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Elevating the profession?

The Journal Gazette's Devon Haynie had an interesting story Sunday about declining enrollment in education programs at northeast Indiana colleges and universities. It appears that a discouraging job market and the current political environment have combined to scare students away from teaching.

She writes:

Professor Michael Slavkin, director of teacher education at Manchester College, said the number of undergraduate majors at his college has decreased 20 percent in the past five years. This fall, the school had 195 undergraduate education majors, down from 244 the year before.

Slavkin said the economy played a role but wasn't the only factor in the decline.

He said the Daniels administration, along with Superintendent of Education Tony Bennett, have been outwardly aggressive in their disdain for teachers. The discourse became particularly caustic during the recent legislative session, he said, when lawmakers passed legislation limiting collective bargaining rights, linking teacher pay to test scores and other measures.

"Obviously, the current political environment around education probably makes (the field) less appealing," Slavkin said. "I think this is the most important job we have to offer college students. I think it's the most valuable. And yet, I think I would probably second-guess right now if my children were to come to me and say they wanted to be teachers. It's been a hard couple of years in Indiana for educators."

Professor Terrell Peace, director of teacher education at Huntington University, agreed.

"My profession has been downplayed, and there's been a lot of criticism about the quality," he said. "It's not a popular profession, and it's not an easy profession. If people go into the profession seeing that, I think it speaks to a higher level of commitment."

A spokesman for the Indiana Department of Education disagrees:

Joseph Cortes-Gurule, a spokesman for the Indiana Department of Education, said his department hopes to elevate the profession – not tear it down.

If reports from Tennessee are any indication, similar efforts there aren't serving to elevate the profession. The new teacher evaluation system the Volunteer State adopted to win a share of Race to the Top funds is frustrating both veterans and new teachers, according to NPR.

A new evaluation system is being piloted this year in Indiana and every district will be required to evaluate teachers beginning next year. The evaluations must be tied to student performance under the new state law.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at