Thursday, November 19, 2009

Our Voices are Being Heard!

The following article from the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette might point to some positive changes from yesterday's professional standards board meeting. 

Educators across Indiana are watching today as the state’s Professional Standards Advisory Board begins work on proposed licensing rules that need plenty of revision. The process began with a top-down approach scornful of expertise and experience. It now demands the thoughtful, deliberate guidance of advisory board members who understand the importance of ensuring Indiana schools have the most qualified teachers and administrators.

David Goodwin, superintendent of Metropolitan School District of Steuben County, is a member of the advisory board. He said this week that he expects the three-hour session today to be the first of several meetings to address proposed changes.

Goodwin, the only school superintendent on the panel, said he was assigned to one of several groups designated to look at one article of the document. The five-member group held three or four conference calls to work through the proposal after reviewing hundreds of comments submitted by mail, e-mail and through testimony at three hearings last month. Goodwin said the comments and the group’s own suggestions resulted in recommendations that will be presented to the full advisory board.

“Our group really took the public testimony to heart,” he said. “We’ve made three or four pages of changes.”

Goodwin said there are recommended changes, for example, in the early-childhood-education provisions, which originally lumped preschool instruction with K-5 guidelines, and with middle-school licensing – which failed in the proposal to recognize the unique needs of students in the middle grades.

“Our group has also addressed the issue of pedagogy – basically the courses you take at Trine University or IPFW on how to teach,” Goodwin said. “The original (recommendation) set a maximum number of course hours. I didn’t think that was the way to go.”

Goodwin said he had received more than 600 e-mail messages about the Revisions for Educator Preparation and Accountability, or REPA, rules. The response didn’t surprise him because the process wasn’t set up the way he had expected. Instead of starting with the existing rules and having Department of Education officials point out what works well and what doesn’t, Goodwin said, advisory board members were given a 70-page document with most of the existing rules stricken.

From the start, the process has placed those most invested in the rules on the defensive rather than in the position of helping to improve them. Both State Superintendent Tony Bennett and Gov. Mitch Daniels have dismissed concerns from teachers, superintendents and college administrators as turf protection, but professional licensing standards have always been the purview of those within a particular field. CPAs don’t set medical licensing standards; dentists don’t run the state bar association. Why shouldn’t professional educators have authority over licensing in their field?

Where Indiana students are struggling, it is not the fault of teachers ignorant of subject matter. It’s where teachers and administrators have failed to recognize that classroom lectures and rote learning aren’t effective with all students, particularly as Indiana classrooms become more diverse.

Investment in learning research hasn’t had the support it needed, leaving teacher preparation lagging for too many years. But new demands for accountability have made their way to colleges and universities, and better training is the result.

Hundreds of educators across the state have stepped forward to point out faults in the REPA proposal, effectively making the case that proposed changes would lower standards. It’s time for the state schools chief and the governor to step back and allow the advisory board to draw on its expertise to develop education licensing rules worthy of Hoosiers’ high expectations for learning.


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