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Gary Varvel | Indianapolis Star

State discounting education expertise


An overflow crowd of educators opposed to stripped-down teacher and school administrator licensing requirements couldn’t persuade the Indiana State Board of Education to delay a vote Wednesday on the weakened regulations.

The new rules don’t force any school districts to hire less-qualified educators, insisted board member Tony Walker, a Gary attorney. But the practical application means teachers and administrators in Indiana schools inevitably will be less educated, less experienced and less prepared to help students most in need of high-quality instruction.

The rules establish an “adjunct teacher permit” – available to anyone with a bachelor’s degree, grade-point average of 3.0 or higher and a passing score on a subject-area test. In addition, schools can now hire a principal – the person most responsible for supervising teachers – with only a bachelor’s degree and two years of teaching experience.

“There will be fewer people who go for the higher credentials,” said Vic Smith, a retired Indiana administrator. “The argument that it’s up to the local people just doesn’t work. The pool will eventually be diminished in quality.”

Even if better-qualified candidates are available, budget pressure could force local school districts to hire lesser-qualified educators. If the choice is between larger class sizes or hiring lower-paid “adjunct” teachers, school districts will undoubtedly be pressured to choose the latter.

The effect will be to discourage prospective teachers from enhancing their academic preparation for fear of making themselves unaffordable. That’s counter to the example of nations with top-performing schools, where highly educated master teachers are on the same professional level as lawyers and physicians.

Smith said the weakened requirements also place greater demands on the superintendents and principals who hire teachers. They no longer will be able to count on university-level teacher programs for screening out unqualified or unprepared candidates and will have to spend even more time supervising and assisting inexperienced teachers.

Not surprisingly, the only two votes against the revised rules came from practicing educators on the board – both from northeast Indiana.

Cari Whicker, a sixth-grade language arts teacher at Huntington’s Riverview Middle School, noted that she’s being evaluated by her principal just this week. She said she was bothered by the possibility of an administrator with just two years’ teaching experience evaluating teachers.

“He or she is going to be evaluating me five times a year, on a pretty stringent scale – which I appreciate, because it makes me a better teacher – but with two years of experience, that’s not a lot of experience for somebody to come in and be good at what they’re supposed to be good at,” Whicker said.

Michael Pettibone, superintendent of Adams Central Community Schools, is the only state board member currently in the position to hire a teacher or administrator.

“When I start thinking about ripple effects, and when I start thinking about where these people are coming from and what they are going to be coming to us with – that bothers me, because I really believe we don’t have much control over that,” Pettibone said. “I still believe there needs to be some fundamental expectations of all the people coming into the field of education.”

Countless speakers, including state Superintendent-elect Glenda Ritz, urged the board to table the proposal, but Pettibone’s effort to do so died for lack of a second.

A hastily offered motion to eliminate two licensing areas from those available simply by passing a test was quickly called for a vote by Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, who was presiding at his next-to-last board meeting. Following his election defeat, Bennett applied for the top schools post in Florida, an appointed position.

Vic Smith suggests the “shaky parliamentary procedure and imprecise motions” could portend legal problems for the new licensing rules. Even if no challenge arises, the episode has left many educators, parents and community members justifiably angry over lowered standards for Indiana schools.