EDITORIAL: Teacher certification proposal deserves OK

August 29, 2009

Indiana’s top education official, Tony Bennett, ruffled feathers last month when he proposed increasing teacher expertise in math, science and other subjects, and stripping red tape from teacher certification and hiring of administrators.

Among the changes, people with majors in math, science and other desired fields could be certified as long as they have a minor in education. Or they could receive streamlined teacher training through private companies approved by the state, bypassing traditional education colleges.

School boards also would be given greater latitude to hire administrators from outside the traditional pool of candidates.

Predictably, colleges of education want to hang onto revenue they receive to recertify teachers as well as the majors who move through their programs.

Superintendents don’t want competition from candidates outside of education.

However, their objections don’t stand up to scrutiny, and the status quo is hurting education.

When the Professional Standards Board meets Sept. 3 to vote whether to begin a formal process to revamp the standards, it should waste no time in getting the process off to an energetic start.

A public comment period will be followed by a debate within the board itself, and ultimately a vote whether to adopt a final set of changes. The changes then would need to be approved by Gov. Mitch Daniels, Attorney General Greg Zoeller and the Legislative Services Agency. If all goes well, the proposals could be in place by next July.

It seems whenever a new round of test scores shows little or no improvement, educators circle the wagons and, in effect, say, “We’re disappointed, too, but our job is tough, so don’t expect too much from us.”

Bennett’s proposals would open the system to new blood and deeper expertise. These improvements won’t solve all the problems, but they will help.

It’s difficult to argue with Bennett’s sense of urgency. Not only is school performance treading water, but a fourth of the state’s math and science teachers are expected to retire within five years. Other specialties will see even higher attrition.

As school systems across the state backfill the positions, students need the best talent available.

Indiana has passed some of the highest education standards in the nation; now, school systems need firepower to help students attain the standards. Opening teaching positions to those with expertise in a field and the desire to help children is common sense. So is giving school boards the option to hire administrators who don’t come up through the ranks.

There’s another reason to give Bennett’s ideas serious consideration. National Education Secretary Arne Duncan has made it clear that states that “limit alternative routes for teachers and principals” will be at a competitive disadvantage. These kinds of statements should make Indiana officials wary of crossing the feds and undermining potential to land grants and other funding.

Bennett’s proposal is the direction education is headed.•


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