Debate heats up over revamped teacher license rule

Indiana schools chief Tony Bennett has never been afraid to ruffle a few feathers.

Since taking office in January,
he’s frustrated some school districts by changing a snow day policy and annoyed some lawmakers by opposing charter school

But Bennett’s latest proposal — one that would revamp teacher licensing standards — has sparked
fierce opposition and created a turf battle between teacher colleges and the Department of Education that could come to a
head Monday when the state holds its final public hearing on the issue in Indianapolis.

Hundreds of people have
spoken out against the proposal, which calls for limiting the amount of teaching-method courses that future teachers take
in college, as well as other changes.

Bennett, a Republican, said elementary education majors need to take more
classes in the subjects they’ll teach and that pedagogy — how to teach — should be limited to no more than 30
required credit hours combined of classes and student teaching. Under his plan, future teachers who want to teach middle school
or high school would have to major in a subject area, such as math or English, and earn a minor in education.

University School of Education Dean Gerardo Gonzalez said it’s "ludicrous" for Bennett to dictate the school’s curriculum
and essentially erode the school’s secondary education major, which he said has about 200 students.

Bennett said
he’s just looking out for Indiana’s schoolchildren.

"What effect this has on the IU School of Education really
isn’t my concern," Bennett said. "Probably some of this is a turf battle. They don’t want to be told what to teach."

Gonzalez said IU uses sound research and feedback from students to create its curriculum — not an arbitrary
limit on credit hours.

"The role of the state is to set high standards for teachers, then let the universities
assign the curriculum," he said.

The Indiana Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, a group that includes
public and private schools with teacher programs, also opposes many parts of the plan, said Kathy Moran, the group’s president-elect
and education dean at the University of Indianapolis.

Licensing changes earlier this decade shifted the focus from
dictating the number and type of courses college students take before becoming teachers to results measuring whether those
teachers are prepared, Moran said. Bennett’s proposal goes the opposite direction, she said.

"It’s really
more a matter of taking us backward," Moran said.

The Indiana Department of Education says education schools
have piled on pedagogy classes in recent years, and that it’s trying to find the appropriate balance.

don’t have to create a three-hour class for each and every individual skill that a teacher needs to have," Bennett said.

Gonzalez maintains that IU’s education majors often take more subject classes than those majoring in the field. Former
education students sometimes say they wish they had taken more courses in classroom management or other teaching methods but
never complain about a lack of subject knowledge, he said.

Teachers must pass Praxis II subject matter exams before
getting their license, and 100 percent of IU’s education graduates pass the test, Gonzalez said. He thinks the state should
simply raise the minimum passing scores on the exams if officials think teachers need a better understanding of the subjects
they teach.

The state is considering doing just that, said Department of Education spokesman Cam Savage. Higher
cut scores partnered with the new licensing rules would help ensure teachers are learning more content, Savage said.

Higher passing scores are not part of Bennett’s current plan, but several other changes are part of the proposal.

The plan would allow school boards to hire principals and superintendents from business backgrounds or other careers outside
the traditional education system. It also would allow current teachers to count certain professional development programs
toward license renewal, possibly saving them money on tuition-based courses.

The Indiana State Teachers Association
says it has concerns about some aspects of the plan but is trying to work with Bennett on compromises.

The Indiana
Professional Standards Board will consider comments from the public hearings and the more than 800 comments submitted online
before making any changes to the proposal.

Gonzalez said he hoped to see major revisions.

must take this testimony seriously," he said. "It would make a mockery of the entire process if we have thousands
of people testify and at the end of the day it doesn’t get taken seriously."

If the board approves some version
of the plan and it clears other hurdles, the changes would take effect July 1, 2010.

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