Some give ‘F’ to teacher license proposal
By Christin Nance Lazerus firstname.lastname@example.org May 21, 2014 9:04PM
Rochell Hazelett discusses a problem with her ninth grade Algebra students at Wirt-Emerson Visual and Performing Arts/High Ability Academy in Gary. She is retiring this year after 22 years in Gary and Marion, Ind. | Christin Nance Lazerus~Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 24, 2014 7:42AM
The Indiana State Board of Education has taken steps to revamp the teacher licensing process so college graduates who never took an education course can become teachers simply by passing an exam.
Last week, the board gave initial approval to the proposal, which would grant a K-12 teaching licenses to graduates with at least a 3.0 grade-point average if they pass a content exam.
But many educators are mystified why the state would create a license pathway without requiring any teacher training or why the alternate pathway is even necessary. If hired, adjunct teachers would be required to take teacher training while they are working in the classroom.
Valparaiso Community Schools Superintendent Michael Berta said the idea that someone with knowledge in a particular content area would automatically be a good teacher is a false notion.
“Developing a skill set on how students learn and variety of learning methods is complicated,” Berta said. “Absent training and professional development, putting just anyone in a classroom can be highly problematic.”
Berta doesn’t understand why it’s helpful to relax licensing requirements.
“I can’t identify any characteristics that add quality to the educational process. Maybe there are some other motives here,” he said. “There are so many efforts currently to discredit public educators. Maybe the high standards of the past aren’t important anymore.”
The new teacher licensing rules were proposed by former state schools Superintendent Tony Bennett, and they were approved during Bennett’s last meeting as superintendent in December 2012. But those rules (REPA II) were not implemented, and another round of public hearings was required last year before the changes could be approved.
The teachers licensing provision is part of a broader licensing package (REPA III) that the state board must vote on as a whole later this year.
The Indiana State Teachers’ Association is having a news conference today to discuss its opposition to the measure, alongside representatives from Indiana’s education schools and school districts.
Gary Teachers Union president Joe Zimmerman finds the absence of pedagogy requirements troubling.
“It’s bothersome because we want a rigorous training for incoming teachers,” he said. “It sounds like a free pass to go to the classroom.”
An applicant with an adjunct teaching permit “wouldn’t be our first pick,” East Porter County Schools Superintendent Rod Gardin said.
Gardin said the proposal’s emphasis on content knowledge runs contrary to the importance placed on instructional methods in the state’s RISE evaluation rubric.
“Even in the first five years — while they would undergo training in pedagogy — that means you’ve affected 125 kids a year,” Gardin said. “So that’s 675 kids you’ve influenced when you weren’t that good of a teacher.”
Gardin doesn’t see why the permit is even necessary given Transition to Teaching programs at many colleges, which can take as little as nine months and include student teaching and mentoring components. Gardin said he hasn’t noticed any shortage of qualified candidates.
Indiana University Northwest education professor Glenn Lauzon said the adoption of the proposal would be a “step backward.”
“Adopting it will allow people who have no experience working with young people to take charge of school classrooms,” Lauzon wrote in an email. “The basic idea behind this change in the law is the wrong-headed notion that, to teach, a person needs only to know ‘the stuff’ and that is enough.
“This kind of thinking tends to forget that there is more to teaching than the content knowledge of lessons. A historian is not necessarily a good history teacher.”
In addition, the state already offers emergency permits and workplace specialist permits for experienced professionals to teach in the classroom while they are earning their teaching credentials.
But the proposal has its supporters.
GEO Foundation president Kevin Teasley, whose group operates 21st Century Charter School in Gary and two other charter schools in Indiana, said talented professionals from outside the education field can be an asset.
“We actually have one teacher who was responsible for our high Algebra I ECA pass rate, and that teacher didn’t have an education background,” Teasley said. “It’s always a risk no matter who you get. I’ve seen a fully licensed teacher who was a complete dud and an unlicensed teacher who was great. You never know until you get in the classroom for the first time.”
Teasley said extensive monitoring and mentoring by experienced teachers is key to any young teacher’s success.
“We have high accountability on a weekly basis,” he said. “You can’t do evaluations just once a year. We have a teacher advancement system, where there are weekly meetings with a master teacher and a mentor teacher. The cluster of teachers meet and discuss strategies on how best to support the teacher.”