Indiana teacher licensing issue a test for compromise

Indiana Superintendent-elect of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz has been reaching out for post-election compromise. A Democrat, she says she looks forward to working with Republicans who control the legislature and the State Board of Education. Now there’s a chance for the other side to reciprocate.

On Dec. 5, the state board may take up Indiana’s Rules for Educator Preparation and Accountability, or REPA II, a major policy changed pushed by Superintendent Tony Bennett, who lost to Ritz on Nov. 6. The board could approve REPA II; or it could hold off and let Ritz make a case for what she wants to do.

The proposed rules would ease requirements for getting a teaching license in Indiana. Under one provision, college graduates could get a license by passing a standardized test, without taking courses in education. Under another, a licensed teacher could become certified to teach in other areas — special education, for example — by passing a test, without specialized training.

State officials say the proposal, which mirrors model legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council, will give schools flexibility to hire teachers who can be effective even if they haven’t studied education. Opponents say it makes no sense to lower standards for the teaching profession at a time when Indiana and other states are raising expectations for students and schools.

Department of Education spokeswoman Stephanie Sample said the board’s Dec. 5 agenda won’t be posted until a couple of days before the meeting, as is customary. “At this point, we aren’t certain what the discussion and action items will be,” she told School Matters.

Ritz, who takes office in January, spoke against REPA II this summer to the state legislature’s Select Commission on Education, calling it “degrading” to the teaching profession. Gerardo Gonzalez, dean of the Indiana University School of Education, noted in a letter to the Indianapolis Star that nearly everyone who testified at a June 21 public hearing thought REPA II was a bad idea. He called on the board to delay action until Ritz is inaugurated. “Then, under her leadership, it should table REPA II for good,” he wrote.

So many people spoke at the June 21 hearing that it lasted well over two hours, even though witnesses were limited to three minutes each. Opposing REPA II were representatives of teachers, principals, superintendents, school boards, school nurses, teacher-education programs and, especially, special-education teachers and parents of special-needs children.

Only one State Board of Education member, Mike Pettibone, was at the hearing. Bennett, who, as superintendent, chairs the board, didn’t take part.

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