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December 6, 2012

State education board votes to change licensing rules

INDIANAPOLIS — Over the protests of teachers’ unions and some universities that train new teachers, the State Board of Education has changed the licensing and credentialing rules for K-12 educators.

The new rules ease the traditional education-training requirements needed to become a school administrator or teacher and will allow more people without a teaching degree to become classroom teachers.

The board voted Wednesday for the new rules despite a plea from the newly elected state schools’ superintendent, Glenda Ritz, to postpone their decision until after she takes office in January.

“We cannot have anything standing in the way of putting qualified teachers in our classroom,” she said in comments made to the board at the invitation of current Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett.

Bennett, who sits on the board by virtue of his position, had pushed for the new Rules for Educator Preparation and Accountability, known as REPA II. He touted them as a part of a package of education reforms passed by the Indiana General Assembly and implemented by the Republican Bennett in his four years in office.

Ritz, a Democrat who beat Bennett in an upset race, had opposed the new rules in her campaign saying they threatened to diminish the standards of the teaching profession. She was hoping the board would see things her way.

But many of the board members, who were appointed by Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels for their support of the sweeping reforms he championed, made it clear they had no interest in delay.

“Every 26 seconds, we’re losing a child,” said Jo Blacketor, referring to the frequency of students dropping out of high school. “We’re losing sight of that. We’re concentrating too much here on the teachers and the institutions.”

One of the new changes that generated the most heat in the controversy is the creation of an “adjunct teaching permit.” It allows someone who earned a four-year college degree with a 3.0 grade point average to earn a credential to teach by passing an exam that proves proficiency in the subject area.

The board voted Wednesday to add a “pedagogy requirement” that will allow someone with an adjunct permit to get a teaching job in Indiana, but also requires that person to score well on future teacher evaluations and to take college or other professional development courses to renew their teaching license.

Another area of contention involved “content area exams.” Bennett and his staff wanted the board to approve rules that would allow teachers who already held a teaching license to be able to add a certification to teach additional subject areas by taking a test, rather than additional college-level coursework. The state board of education voted to approve a revised version of that proposal that allows teachers to “test into” some subject areas but not others, including special education, elementary education, early childhood education, and English as a second language.

The new rules also allow school districts to hire superintendents who have not completed doctoral degrees if they have master’s degrees. The new rules also transfer the power to approve teacher-training programs away from state Department of Education and to the state Board of Education. A proposed change that was dropped would have blocked teachers with low evaluation scores from renewing their licenses.

The board voted for the new rules after listening to both supporters and opponents use strongly worded language to make their arguments.

Gerardo Gonzalez, dean of the Indiana University School of Education, said the new licensing rules “will diminish the teaching profession and make it difficult to attract the best and brightest into the teaching profession.”

Sally Sloan, head of the Indiana Federation of Teachers said: “With the rollbacks in standards and temporary licensing, you can expect to see the cronyism and nepotism that we saw 30 years ago in public schools.”

Jilly Lyday, a retired Indianapolis high school teacher, told the board they needed to postpone their decision until Ritz took office: “If you vote without considering Glenda Ritz’s vision, your actions will be seen by citizens of this state as purely political.”

But supporters made their opinions known as well. Derek Redelman of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, said local school corporations can decide on their own who to hire: “All that you are doing… is providing greater flexibility at the local level and allowing the pool of candidates to be expanded.”

Mark Bartlow, a Bloomfield, Ind., high school science teacher, spoke in favor of the new rules. He’s a retired businessman with a biology degree who owned a pharmacy before earning his teaching license through a “transition-to-teach” program launched by the state in 2008. The program allows someone with a college degree to spend a year taking teaching courses to earn their license.

Bartlow said teachers need to become “content experts” before they enter the classroom. He also said many teachers aren’t comfortable with the increasing scrutiny they’ve come under: “It seems we’re very good at handing out grades, but not very good at being graded ourselves.”

Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com.

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