State board approves controversial changes to teacher certification rules

Job seekers who hold a four-year college degree and 3.0 GPA can now teach in Indiana classrooms once they pass a content knowledge exam — even if they haven’t been trained as an educator.

The Indiana State Board of Education approved the new rules at its monthly meeting Wednesday in Fort Wayne, over sharp objections from educators and community members who argued that the open-door policy could lead to unprepared teachers working with students.

“I think weakening entry rules to teaching and licensures is antithetical to what we’re trying to do with our students here in Indiana,” said Michelle Bandor, a Fort Wayne parent who spoke during the public comment part of the meeting. “We expect rigor from our students, and to expect less from our teachers’ training? That doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Superintendent Glenda Ritz was among the three board members to vote against the policy change, which came after several years of discussion about Indiana’s Rules for Education Preparation and Accountability, the guidelines that govern what it takes to teach in the state’s public schools. The new rules introduce a career specialist permit, or “adjunct” teacher license, that would go to candidates who know the material they would teach students but who do not have an education degree.

It was not the first time that the state board signed off on the changes. The rule changes originally passed in December 2012 at the last board meeting under then-Superintendent Tony Bennett, but a series of series of procedural glitches and challenges put them back on the table twice this year, first in May and again today.

Supporters of the adjunct permits say districts should have more choice in who they hire and argue that some talented candidates are scared away by the prospect of additional years of education. They also point to research showing that teachers’ expertise in their subject is an important predictor of student achievement.

But union members and educators in K-12 and higher education argue that the license would give rise to a two-tiered system in which not all educators in Indiana are held to the same training standards. John O’Neal, with the Indiana State Teachers Association, called it “reckless experimentation” with students.

Still, even some in the state with a stake in teacher training say they do not fear the new license. Dan Elsener, a board member who is president of Marian University, which mints many teachers each year, said he thought opening the door to teachers who have not attended education schools would not prevent educators with more traditional training from entering the classroom.

“Let’s give it a try and have some faith,” Elsener said. “I have faith teacher education programs will always be the superior option because they’ve had the training.”