The Journal Gazette
Friday, February 02, 2018 1:00 am


Cycle of frustration

Senate scrambles - again - to fix an education mess

The pattern in Indiana education policy has become all too familiar:

1. Pass a law to disrupt public education in the pursuit of “reform.”

2. Express dismay over the repercussions of the new law without acknowledging what caused them.

3. Pass another law to “fix” the problems created, doing additional harm to public schools.

The most recent example surfaced Wednesdaywhen a last-minute amendment was added to a bill to allow public schools to fill up to 10 percent of staff with unlicensed teachers. Why is this necessary? Because some school districts are struggling to hire faculty in the face of teacher shortages. Why are there shortages? Because laws regarding teacher evaluations, tenure and collective bargaining have made the field less attractive.

A study released last month confirms what teacher unions and others said would happen when so-called reformerssought to tie student achievement to teacher evaluations and tie results of those evaluations to teacher promotion and pay.  

“Our findings document how both adopting high-stakes evaluation systems and eliminating tenure protections reduce the supply of new teaching candidates available to public schools,” write the researchers from Brown, Syracuse and the University of Connecticut.

“Our analyses also provide a direct empirical test of a key assumption of the teacher quality literature, namely that accountability reforms do not affect the willingness of prospective teachers to enter the teacher labor market,” the authors write. “Many prior studies estimate potential learning gains from dismissing low-performing teachers through simulation analyses that rely on the untested assumption that dismissed teachers can always be replaced with average-quality novice teachers.”

The nationwide study noted 44 states implemented high-stakes teacher evaluation systems. With pressure from the Obama administration's Race to the Top program and state lawmakers eager to minimize the influence of teacher unions, Indiana's changes were approved in 2014. But The Journal Gazette first began reporting declines in teacher preparation programs in 2011, when the number of education majors at IPFW fell 19 percent between 2010 and 2011. Teachers College enrollment was down 8 percent at Ball State University that fall, 20 percent at Manchester College.

Sen. Andy Zay, R-Huntington, added the last-minute licensing language to Senate Bill 387 during Wednesday's Senate Education Committee meeting, at the request of the Indiana Department of Education. It represents one of many attempts by Indiana Republicans to reduce teacher licensure requirements, in line with model legislation supported by the corporate-controlled American Legislative Exchange Council. 

“We're trying to create opportunities to fill positions,” Zay said. “What I'd like to see ... is doors are wide open for people to come in and teach.”

The measure would allow school districts to hire teachers with alternative licenses that require little more than bachelor degrees or no licenses at all. 

How will this serve Indiana students? Given its 11th-hour appearance, which allowed the education community no time to examine research and consider the amendment's strengths or weaknesses, that's anyone's guess. 

SB 387 is expected to go to the full Senate next week, where it's likely to win approval. Don't expect the cycle of flawed education policy spawning more flawed education policy to end anytime soon.

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