State Board of Education member Gordon Hendry is doing a good thing by traveling around Indiana and meeting with teachers, administrators and school board members. Is he hearing what people say?
Friday he visited Bloomington High School North, from which he graduated in 1988. He met with administrators and a school board member, and talked with social studies teachers. Later, we spoke by phone about three big education issues facing the state.
Hendry said much of the discussion at North involved state-mandated evaluations that require all teachers to be rated highly effective, effective, needs improvement or ineffective. He said the trick will be to craft evaluations that are accurate but don’t discourage teachers from collaborating.
“I don’t think I heard anyone say we don’t believe we should be accountable,” he said. “They want evaluations to be fair and to measure the right things. To me that makes sense.”
The 2011 law that required the evaluations says teachers rated needs improvement or ineffective can’t get a raise. With successive low ratings, they can be fired.
“It’s not only to identify teachers who need help,” Hendry said. “Just as important, it’s to identify teachers who are really doing an outstanding job.”
When the first statewide evaluations were released last month, nearly all rated teachers were found to be effective or highly effective. Lawmakers and state board members said that can’t be right.
“We should not have a bell curve,” Hendry said, adding there should be no predetermined number of ineffective teachers. “But we should find a way to effectively measure teacher performance that’s fair.”
No Child Left Behind Waiver
The U.S. Department of Education said this month that Indiana was falling short of meeting requirements of its waiver from the No Child Left Behind law. The feds gave Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz 60 days to address the problems.
“It is really a huge issue, and one of great importance to the state of Indiana,” Hendry said. “I’m very worried about it. I think it’s not a slam dunk” that Indiana’s waiver will be extended.
State board members suggested Ritz was to blame for not meeting expectations regarding teacher evaluations, turnaround of low-performing schools and other matters. Hendry said there needs to be more of “a sense of urgency” in the state’s response.
But Indiana also has waiver problems not entirely of Ritz’s making. The legislature repealed Indiana’s adoption of the Common Core standards, forcing the state to show its new, hastily adopted standards are up to snuff. Also, the waiver calls for 2014-15 tests that align with “college and career ready” standards. But state law says Indiana will give the ISTEP tests, which don’t meet requirements.
Hendry was part of the majority when the state board voted 6-5 this month to include a “career specialist” permit in proposed teacher licensing rules. The permit would let college graduates with three years of work experience and no education training get a secondary teaching license.
“What we’re hearing is, there are people who want to enter the teaching profession,” Hendry said. “It’s really about opening it up a little bit, not a lot, and giving people some opportunity.”
A coalition that includes the Indiana State Teachers Association, the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents, the Indiana Urban Schools Association, the Indiana PTA and university teacher-prep programs opposes the permit, arguing it will put unqualified teachers in the classroom.
Deregulating teacher licensing also runs counter to how it’s done in countries that do well in international test-score comparisons. Finland, for example, requires teachers to earn a master’s degree, and its teacher-prep programs are rigorous and standardized.
Hendry said creating the new permit doesn’t force schools to hire teachers without education degrees. “The outcry has been overstated,” he said. “The sky is not falling.”
Maybe not, but “will not cause the sky to fall” doesn’t seem like the strongest argument for pushing through a policy with near-unanimous opposition from educators and public-school advocates. I welcome reader suggestions on what’s behind this idea.
The teacher licensing rules could go to the state board for final approval next month.