Teachers confront Indiana education officials over literacy license requirements

Three young students work at their desks in a classroom with posters on the back wall.
Indiana lawmakers this year expanded a requirement that new teachers earn a literacy endorsement to include all elementary and special education teachers who are renewing their licenses. But some educators say that approach is too broad and burdensome. (FatCamera / Getty Images)

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A new Indiana law requiring some teachers to learn about teaching literacy in order to renew their licenses drew hours of criticism from educators at Wednesday’s State Board of Education meeting.

State lawmakers this year expanded a requirement that new teachers earn a literacy endorsement to include all elementary and special education teachers who are renewing their licenses. It was part of their effort to address declining literacy scores by implementing science of reading practices.

Under the law, teachers renewing their licenses must earn an Early Literacy Endorsement by 2027. They can do so through a third-party professional development program that’s free through 2025. They will also receive a $1,200 stipend for completing this training.

This new requirement wasn’t on the state board’s agenda Wednesday. But in extended public comments, elementary and special education teachers said the new 80-hour Keys to Literacy training and PRAXIS exam were hardships, especially during the summer, when many teachers teach summer school, work second jobs, or take planned vacations. Moreover, the free courses are full, some said.

“I’m teaching summer school so I can afford to live near my place of work,” said Maya Simon, a special education teacher in Indianapolis. “Your free training feels like a slap in the face to someone who has earned an [associate of arts degree], a bachelor’s, a master’s, and a license in special education.”

Teachers also argued that the requirement is too broad. Elementary teachers of subjects like math and music said the training was irrelevant to their work, and that their time could be better spent on professional development related to their subject areas. They pointed out that they were taking away training spots from reading teachers who actually needed them.

Addressing the dozens of gathered teachers prior to the meeting’s public comment period, Secretary of Education Katie Jenner reiterated concerns about reading scores in Indiana, which have been in decline for more than a decade.

In conjunction with the new requirements for teachers, Indiana passed stricter requirements this year on holding back third graders who don’t demonstrate key reading skills.

Representatives from the nonprofit advocacy groups Stand for Children and the Institute for Quality Education, meanwhile, urged the board Wednesday to keep the literacy requirements intact, saying rigorous training is necessary to teach reading.

Jenner said almost 12,000 teachers signed up for the Keys to Literacy training in three weeks, and that the state is adding cohorts.

“I saw some people joking that it’s harder to get signed up for this than to get Taylor Swift tickets,” she said.

She said the state board was willing to hear solutions and ideas.

Teachers said the state should provide flexibility for teachers to meet the literacy requirement, and account for teacher expertise and professional development already offered at schools. They also urged board members to expand early learning opportunities, including lowering the mandated age of school entry from 7 to 5.

Guidance from the state education department says teachers who don’t meet the literacy requirement by 2027 may be eligible for a grace period, though details about that flexibility haven’t been finalized.

“No other profession is going to be okay with being told, not only do you have to do this to keep your license, but you have to do it outside your contracted hours,” said Cory Freihaut, a special education teacher who works three jobs. “I understand we’re getting a stipend, but … that’s like $15 an hour. I make more than that at the pizza shop I do on the weekends.”

Aleksandra Appleton covers Indiana education policy and writes about K-12 schools across the state. Contact her at aappleton@chalkbeat.org.

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