If Indiana school reformers are looking for a good model to follow in teacher preparation and licensing, Finland would be an excellent choice: The country routinely finishes at or near the top of all international measures of school quality.
But the latest changes proposed for Indiana’s teacher and administrator licensing regulations reject the very core of Finland’s rigorous preparation program. Instead of raising the bar for teachers and administrators, the Indiana Department of Education proposes making it easier for anyone to work with students.
Educators across the state are objecting to the proposed Rules for Educator Preparation and Accountability (REPA II), but state officials need to hear from parents and others who want to improve schools. Teachers without proper classroom training might be less expensive, but they won’t raise school quality.
The latest proposal, which must be approved by the State Board of Education, lowers education standards by granting an adjunct teaching permit to anyone with a bachelor’s degree, at least a 3.0 grade-point average and a passing score on a subject-area test. Finland, by contrast, requires even beginning teachers to have a master’s degree.
REPA II would allow a teacher licensed in any subject to add certification in special education, music or art simply by passing a standardized test. Special education teachers are particularly concerned, as the proposal would allow certification to teach at the preschool level through high school. Most importantly, they would require no training in developmentally appropriate instruction.
There’s a whole range of things that come into play when you’re planning for a student that a person just coming in off the street would not necessarily take the time to know, Cindi Pastore, a 33-year teacher with Adams-Wells Special Services Cooperative, told State Impact Indiana. They would just go in and say, Oh, yeah, I’ve got this kid making progress!’ You’ve got to know what you’re making progress towards.
Administrative requirements also would be watered down. School principals, who now have unprecedented authority and responsibility in evaluating teachers and who increasingly must excel as instructional leaders, would no longer need a master’s degree. Superintendents would need only a master’s degree.
Top-performing Finland didn’t reduce its requirements for administrators so it could hire corporate executives or retired military officials to lead its schools. Without exception, school leaders there are former teachers who have mastered student instruction.
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to brand opposition to the state’s proposal as teacher union interests protecting the status quo. Opposition to REPA II comes not just from the Indiana State Teachers Association and American Federation of Teachers, but also numerous teacher professional groups, such as the Indiana Music Educators Association and the Art Education Association of Indiana.
So-called school reformers argue that creating non-traditional pathways to teaching is a way to improve education. But it also benefits the for-profit education providers looking to staff classrooms with lower-paid instructors.
If there were evidence that second-career professionals make better teachers, there might be reason to support REPA II. But there is none. Finland certainly doesn’t promote that route to the classroom. Studies, including one from IUPUI’s Center for Urban and Multicultural Education, find that teachers who are fully certified (through traditional college/university based teacher education programs) have a more significant positive impact on student outcomes than teachers who are not.
State Board of Education members need to hear from the public that further changes to Indiana’s schools must be backed by research, not political rhetoric.