Another Helping of Hoosiers: Teacher Licensure, Common Core, and More

By Andrew Ujifusa — March 10, 2014 5 min read
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In addition to the article I just wrote on Indiana’s turbulent political and policy environment, here are some additional issues and quotes from various K-12 officials and others I talked to for the piece:

• There’s one major issue that I didn’t mention in the March 10 article that deserves a bit of discussion: Teacher licensure. In fact, the Indiana state school board is slated to discuss teacher licensure issues on March 12. It’s an issue that hasn’t gotten the spotlight as much over the last year or so, but the last time changes to teacher licensure were an issue at the state board level late in 2012, it also caused controversy.

In December 2012, during the last board meeting overseen by then-Superintendent Tony Bennett, the state board approved changes to that licensure process, known as REPA II, that would have allowed individuals without a master’s degree in education to teach if they passed certain tests. But Superintendent Glenda Ritz (D) never completed the process to actually make those changes in law by the required date early in 2013, a move that frustrated state board members. At the time, Ritz said that while she didn’t intentionally slow-walk the process, she also didn’t like the changes in REPA II.

When I asked Teresa Meredith, the president of the Indiana State Teachers Association and one of Ritz’s close allies, about Ritz’s biggest accomplishments so far, she cited REPA II’s failure. Meredith described the superintendent’s actions as “cleaning up a previous mess,” although again, Ritz said she didn’t intentionally stall the process.

So, will there be another policy fight pitting Ritz against state board members over teacher licensure? True, some members of the board have changed since it passed REPA II in 2012. But those new members were appointed by Gov. Mike Pence (R), and it’s not clear they share Meredith’s views about REPA II. In fact, when I asked Gordon Hendry, a member of the state board and a Democrat like Ritz, the same question about what Ritz’s signature accomplishments as superintendent have been, Hendry said he couldn’t think of one.

You can see the REPA III proposals and how they compare to past efforts below:

• On that note, both Hendry and Rep. Robert Behning (R), the chairman of the House education committee, said they would support considering a move to eliminate the election for state superintendent, and instead allow the governor to make appointments to Ritz’s position. (Right now, 12 states hold elections for state superintendent, and eight of those are partisan elections.)

Behning noted that he’s introduced legislation to make that change, although he said that right now, the timing isn’t right for the shift because it would look like “sour grapes” from Republicans in the wake of Ritz’s 2012 victory. Still, he said of gubernatorial candidates in the state, “They campaign on education ... we don’t elect a federal secretary of education.”

Behning also emphasized that during better, more cohesive times for the Indiana GOP on education policy under Gov. Mitch Daniels, it took a “broad consensus” to enact various policy changes, despite the national prominence of former Superintendent Tony Bennett.

“Tony gets credit for almost all of them ... but Tony doesn’t have a vote,” Behning told me.

• When I spoke with officials from the Indiana Center on Education and Career Innovation, the agency Ritz has clashed with on key issues, they struck a conciliatory note while also making it clear that they had very broad responsibilities that extended to community college and other areas where Ritz doesn’t have the same responsibilities she does over K-12.

For example, both Claire Fiddian-Green and Jackie Dowd, who together lead the CECI and are special assistants to Gov. Pence, stressed that one of their goals is to make sure the state’s entire educational system is “being responsive to what industry is saying,” as Dowd put it. In addition, the agency also sees its role as making sure existing educational governance structures are functioning optimally across the P-20 system—that’s alphanumeric talk for preschool through higher education.

And the CECI also wants to raise more awareness about various K-12 issues, such as workforce readiness, by broadening its audience.

“We want to be able to do more public-facing reports,” Dowd told me.

• As for common core and new tests? It’s hard for me to over-emphasize the positive views state officials have about the process that’s led the state to move away from its 2010 adoption of the common standards. Fiddian-Green said she was confident the state would agree on “the specific standards that our students need to know,” and that the state’s attention to detail in crafting the new draft standards is unprecedented in her view.

“There are only so many ways you can express what a student is supposed to be able to do at grade level,” state board member Brad Oliver told me.

Meredith said that her concern is ultimately what teachers are going to be judged on. When asked about what she envisioned for a new state assessment to replace the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress (ISTEP) assessment in the 2015-16 school year, Meredith, said that one option might be for the state to select at least some test questions from a pool provided by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.

Jacqueline King, a spokeswoman for Smarter Balanced, said that if Indiana desires, it could get access to the consortium’s secure bank of test questions for the same fee as Smarter Balanced’s members, or $6.20 a student. It could then build its own assessment based on those questions. Under that scenario, Indiana wouldn’t use Smarter Balanced’s actual assessment. King told me that grades 3, 4, 6, and 7, Missouri will develop its own statewide summative test, but use Smarter Balanced’s pool of test questions to do so.

Remember, however, that Smarter Balanced is a common-core aligned test. Indiana drastically curtailed its role in the other testing consortium developing tests aligned to the common core, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.Will the state ultimately switch from one explicitly common-core test to questions from another explicitly common-core test, given the tricky common-core politics in Indiana?

Now, when I asked Behning about a new statewide test, he told me that he was confident the legislature wouldn’t get involved, given lawmakers’ lack of expertise in assessment. But when I asked him whether the same couldn’t have been said of common core, a policy where legislators ultimately took a great deal of action after the state’s 2010 adoption of the standards, Behning highlighted the state board’s inability to build a broader consensus to support the common core sooner.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.