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Educators blast teacher certification rules

Jill Shedd, executive secretary of the Indiana Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, testifies to state board members.
Jill Shedd, executive secretary of the Indiana Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, testifies to state board members.

Opponents of changes to teacher licensing, which were pushed through by former state Superintendent Tony Bennett as one of his final acts before leaving Indiana, sought a retroactive veto Tuesday.

The rules brought a wave of protest in 2012, as educators complained that changes they outlined could hurt teacher quality by making it easier for those with no education background to become classroom teachers. Proponents say the rules give schools needed flexibility to hire would-be teachers who are talented and knowledgeable but could be scared off if getting a classroom job means years of study first.

The Indiana State Board of Education approved the rules last February. But Attorney General Greg Zoeller’s office objected to last minute changes by the state board and kicked the new rules back for fixes. The board was unable to meet his request by a March 31, 2013, deadline, requiring the entire year-long rule-making progress to be restarted.

The delay means angry educators get a second chance to try to dissuade the board from adopting the rules.

Teacher certification rules are back on display for public comment online and in person through a a series of public input meetings. At the second such meeting this morning at the Indiana Government Center, the feeling of educators, especially those who train future teachers, hadn’t changed much in a year’s time.

The deans of the education schools at Indiana University, Butler University and the University of Indianapolis again spoke against what they said were diminished expectations for those who want to be a superintendent, principal or teacher in Indiana.

“These provisions lower education standards in Indiana,” said Gerardo Gonzalez, dean of Indiana University’s school of education. “They require significantly less preparation, teaching and leadership experience than ever before. It is very strange in light of calls to recruit the best and brightest into teaching.”

The proposed rules

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz and fellow state board members Cari Whicker and David Frietas listened to the testimony from a table while state board staff recorded comments to be shared with the rest of the board.

Most of the 15 speakers objected to these provisions:

  • The adjunct permit. The rules allow anyone with a four-year college degree and a 3.0 GPA to teach if they pass a test of content knowledge. They do not need any background in teaching. Adjuncts are required to perform well on evaluations or lose the permit and they must get teacher training while on the job.
  • Leadership jobs. Those seeking to be superintendents who do not hold doctoral degrees could earn the job if they have at least a master’s degree, under the rules. For principals, a master’s degree would not longer be required.
  • Teaching fine arts. A requirement for specific training in art, music or theater would be dropped, instead allowing teachers to add those specialty areas to their licenses simply by passing a content exam.

The second group of teacher certification rule changes proposed by Bennett in 2012 were known as the Rules for Educator Preparation and Accountability, or REPA II. After Bennett’s defeat by Ritz in the 2012 election, he sought to finish the rule-making process begun nearly a year earlier in his last meeting as chairman of the state board that December.

Ritz, who was superintendent-elect but wouldn’t take office for another month, opposed the rule changes. In an unusual move, she spoke at the meeting, asking the board to delay and reconsider the rules after she took office. Instead the board approved the rules, but asked for some last-minute adjustments. Under state law, that started a clock by which the rules needed Zoeller’s approval by March 31 to go into effect.

Department staff brought new language incorporating the board’s December alterations that board members approved in February and the department sent them to Zoeller. But Zoeller sent them back, suggesting the board needed to vote one more time on a portion they approved without first reviewing.

Ritz said there was not enough time to arrange another board approval and the deadline passed. That forced the process to restart. At the April board meeting, board members sparred with Ritz about why the deadline was not met and whether there had been time for a board vote. It was the first of several tense exchanges with Ritz over her handling of board business that escalated over the summer of 2013.

Educator complaints

Nearly a year later, however, the teacher licensing issues have not changed at today’s hearing. Many educators still objected and worried that the changes will result in less qualified teachers in Indiana classrooms.

“Today we are saying we don’t need trained teachers, we don’t need trained administrators and we don’t need highly qualified educators teaching our children,” said J.T. Cooperman, executive director of the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents. “We’re not to be treated as a profession any longer. It’s demeaning.”

He wasn’t alone. Risa Regnier, assistant state superintendent, testified that the education department also opposed the rules, saying they could reduce the quality of future teachers and principals.

Ena Shelley, the dean of Butler’s education school, said the adjunct provision was unnecessary because other pathways, including emergency licenses and substitute teacher permits, allow schools to hire teachers with fewer qualifications when there are shortages. She said there was no evidence that the adjunct permit would benefit the state.

“There is no data that substantiates the need for this permit,” she said.

A couple of speakers supported some of the rules, including Sean Steele, a history teacher at Orleans High School, located about 45 minutes south of Bloomington.

Steele said he is an amateur artist and long had interest in teaching art. Since he’s already been a teacher for 18 years and passed the required content exam with a high score, Steele said the new rule would allow him to begin teaching art without any additional study.

“I’ve been an artist all my life,” he said. “Art should not be treated any differently than any other subjects.”

Once public input is complete, the state board will reconsider the rules and vote on them again. State board staff said that could come as early as March.

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