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Bad education policy, continued

Sen. Jim Banks, director of business development for a Fort Wayne construction company, has no background in teacher preparation or certification, but it didn't stop him from offering a bill that would upend the entire process in Indiana.

In Senate bill 409, he wants to shift the responsibility for teacher licensing from the state to teacher preparation programs.

Why? Banks, a Columbia City Republican, didn't offer an explanation in a meeting with our editorial board, but it's not hard to guess. So-called education reformers are all about accountability. They would like nothing better than to tie particular teacher education programs to struggling schools. It would harm any efforts to place the best teacher candidates in classrooms with the greatest needs, but improving Indiana schools is not their intent.

Senate Bill 409 is more bad education policy from the Indiana Statehouse. It needs to end.

The bill is scheduled for amend and vote only at Wednesday's Senate Education Committee meeting.

Here's what Dean Gerardo Gonzalez of the Indiana University School of Education had to say about Banks' bill, from remarks before the Senate committee last week:

Thank you for allowing me a few moments to address the proposed Senate Bill 409 dealing with

the licensing of Indiana teachers. As dean of the Indiana University School of Education, I would like to express my deep concern about this proposal. In short, it is a proposal likely to weaken teacher quality, drive our best teaching candidates out of state, and cost students and taxpayers much more money.

It is not clear why there is a need for this legislation. If this bill passed, Indiana would be the only state in the country removing initial teacher licensing from the state level and placing it in the hands of teacher preparation programs. We have examined the policies of the other 49 states and cannot find a single example of a similar policy. Although there are reports that Michigan may have tried this at some point in the past, it is the case today that all states are responsible for setting minimum standards of quality for entry into the profession of teaching and issuing initial teaching licenses. Licensure is the instrument states use to effectively and efficiently regulate various fields of professional practice, including teaching.

While we should be education innovators, reforms should enhance children's education and not hurt it. Removing a central state role over initial teacher licensure would mean uneven standards of preparation and many more hands touching the licensure process. It is unlikely that having many different institutions issuing licenses would maintain a consistent level of minimum quality for entry into the profession of teaching. Such a failure would potentially subject Indiana students to increasing numbers of unqualified and ineffective teachers. We cannot and should not use Hoosier schoolchildren as part of an experiment to determine if a new system of initial teaching licensing works. Professional licensure is a tried and true system of minimal and reasonable regulation all states exercise to protect the public. In the case of teacher licensure we're talking about the protection of our most vulnerable citizens, children.

If Indiana chose such a path as proposed in SB 409 for teacher licensing, we would also harm students in our education programs who come from other states or wish to teach in other states. The standard policy in most states for teaching license reciprocity is that the initial license issued to a new teacher must be equivalent to its own. The Illinois Department of Education, for example, demands that licenses from other states be "comparable" to the ones it issues. Many other states are even more explicit. My former state of Florida, for instance, requires that to get a teaching license there, a teacher from another state must have a license that is "issued by the other state." Indiana's first‐of‐its‐kind teacher licensing law would almost certainly not be comparable to other states and the license would not be issued by the state. While our many out‐of‐state teacher education students are attracted to Indiana by the great reputation of several of its universities and education schools, that would discourage them from coming. The adverse economic impact of such a loss of out‐of‐state students would be tremendous.

Many of those out‐of‐state students fall in love with Indiana, get a job here, get married or for sundry other reasons end up teaching in the state. Thus we would be closing a pipeline of academically talented students, more of whom we desperately need in teaching, to practice their profession in Indiana.

The reverse is also true. What about a teacher licensed under this system, who lives in Terre Haute and finds a job in Illinois, in Richmond who finds a job in Ohio? They are out of luck. Or a Hoosier licensed under this system, gets married, and moves out of state? What about the spouses of our military men and women, who are deployed all over the country? Any prospective in‐state teacher education student, might well figure going out of state for their education is a better option because the initial license in any other state would allow him or her to transfer their licenses across state lines. Many of those students would then find teaching jobs or otherwise be attracted to the states where they attend college never to return to Indiana.

It would be a shame if after a very public debate over the important role Rules for Educator Preparation and Accountability play in improving teacher quality, we would take action that would lower standards and discourage the best and brightest from seeking a teaching degree in state. Potentially, SB 409 could have the effect of discouraging many of our best teachers from ever setting foot in an Indiana classroom.

Finally, this measure works against one of the key matters concerning the legislature in recent years. At a time of diminished resources, efficiency in government could not be more important.

Passage of this bill would remove a small bureaucracy and replace it with a large one. According to the Indiana Department of Education, there are 47 approved teacher preparation programs for the state. In other words, SB 409 would make the relatively small IDOE office of teacher licensure 47 times larger and spread it in offices across the state. Of course neither the IU School of Education nor any of the other education schools in the state have budgeted for the kind of personnel and training that will be necessary. Everyone – the universities and the state government – will have to spend more resources to license teachers and less to prepare them for the classroom.

Such a move works directly against two great concerns of our state governmental leaders.

Lawmakers have worked diligently to reduce cost at all levels of government, but this would most certainly make a teacher education degree and teacher licensing more expensive. The increased costs would either go to Indiana taxpayers or directly to students at our higher education institutions. We should be looking for greater efficiencies not creating structures that will virtually guarantee higher taxes or tuition.

Put simply, this bill would harm Indiana's K‐12 students, reduce the state's young teaching talent, and cost Hoosier taxpayers and parents in both money and education quality. This bill does not deserve the support of the Indiana General Assembly because it would harm education in Indiana.

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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