Who Is In Charge

Educators blast teacher certification rules

Jill Shedd, executive secretary of the Indiana Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, testifies to state board members.

Opponents of changes to teacher licensing, which were pushed through by former state Superintendent Tony Bennett as one of his final acts before leaving Indiana, sought a retroactive veto Tuesday.

The rules brought a wave of protest in 2012, as educators complained that changes they outlined could hurt teacher quality by making it easier for those with no education background to become classroom teachers. Proponents say the rules give schools needed flexibility to hire would-be teachers who are talented and knowledgeable but could be scared off if getting a classroom job means years of study first.

The Indiana State Board of Education approved the rules last February. But Attorney General Greg Zoeller’s office objected to last minute changes by the state board and kicked the new rules back for fixes. The board was unable to meet his request by a March 31, 2013, deadline, requiring the entire year-long rule-making progress to be restarted.

The delay means angry educators get a second chance to try to dissuade the board from adopting the rules.

Teacher certification rules are back on display for public comment online and in person through a a series of public input meetings. At the second such meeting this morning at the Indiana Government Center, the feeling of educators, especially those who train future teachers, hadn’t changed much in a year’s time.

The deans of the education schools at Indiana University, Butler University and the University of Indianapolis again spoke against what they said were diminished expectations for those who want to be a superintendent, principal or teacher in Indiana.

“These provisions lower education standards in Indiana,” said Gerardo Gonzalez, dean of Indiana University’s school of education. “They require significantly less preparation, teaching and leadership experience than ever before. It is very strange in light of calls to recruit the best and brightest into teaching.”

The proposed rules

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz and fellow state board members Cari Whicker and David Frietas listened to the testimony from a table while state board staff recorded comments to be shared with the rest of the board.

Most of the 15 speakers objected to these provisions:

  • The adjunct permit. The rules allow anyone with a four-year college degree and a 3.0 GPA to teach if they pass a test of content knowledge. They do not need any background in teaching. Adjuncts are required to perform well on evaluations or lose the permit and they must get teacher training while on the job.
  • Leadership jobs. Those seeking to be superintendents who do not hold doctoral degrees could earn the job if they have at least a master’s degree, under the rules. For principals, a master’s degree would not longer be required.
  • Teaching fine arts. A requirement for specific training in art, music or theater would be dropped, instead allowing teachers to add those specialty areas to their licenses simply by passing a content exam.

The second group of teacher certification rule changes proposed by Bennett in 2012 were known as the Rules for Educator Preparation and Accountability, or REPA II. After Bennett’s defeat by Ritz in the 2012 election, he sought to finish the rule-making process begun nearly a year earlier in his last meeting as chairman of the state board that December.

Ritz, who was superintendent-elect but wouldn’t take office for another month, opposed the rule changes. In an unusual move, she spoke at the meeting, asking the board to delay and reconsider the rules after she took office. Instead the board approved the rules, but asked for some last-minute adjustments. Under state law, that started a clock by which the rules needed Zoeller’s approval by March 31 to go into effect.

Department staff brought new language incorporating the board’s December alterations that board members approved in February and the department sent them to Zoeller. But Zoeller sent them back, suggesting the board needed to vote one more time on a portion they approved without first reviewing.

Ritz said there was not enough time to arrange another board approval and the deadline passed. That forced the process to restart. At the April board meeting, board members sparred with Ritz about why the deadline was not met and whether there had been time for a board vote. It was the first of several tense exchanges with Ritz over her handling of board business that escalated over the summer of 2013.

Educator complaints

Nearly a year later, however, the teacher licensing issues have not changed at today’s hearing. Many educators still objected and worried that the changes will result in less qualified teachers in Indiana classrooms.

“Today we are saying we don’t need trained teachers, we don’t need trained administrators and we don’t need highly qualified educators teaching our children,” said J.T. Cooperman, executive director of the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents. “We’re not to be treated as a profession any longer. It’s demeaning.”

He wasn’t alone. Risa Regnier, assistant state superintendent, testified that the education department also opposed the rules, saying they could reduce the quality of future teachers and principals.

Ena Shelley, the dean of Butler’s education school, said the adjunct provision was unnecessary because other pathways, including emergency licenses and substitute teacher permits, allow schools to hire teachers with fewer qualifications when there are shortages. She said there was no evidence that the adjunct permit would benefit the state.

“There is no data that substantiates the need for this permit,” she said.

A couple of speakers supported some of the rules, including Sean Steele, a history teacher at Orleans High School, located about 45 minutes south of Bloomington.

Steele said he is an amateur artist and long had interest in teaching art. Since he’s already been a teacher for 18 years and passed the required content exam with a high score, Steele said the new rule would allow him to begin teaching art without any additional study.

“I’ve been an artist all my life,” he said. “Art should not be treated any differently than any other subjects.”

Once public input is complete, the state board will reconsider the rules and vote on them again. State board staff said that could come as early as March.

newark notes

In Newark, a study about school changes rings true — and raises questions — for people who lived them

PHOTO: Naomi Nix
Park Elementary principal Sylvia Esteves.

A few years ago, Park Elementary School Principal Sylvia Esteves found herself fielding questions from angst-ridden parents and teachers.

Park was expecting an influx of new students because Newark’s new enrollment system allowed parents to choose a K-8 school for their child outside of their neighborhood. That enrollment overhaul was one of many reforms education leaders have made to Newark Public Schools since 2011 in an effort to expand school choice and raise student achievement.

“What’s it going to mean for overcrowding? Will our classes get so large that we won’t have the kind of success for our students that we want to have?” Esteves recalls educators and families asking.

Park’s enrollment did grow, by about 200 students, and class sizes swelled along with it, Esteves said. But for the last two years, the share of students passing state math and English tests has risen, too.

Esteves was one of several Newark principals, teachers, and parents who told Chalkbeat they are not surprised about the results of a recent study that found test scores dropped sharply in the years immediately following the changes but then bounced back. By 2016, it found Newark students were making greater gains on English tests than they were in 2011.

Funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and conducted by Harvard researchers, the study also found the reforms had no impact on student math scores.

And while many Newark families and school leaders agree with the study’s conclusion — that students are making more progress now — they had very different ideas about what may have caused the initial declines, and why English growth was more obvious than math.

Supported by $200 million in private philanthropy, former superintendent Cami Anderson and other New Jersey officials in 2011 sought to make significant changes to the education landscape in Newark, where one third of more than 50,000 students attend privately managed charter schools. Their headline-grabbing reforms included a new teachers union contract with merit-based bonuses; the universal enrollment system; closing some schools; expanding charter schools; hiring new principals; requiring some teachers to reapply for their jobs; and lengthening the day at some struggling schools.

Brad Haggerty, the district’s chief academic officer, said the initial drop in student performance coincided with the district’s introduction of a host of changes: new training materials, evaluations, and curricula aligned to the Common Core standards but not yet assessed by the state’s annual test. That was initially a lot for educators to handle at once, he said, but teacher have adjusted to the changes and new standards.

“Over time our teaching cadre, our faculty across the entire district got stronger,” said Haggerty, who arrived as a special assistant to the superintendent in 2011.

But some in Newark think the district’s changes have had longer-lasting negative consequences.

“We’ve had a lot of casualties. We lost great administrators, teachers,” said Bashir Akinyele, a Weequahic High School history teacher. “There have been some improvements but there were so many costs.”

Those costs included the loss of veteran teachers who were driven out by officials’ attempts to change teacher evaluations and make changes to schools’ personnel at the same time, according to Sheila Montague, a former school board candidate who spent two decades teaching in Newark Public Schools before losing her position during the changes.

“You started to see experienced, veteran teachers disappearing,” said Montague, who left the school system after being placed in the district’s pool of educators without a job in a school. “In many instances, there were substitute teachers in the room. Of course, the delivery of instruction wasn’t going to even be comparable.”

The district said it retains about 95 percent of its highly-rated teachers.

As for why the study found that Newark’s schools were seeing more success improving English skills than math, it’s a pattern that Esteves, the Park Elementary principal, says she saw firsthand.

While the share of students who passed the state English exam at Park rose 13 percentage points between the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years, the share of students who were proficient in math only rose 3 percentage points in that time frame.

“[Math is] where we felt we were creeping up every year, but not having a really strong year,” she said. “I felt like there was something missing in what we were doing that could really propel the children forward.”

To improve Park students’ math skills, Esteves asked teachers to assign “math exemplars,” twice-a-month assignments that probed students’ understanding of concepts. Last year, Park’s passing rate on the state math test jumped 12 percentage points, to 48 percent.

While Newark students have made progress, families and school leaders said they want to the district to make even more gains.

Test scores in Newark “have improved, but they are still not where they are supposed to be,” said Demetrisha Barnes, whose niece attends KIPP Seek Academy. “Are they on grade level? No.”

Chalkbeat is expanding to Newark, and we’re looking for a reporter to lead our efforts there. Think it should be you? Apply here.  

Who Is In Charge

Indianapolis Public Schools board gives superintendent Ferebee raise, bonus

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is getting a $4,701 raise and a bonus of $28,000.

The board voted unanimously to approve both. The raise is a 2.24 percent salary increase. It is retroactive to July 1, 2017. Ferebee’s total pay this year, including the bonus, retirement contributions and a stipend for a car, will be $286,769. Even though the bonus was paid this year, it is based on his performance last school year.

The board approved a new contract Tuesday that includes a raise for teachers.

The bonus is 80 percent of the total — $35,000 — he could have received under his contract. It is based on goals agreed to by the superintendent and the board.

These are performance criteria used to determine the superintendent’s bonus are below: