November 8, 2009
Less time in classroom spells trouble
As we near a decision on the Rule Revision for Educator Preparation and Accountability (REPA) put forward by the Indiana Department of Education, all concerned with the impact of these changes are trying to make a clear final assessment.
We at the Indiana University School of Education are pleased that members of the Professional Standards Advisory Board have listened to our points and have already adjusted many aspects of the regulations.
Still, some troubling items remain. Points made recently by the U.S. Secretary of Education and the state Department of Education itself have reiterated the reasons why.
In both an online podcast and during a conference call with reporters, the Department of Education has sought to quash "myths" about the REPA proposal. "Myth 3" states "The REPA proposal allows persons who have no field experience to teach." The myth "buster" is this answer: "The proposal requires all teaching candidates to complete nine weeks of student teaching."
That is a microcosm of the problematic vision of REPA. It is a small vision of educational change, one that seeks to somehow reform teacher preparation by requiring less of teachers. The IU School of Education requires a minimum of 12 weeks of student teaching for all pre-service teachers; commonly those student teaching experiences are 15 or 16 weeks. Participants in the "Cultural Immersion Projects" gain 18 weeks of student teaching -- twice as much as boasted by the department's REPA "myths" statement -- by choosing to teach in one of 15 countries around the world, on a Navajo reservation, or in inner-city Chicago schools.
Of course, the student teaching doesn't include early field experiences for our education majors, usually about two or three separate experiences amounting to at least 80 clock hours for an undergraduate. For example, at Indianapolis' George Washington Community School, 60 students from the IU School of Education at IUPUI now are spending 14 weeks working directly with students, gaining experience and helping students. The REPA proposal would eliminate the secondary education major as a vehicle for licensure.
With only a content major, future teachers wouldn't have this kind of experience -- and Indiana's public school students would not benefit from their instruction. As we've said repeatedly, and just as troubling, requiring a content major would actually reduce content hours for those secondary majors.
It just doesn't make sense that new teachers would become better by reducing their classroom experience from upwards of 32 weeks to nine and also eliminating hours they study in their teaching field.
In the midst of Indiana's own debate over teacher preparation changes, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan challenged all schools of education in a tough speech he delivered Oct. 22 in New York. Duncan reiterated that, while alternative paths to licensure are valid and should be pursued, education schools will always turn out the vast majority of our future teachers. His call for change did not include any policy measures that align with the REPA proposal, certainly not reducing field experience or content requirements.
Duncan did note, however, that the teachers he oversaw in Chicago often said they needed more hands-on classroom management training and instruction on how to use data to improve instruction and boost student learning. If the charge from Duncan is to address this problem, for the reasons cited above, REPA would undoubtedly exacerbate the problems.
We should demand high-quality, research-based teacher preparation. We should provide more content knowledge and teaching skills for Hoosier teachers. The real myth is that we could do so by asking for less.