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NJ Launches Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship

The Fellowship recruits top science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) college graduates and career changers and prepares them to teach in high-need schools.

New Jersey will become the first East Coast state to launch the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship, with nearly $9 million in support from a consortium of foundations and private funders, Gov. Chris Christie announced last week.

Created by the Princeton-based Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, the Fellowship recruits top science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) college graduates and career changers and prepares them to teach in high-need schools. The program seeks to transform the way teacher candidates are prepared.

“Excellence in education begins in the classroom,” Christie said. “Today, we are taking another important step to ensure our teachers are prepared before they are placed in high-need schools.  It only makes sense that we give our teachers the experience and the tools they need before they are placed in challenging environments. Thanks to the Woodrow Wilson Foundation and our five New Jersey higher education institutions participating in this program,  teachers will be ready to make a difference in struggling districts where their help is needed most.”   

The College of New Jersey, Montclair State University, Rowan University, Rutgers University-Camden and William Paterson University will develop model master’s-level teacher preparation programs. Fellows will go through a one-year program in local school classrooms, a clinically based approach similar to that of medical schools.

Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellows will receive $30,000 in stipends to use during the master’s program. In exchange, they commit to teach in a high-need urban or rural school in New Jersey for three years, with ongoing mentoring.

“Study after study shows that teachers are the single most important in-school factor in improving student achievement,” said Arthur Levine, president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. “That’s the overarching goal for these Woodrow Wilson New Jersey Teaching Fellows. New Jersey overproduces elementary school teachers but underproduces middle- and high-school STEM teachers, and 30 to 40 percent of New Jersey teachers leave the profession during their first three years in the classroom—more in high-need districts. So there’s a genuine need for these new teachers, and for innovative preparation that will help keep them in the classroom.”

Twelve New Jersey school districts will partner with participating universities to provide clinical experience for the Teaching Fellows— one academic year in a high-need, high-functioning school, where Fellows will learn the way residents in a teaching hospital do. The 12 districts include Trenton, Ewing, Lawrence, and New Brunswick (TCNJ) Newark and Orange (Montclair State), Paterson (William Paterson University) and Camden, Pemberton and several rural districts, working jointly with Rowan and Rutgers-Camden.

“We say it time and time again: teachers matter, so we must recruit, train, evaluate and support them in a way that has the greatest impact in our classrooms,” said Education Commissioner Chris Cerf.  “I am thrilled we are the first East Coast state to be part of the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellows as this partnership underscores an important need: with predicted job growth in the STEM fields outpacing all others, we must focus on developing the relevant skills in our students now. Recruiting and training future teachers with strong STEM backgrounds means we are creating opportunities for our students to meet the future demands in the marketplace.”  

The university partners have 18 to 21 months to tailor programs that meet the Fellowship’s standards for intensive clinical work and rigorous related coursework. The first Fellows will be selected in spring 2014, start their academic programs in fall 2014 and be ready to teach in fall 2015.

Current funding will enable the participating colleges and universities to enroll ten Fellows per year initially. The institutions will receive matching grants to redevelop their teacher preparation programs based on a set of standards set by the Foundation and national experts.

The Foundation is looking for additional partners and funders to expand the program. “If the program is able to expand to its eventual $13.6 million target,” Levine said, “it will produce enough Fellows to fill nearly all anticipated STEM vacancies in the 12 participating districts.”

Major funders for the Fellowship in New Jersey include the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, M. Brian and Sandy Maher, the Overdeck Family Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the PSEG Foundation, the JP Morgan Chase Foundation, the Schumann Fund for New Jersey, Educational Testing Service, the William E. Simon Foundation, and Jennifer A. Chalsty, with additional funding from a number of other foundations and philanthropists.

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