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Indiana schools: Going fast, not far

Michael Pettibone is the only member of the Indiana State Board of Education who actually hires teachers and principals, so it would seem his views on educator licensing would carry some weight with fellow board members.

But the superintendent of Adams Central Community Schools couldn't convince any other member to table the licensing changes proposed by Superintendent Tony Bennett and the Indiana Department of Education. When the troubling rules came to a vote – with a slight amendment – only Pettibone and Cari Whicker, one of two teachers on the board, voted against them. They were right to do so – the rules lower the standards for teachers and administrators. Their implementation is contrary to all research supporting quality instruction as a way to bolster achievement, particularly for struggling students.

Other board members, notably public relations consultant Jo Blacketor, seemed irritated by the suggestion that the proposed rules should be tabled because Bennett lost his reelection bid to Glenda Ritz, a media specialist with Washington Township Schools.

Pettibone said that before Wednesday's meeting he was receiving as many as 30 emails a day – most of them mentioning the election results.

"That almost got in the way of the real point," he said today, noting there were much better reasons to delay the REPA II vote.

Of course, dozens of speakers at Wednesday's meeting offered better reasons.

"In the long-term, REPA II will diminish the teaching profession and make it more difficult to recruit the best and brightest into teaching," said Gerardo Gonzalez, dean of the Indiana University School of Education.

Remaining hopeful even after his effort to table the rules failed, Pettibone said the state board's authority to approve training programs – under the new superintendent's leadership – could be the silver lining. But he also said he's worried that bright young people won't choose to become teachers because of the changes.

Pettibone's pitch for holding off on REPA II included this bit of wisdom, borrowed from Superintendent Steve Yager of Southwest Allen County Schools:

"If you want to fast, go alone; if you want to go far, take others with you."

And the Indiana State Board of Education?

"Right now, we've gone fast," Pettibone said. "But I'm sure we can go far."

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at kfrancisco@jg.net.

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