Education leaders say no quick fix on teacher issue

Two top Indiana education officials said Monday that concerns about fewer new teachers entering the profession won't be simple to address.

Several education experts spoke before a state legislative committee considering the situation that's drawn attention after the Indiana Department of Education reported a 33 percent drop in the number of initial teacher licenses issued since 2009.

The state's colleges have seen similar drops in students seeking teaching degrees over the past decade, and changing that trend will be a complex task, said Teresa Lubbers, Indiana's higher education commissioner.

"Our urge is to look for a simple answer, to rush to one decision point. That would just not be a thoughtful consideration of what is a very complicated issue," said Lubbers, a former Republican state senator.

Several school districts around the state have reported having difficulty filling some teaching vacancies, especially for special education, math and science.

Some blame the decline in new teachers on school overhaul actions such as additional standardized testing of students and linking teacher pay raises to how their students perform on the test that have been adopted by the Republican-dominated Legislature in recent years.

Sen. Mark Stoops, D-Bloomington, a member of the legislative committee, said he believed worries about job satisfaction were a key factor in the drop.

"We have so sharply and harshly criticized teachers and we spend so much of our time with these punitive assessments," Stoops said.

Republican legislators and some educators have disputed such arguments, pointing to similar shortages in other states.

Sandi Jacobs, vice president of the conservative-affiliated National Council on Teacher Quality, told the committee that California has seen drops in teaching-degree enrollments in colleges and it doesn't have teacher assessment rules such as Indiana.

"I think local context certainly matters, but it is a much bigger question to answer," she said.

Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, a Democrat, is leading a separate commission of educators she appointed to study the teacher shortage question.

Ritz told the legislative committee that it would have recommendations later this year, with initial suggestions that include paring down the number of standardized tests for students and not using those test results in teacher evaluations.

Other suggestions Ritz discussed involved improving career advancement opportunities for educators and doing more to recognize advanced training by teachers.

Legislators could consider steps to address those suggestions and others during the General Assembly's session that starts in January.

"We will go ahead and provide a report with our full recommendations," Ritz said. "From there, I assume the conversation will begin with legislative action and what that might look like."

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