Governor Thomas Kean

Reflections on the 30-Year Success of the Alternative Route Teaching Program

Before this program “Einstein could not have taught math in New Jersey” on the K-12 level"

Just over 30 years ago, Governor Tom Kean proposed landmark education reform through the Alternative Route Certification Program, which radically changed existing teacher training and certification laws.  The legislation allowed those with a bachelor’s degree in key subject areas to shorten the route to teacher certification and eliminate many education course requirements. This program is now an integral part of not just the New Jersey teacher employment system, but also is employed in many states nationwide.

Kean, who was the state’s 48thGovernor and is known worldwide for his role as chairman of the 9/11 Commission, reflects on the success of the Alternative Route Certification Program.

How did you know that this idea and the resulting legislation would be so successful?

I began my career teaching in an independent school.  I saw a musician teaching music.  I saw a scientist teaching science.  These teachers had life experience and they brought that to the classroom. I saw that it could be successful. Yet none of these teachers could have taught in New Jersey public schools at the time.

The education courses that were required at the time did not provide much challenge.  I was a graduate of the Teachers College at Columbia University and could see that subject matter courses were so much more useful to teachers. And when I ran into people who wanted to teach but were not going to take a year off in their lives to go back to school, I realized we were losing these individuals.  It is one thing to do that in your 20s, but when you are in your 40s and midway through your career, going back for a year is often not possible.

Through my independent school experience, I saw teachers who were very successful and came from other professions. So I knew it could work.

There was some initial resistance from educational fronts to this new program. When did you know that the program was the right idea at the right time?

When the Alternative Route Program started, the tremendous surge in interest that it received confirmed what a good idea it was. We have not had a teacher’s shortage in the state since then. One of the best things it did was in the area of science instruction. We saw many scientists who were working at labs in good jobs but who always had a hankering to teach who then decide to make the shift.  There were also people at the college level teaching who wanted to move to the K-12 level and, under the old system, could not.  And these were wonderful teachers. Einstein could not have taught math in New Jersey at that time.

Have you run into teachers who followed this route and now thank you?

I don’t think people remember who helped to make it happen.  I do meet people who were recipients of scholarships from the state Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) Program, and they do thank me. Also students who were at the top of their classes at state universities and received tuition assistance if they committed to teaching in an urban school.

How were you able to get this legislation passed, and do you think time has silenced critics of this program?

During this era, most of the country was against the idea of an alternative route program. There was resistance, especially from teachers colleges, and I had to debate many people on this subject.  Now I cannot think of a single criticism that I have heard since the program started. I also think that within the educational community, I had some credibility and that helped. The legislature accepted that I knew what I was talking about and it received bipartisan support.

And now you can look back and say you were right! How often do we get to do that?

(Laughs) Always good to hear. 

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