This following article is from the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, a link to the original is at the end.
So what do the arcane provisions of teacher preparation guidelines mean, anyway?
Nothing less than whether Indiana students will succeed or fail. And if that sounds like an overdramatic assertion, consider that it’s based on some knowledge of those who fail.
Tuesday morning, I listened at Rochester High School as dozens of teachers, college officials, school administrators and others passionately called for changes to the proposed Rules for Educator Preparation and Accountability – REPA, for short.
They argued that the rules would place too much power in the hands of a building principal when it comes to renewing teacher licenses.
They complained that early childhood education would suffer if preschool certification is lumped in with licensing for teachers through grade 6.
They complained that the limits on teaching methods courses in schools of education would leave new teachers unprepared to help special-needs students and children from poverty, students learning English and the academically gifted.
Noting the proposal’s emphasis on making it easier for midcareer professionals to become teachers, Calvin Bellamy, a Schererville attorney and former bank chairman, told the hearing officers that there is a profound difference between someone speaking to a class on an occasional basis and what teachers do each day.
“We would be very foolish to think there is nothing special about the science of teaching,” he said. “On a sustained basis, our students deserve better.”
Tuesday night, I observed a full classroom of mostly middle-aged students in a literacy class at the main Allen County Public Library. Most read below the fifth-grade level.
Their stories all are different, but aside from the handful of immigrant students just learning English, these adults share the experience of having been failed, at some point, by Indiana schools. The rigorous academic standards the state has since put in place, the accountability requirements for teachers and schools, instructional techniques that help teachers reach even the most struggling learners, the data that drive classroom learning today – none of these existed when these adult students were first in school.
Certainly, there have always been exceptional teachers who seemed to know instinctively how to reach a struggling student. But for too many years, too many students somehow passed through grade after grade without making the connections that would engage them in learning.
It wasn’t a problem 30 years ago – if you dropped out of school, there were good-paying jobs that didn’t require reading and critical-thinking skills. That has changed. A diploma or GED is the minimum requirement for virtually any job.
Admittedly, it took schools too long to respond to that fact, but they did. Most people would be surprised to learn how different classrooms are today than they were even five or 10 years ago. Just ask recently retired teachers, some of whom retired because they couldn’t keep up with the changes demanded.
The REPA revisions are being protested by the educators who have embraced those very changes. They aren’t protecting turf; they are protecting the gains education has made in finding the best ways to reach every student, whether it’s a New Tech program or curriculum mapping or differentiated instruction or any of the thousands of strategies teachers have developed. Those are gains made in collaboration with the colleges of education, which have increasingly strengthened their ties to public schools to support field experiences and research into best-teaching practices.
No one who testified before the hearing officers Tuesday asked the Indiana Department of Education to leave the teacher and administrator licensing rules untouched; some even expressed support for specific provisions of the proposal. Mostly, they argued the process was moving too quickly and without hearing from the people best positioned to shape the policy.
“We stand willing to work with you to get REPA right,” said Michael Horvath, dean of the School of Education at Indiana University-South Bend. “Call us.”
The rules, if approved, will go into effect July 1, 2010. Students who graduate from college-level teacher-preparation programs before 2011 will be grandfathered under the existing rules. As teacher licenses come up for renewal, they will be subject to the new rules.
After a final public hearing in Indianapolis on Monday, the Advisory Board of the Division of Professional Standards will take the comments under advisement and issue the final rules, subject to approval from the attorney general and governor.
Some at the Rochester hearing suggested the process is an empty exercise, but the overwhelming opposition from educators to what should be a routine revision process presents a test for Tony Bennett, state superintendent of public instruction. Will he continue his push for the changes, or will he listen to calls to slow down and work with the experts?
Indiana’s gains in school improvement are at stake, along with the fate of students who desperately need the best work of skilled teachers, administrators and the state’s schools of education.