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One final stab at Indiana teachers

The adoring crowds at Jeb Bush's education conference last week apparently soothed the wounds Indiana voters inflicted last month on the Mitch Daniels/Tony Bennett education agenda. Energized by two standing ovations(!) from the so-called reformers, the lame-duck state superintendent is pushing ahead with efforts to weaken teacher licensing requirements.

But none of that means Indiana teachers are any less pleased with the newly revised proposal.

"It's counter-intuitive to me that at the same time that we're being told teachers aren't good enough and don't work hard enough, anyone can become a teacher as long as they fill out the right paperwork," Sarah Verpooten, a journalism adviser at Lake Central High School in Saint John told Ellie Price, a reporter with Franklin College's TheStatehouseFile.com. "This doesn't make sense to me. Why are we lowering standards to become a teacher when obviously Tony Bennett didn't think that teachers were qualified?"

REPA II, on the agenda for Wednesday's State Board of Education meeting, has been revised since the June 21 public hearing. Thirty speakers testified against adoption at the hearing; none spoke in favor of them. The changes were released on Friday – allowing little time for review.

Many of the revisions are good, but not all. Most notably, the noxious "adjunct teacher permit" remains in the rules. It's the provision Sarah Verpooten refers to, allowing anyone with a bachelor's degree and GPA of at least 3.0 to teach.

How the education-reform crowd can claim to support higher standards while dumbing down requirements for teachers is a mystery that can only be explained by this: It's not about improving schools – it's about destroying teacher unions once and for all.

Here's retired Indiana school administrator Vic Smith's rundown on the revisions and what wasn't revised but should have been:

Revisions in REPA 2 Revealed for the First Time Last Friday, November 30th

1. The revised draft shifts the authority for approving teacher education programs at universities from the Indiana Department of Education, which would be supervised by the State Superintendent, to the State Board of Education. The votes on approving programs would be in the hands of political appointees on the State Board rather than the elected State Superintendent. This changes the current practice of having IDOE approve programs in line with the rules and would seem to set up the need for an independent staff for the State Board to do this work. This represents an obvious power grab to take authority away from Glenda Ritz and put it in the hands of the State Board appointed by the Governor. Such tactics were predicted by some after Dr. Bennett was defeated in the election, and this seems to be the first movement in the tug of war over Glenda Ritz's authority.

The legal question here is whether the rule can be revised in this major way at the last minute without triggering the need for another round of public hearings. Past practice in my decade of watching State Board rules go through the promulgation process was that if hearings revealed minor changes were needed, those minor changes were made and the rule was passed. If major changes were made, however, the rules were resubmitted for an additional round of hearings. This revision of authority is clearly a major change, and under past practice, a new public hearing on the revised language should be in order. This legal question will throw REPA 2 into the hands of lawyers and lawsuits, which is not good for making public policy which will have the confidence of the public. It seems clear to me that this revision should be subject to additional public hearings.

2. The revised draft cuts the classroom experience required for an administrator license from five years down to two years and would count teaching experience in higher education as classroom experience for qualifying for a K-12 administrative license, either as a building level administrator or as a superintendent. This is a highly controversial subject to current administrators. Reducing the amount of teaching experience required and eliminating the need for experience in K-12 classrooms should be subject to additional public hearings.

3. The revised draft changes the approval of the content area tests required for licensure and the setting of the cut scores for those tests from the Indiana Department of Education to the State Board of Education. As discussed above, this would truncate the authority of Glenda Ritz and would set up a bureaucracy under the State Board of Education. Is this really what the General Assembly intended for the State Board of Education? It has never functioned in this way before. This change would require separate budgetary support for additional staff. Perhaps the new General Assembly will agree and will make that happen in the April budget, but to pass rules now that assume budgetary support seems more than presumptuous . At the very least, a change this big deserves more public hearings.

New Licensing Rules in REPA 2 that were Not Changed in Friday's Revision But Should Have Been

Several controversial elements of REPA 2 remain unchanged after Friday's revisions were revealed. These have been problems from the start of this process and remain in the document:

1. A new provision allows the appointment of "Temporary Building Level Administrators" at the request of a local school board. Under great pressure from Governor Daniels, a license for a "Temporary Superintendent" was allowed in rules passed in 2010 (REPA 1). That plan did not go so far as allowing for temporary principals on the same basis, but REPA 2 does go that far. This concept reverses the reforms of the early 20th century when cronyism and nepotism influenced the appointment of administrators in many local communities. The reform then was to have administrative candidates show that they were qualified in the eyes of impartial licensing agents, the university administrator programs. This provision throws the door open again to local cronyism. This is the kind of local control that no one is asking for. This provision cheapens the credentials of all administrators who have worked hard to pass the existing credential requirements and are now told they weren't really necessary.

2. New content areas can be added with no new coursework but by passing a test, a test now to be supervised as noted above by the State Board of Education and not by the Indiana Department of Education. The revision revealed Friday removed four areas from eligibility for the "test only" addition: Exceptional Needs, Communication Disorders, Early Childhood, and Elementary Education. These removals are a step in the right direction, but all other content areas are still eligible, from Economics to Physical Education, to be added to a license without any coursework but by simply passing a test.

  1. Any applicant holding a Bachelor's Degree who passes a content test and has a 3.0 GPA in the content area in which the applicant intends to teach can get a 5 year teaching permit, called an "Adjunct Teacher Permit." This permit allows teachers into the classroom who have had no teacher pedagogy courses. While other parts of REPA require 10 weeks of student teaching instead of 9, the "Adjunct Teacher Permit" allows teachers to teach for five years who have had no student teaching. This is a bad idea which negates all that we have learned about preparing teachers in the past century
While Bennett pushes to degrade the teaching profession, one of the nation's largest unions is pushing to raise the bar. This, from Businessweek:

The American Federation of Teachers called for a tough new written test to be complimented by stricter entrance requirements for teacher training programs, such as a minimum grade point average.

"It's time to do away with a common rite of passage into the teaching profession, whereby newly minted teachers are tossed the keys to their classrooms, expected to figure things out, and left to see if they and their students sink or swim," said AFT President Randi Weingarten, calling that system unfair to students and teachers alike.

The proposal, released Monday as part of a broader report on elevating the teaching profession, calls for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards to take the lead in developing a new test. The nonprofit group currently administers the National Board Certification program, an advanced, voluntary teaching credential that goes beyond state standards.

Newly elected Indiana Superintendent Glenda Ritz, by the way, is one of just 155 National Board-certified teachers in Indiana.

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 kfrancisco@jg.net.

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