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Table license plan

New superintendent deserves say on changes


The first indication of how Indiana’s education establishment will respond to election results could come Dec. 5, when the State Board of Education is expected to consider more changes to licensing requirements. The proposed Rules for Education Preparation and Accountability II have drawn strong protests from teachers, administrators and teacher-education officials across the state.

Given that Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett was soundly defeated in his re-election bid, pushing the proposal through before he leaves office is the wrong approach. Voters spoke loudly about the aggressive tactics Bennett and his department used over the past four years. Delaying any changes until Superintendent-elect Glenda Ritz has time to respond is the best course.

As proposed, REPA II would:

•Eliminate the requirement for principals to have a master’s degree.

•Create an “adjunct” teacher permit available to anyone with a bachelor’s degree and at least a 3.0 grade point average in any area, provided he or she passes a content-area test.

•Allow a teacher licensed in any subject area to add other licenses, including special education, early childhood, music and art, by passing a test.

“That we would expect anyone to teach a special needs child with expertise solely on the basis that he or she passed a standardized test is certainly inviting a spectacular failure,” Gerardo Gonzalez, dean of the School of Education at Indiana University-Bloomington, testified last June.

At least one state board member shares the same reservations about some provisions.

“The main areas where I have concerns are special education, because I really feel there are a lot of things in special education that you have to know,” said Michael Pettibone, superintendent of Adams Central Community Schools. “You have to know the laws, the regulations regarding (individualized education plans) and timelines. The other area concerns who is able to provide licensing and how broad that picture is.”

He said the current requirement of a college-level teacher preparation program gives Indiana “some type of a gate” to the classroom.

Pettibone also questioned the wisdom of dropping the master’s degree requirement for building-level administrators.

“I think possibly the one person who can have the most impact on learning is the building principal,” he said.

“To be a successful building principal, you need to have experience as a teacher and you need to have shown growth in your field.”

Department of Education officials have argued that critics are confusing licensing and hiring – school districts don’t have to hire minimally licensed teachers and administrators.

But it’s not hard to imagine they eventually could be forced to do so – passing on more qualified candidates because of budget restraints. It’s also no coincidence that provisions of REPA II are among the model bills pushed by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council.

Bennett has participated in activities of the national group, where mostly Republican lawmakers and business representatives meet to develop policy initiatives that inevitably benefit for-profit companies such as those that sell standardized tests and virtual learning programs.

While Pettibone was the only state board member to attend the June public hearings on the licensing proposal, he said he believed there were others who had concerns.

He also said he hoped Ritz will revisit the A-F school-grading program and the new requirement that third-graders pass a reading test to be promoted to fourth grade.

“I have confidence in many of the state board members that they are looking at what’s best for children in education,” he said. “I think they will be listeners and work with Glenda Ritz to make good decisions.”

If the Department of Education moves ahead with its licensing revision next month, the first step in listening to and working with Ritz would be to table REPA II – indefinitely.