Sunday, December 20, 2009

Hard-Won is Right!

More good reporting from Fort Wayne on the impact of public support for quality teacher education.

Hard-won compromise on teacher licensing [link]



Ideally, a revision of Indiana’s teacher licensing rules would have started with discussions between education groups, the state’s teacher colleges and representatives of the Indiana Department of Education.

Instead, state officials dropped a complex proposal on the Professional Standards Advisory Board in July that would have made dramatic and disturbing changes to the requirements teachers must meet to earn and maintain their credentials. To its credit, the advisory board objected, calling for more time to consider the proposal, known as Rules for Educator Preparation and Accountability, or REPA.

Five months, thousands of e-mail comments and countless hours of public debate later, the advisory board last week approved the plan that would have come if teachers, administrators and college officials had been involved from the start. To his credit, state schools chief Tony Bennett listened to the complaints, and the final plan will be better for it.

“The changes represent significant compromise from all involved,” Bennett said in a news release. “Yet, these revisions don’t at all compromise the effectiveness of our proposal. In fact, it’s a better document now than it was in July.”  The 19-member advisory board, which includes David Goodwin, superintendent of the Metropolitan School District of Steuben County, spent many hours in committee work and reviewing public comment.

“We tried to react as well as we could to the comments,” Goodwin said. “There were some real compromises. There were things I felt very strongly about that didn’t happen and some that did.”

Some key changes in the compromise:

•The original REPA plan would have eliminated early-childhood education and middle school as licensing categories. Teacher professional groups and early-childhood educators objected, noting the special needs of students in the middle grades and of young children. The categories have been restored.

•The fine arts, health, physical education, journalism and library media were proposed as “workplace specialist” licenses. Educators rightly argued that the areas demanded more extensive requirements.

•The final plan eliminates a maximum limit on teaching methods courses an education student must have. DOE officials had argued that college students were spending too much time learning how to teach. Critics effectively argued that schools, with increasingly diverse enrollment, need teachers with the skills to reach students at all levels of ability.

•School principals will verify, not approve, licensing renewal. Teachers will be able to renew their licenses through professional development hours or by earning six college credit hours.

Kathleen Murphey, associate dean of the School of Education at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, said she was pleased with the changes made by the advisory board.  “The board has listened to the public comment, and they changed the proposal,” Murphey said. “There are a few things in the secondary (school) area that we might have to change. There’s language that says people getting certified in a content area must have the same courses as someone with a major in that area.”  Teresa Meredith, vice president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, said the union is waiting to see the final language presented when the advisory board meets again on Jan. 7, but she said that ISTA also is pleased with the changes. “The Department of Education has been very receptive and willing to talk with us,” she said. “It would have been nice to be involved in the preliminary discussion, but we’re glad the advisory board has chosen to slow down and to allow us to give input.”

Teacher and administrator licensing might not seem to be pressing issues in education, but the quality of schools is inextricably linked to the quality of instruction. It’s important work ensuring students have the best teachers and school leaders, and the advisory board members and Bennett deserve credit for taking seriously their responsibility to ensure students have the best-qualified instructors.


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