The sweeping set of teacher licensing changes for Indiana, which I first blogged about here last July, has officially been signed into law. Frankly, I’m surprised, on two levels.
First, although this proposal flew mainly under the radar in Indiana, it was quite polarizing. The public, especially parents of school-aged kids, seemed mainly to be in favor of the bill; while teachers, teacher unions, and university education professors were quite vocally against it. Usually something this divisive doesn’t make it to being signed into law, or else it gets gutted and compromised first. But I can’t find any changes that were made between the bill and the law. It looks like what we saw is what we will get.
Second, it was pretty clear if you scratched the surface of this bill that one of its reasons for being was to put Indiana in a position to get Race to the Top money from the Federal government. Once Indiana was declared out of the running for that money, I figured the bill would get dropped, or else gutted/compromised. But apparently not so.
There will be winners and losers as these changes are implemented. As I said back in July, probably the biggest losers will be the education departments at large universities, which are constructed for the sole purpose of preparing preservice teachers to fulfill the outgoing licensing requirements. Now that the pedagogy coursework requirements for education majors will be drastically reduced, so will the workloads of many of the profs in those departments, and one wonders what happens next. The smaller colleges, like mine, will be fine. Our education faculty are generalists by necessity, and most of our secondary education degrees — which will no longer exist — are just one or two courses shy of a content major anyway. The big winners in this are going to be:
- People who want to become teachers but lack the time, resources, or willpower to follow the traditional — and highly regimented and lengthy — coursework for an education degree. Many of these are students who come to my college wanting to get a degree in math or science and eventually find their way into teaching, and who walk away disappointed that preparing to become a teacher is an all-or-nothing proposition — you can’t just “pick up a teaching license” in a content area. You either choose to invest dozens of credit hours in education courses or you stay out of teaching. I will be very happy to tell all of my highly talented math and engineering students that as of today, if you want to become a teacher, you can.
- Indiana college students, who now have more career options open to them. College students who trained to become teachers but who later want to leave the profession for something else will have a content degree to fall back upon. Those with, or who are working on, content degrees won’t have to make the all-or-nothing choice I mentioned above; if they decide later in their degree program to become teachers, they can.
- Indiana school kids, especially high school kids who are now guaranteed to have teachers who will now be just as proficient in their subject areas as a beginning practitioner of the discipline working in business, industry, or government or going to graduate school. We all realize that content competence (if not mastery) is not a sufficient condition for good teaching; but it is a necessary condition, and far too often that condition is not met. No longer!
This is a big net win for Indiana.
Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett is announcing today a plan to overhaul the state’s system for teacher licensure. The announcement is here, and there are three PDF’s linked at the bottom of that page that go into more depth. [Update: There’s now a 7-minute video of the press conference at this site as well.] And here’s an Indianapolis Star article (written prior to the announcement, so it’s a bit short on detail) that gives a thumbnail overview and some reactions from local education people. Those reactions seem pretty heated, and when you read the details of the program, you can begin to understand why.
The first point listed in the plan, and the one that seems to have the most impact, is that requirements for content knowledge for pre-service teachers are going to be ratcheted up several notches. Secondary education teachers will now be required to earn a baccalaureate degree in a content area — not in education — and earn a minor in education. Elementary education majors may do this as well, or earn a baccalaureate degree in education with a minor in a content area. Those aspiring to change careers into teaching do not have to get any formal coursework in education at all, but rather be certified by the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence, which involves holding a baccalaureate degree (in any subject) and then passing a teaching exam and attending teaching workshops. In addition, the very definition of a “major” or “minor” in education will be changed: A degree in education can have no more than 30 hours in pedagogy, and a minor can have no more than 15. This new system, along with the other changes in the plan I didn’t just mention, would be put into place on July 1, 2010.
In a word: Whoa. These are some monumental changes to the way things are currently done here in Indiana. And that’s not all. There is more to the proposal than what I mentioned above — in particular, a big change is that the PRAXIS I exam will no longer be required, and there’s an end to a portfolio and mentoring requirement that I know firsthand new teachers hate — but let me give some quick thoughts about the changes I did mention, which affect directly those of us involved with training new teachers.
- The change in degree requirement for secondary education teachers is huge. Consider the Mathematics Teaching major at my college. As it is, students in this program take 24 hours of “professional secondary education” courses (including methods courses, instructional strategies, etc.) along with several semesters of field experiences plus internships in education. Most, if not all, of the courses in the “professional” category would probably be considered “pedagogy” courses under this new system (although there’s no clear definition of that term). Under the new system, all of that would be replaced with an education minor that consists of no more than 15 hours of pedagogy courses. This is effectively cutting the “professional secondary education” courseload for these students by half or more.
- Like I said, this is huge — for both students and faculty. Students wanting to be secondary educators are now going to have much more flexible schedules and greater choice. And if, previously, a secondary education content major was heavy on the education and light on the content area, the whole world will be changing for students in that major. For us, our Math Education degree is just one course away (an independent research project) from a Mathematics degree; students in Math Education usually just double-major, so this change is not going to affect us much. But it could completely change the landscape for other programs where the math (or science or whatever) education major is something like half of the associated content area major plus a bunch of education courses.
- It’s also huge for faculty. Now you can see why some of the teacher education people might be very concerned. Their pedagogy courses are going to be depopulated. And the effect will be far worse at larger schools, where education professors tend to specialize more and you might have some profs whose entire course load, year in and year out, consists of pedagogy courses — courses that are now being taken by only a fraction of the former number of people. If universities were like industry, we’d simply lay off, reassign, or let go the profs whose services are no longer needed. But what if such a prof has tenure? Things get complicated.
- I think the change to allow ABCTE certification is brilliant. I have talked to dozens of students and their parents who are thinking about going into teaching, but they aren’t sure, so they want to major in a content area and then “go back and get a teaching certificate later” if they felt the call. It is painful to have to explain that, in Indiana, you can’t just “go back and get a teaching certificate”. Well, now you can. (Assuming this all passes.) This is an excellent way especially to get more teachers in math and science. I know a lot of scientists and engineers who have wanted to get out of industry and into teaching, but the amount of coursework required was a real hindrance. Now there is an alternate route.
- The speed of the timeline is shocking. If this goes through, this upcoming academic year will be the last one in which the traditional secondary education majors exist. That’s got to be a major jolt to the system for many colleges, especially the education departments. But it becomes less shocking when you read the “Licensing Summary” PDF and see that the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program, and the tons of money contained therein for states with “streamlined” licensing processes, is listed there. They want to get this deal done quickly so they can be better positioned for money from this program.
A telling statement from Pat Rogan, executive associate dean of the education school at IUPUI, was in the Indy Star article: that the proposed limits of 30 credit hours of pedagogy in education courses for education majors and 15 for education minors would “put educators without essential teaching skills into classrooms”. Seriously? It takes more than 30 credit hours — the equivalent of an entire academic year of coursework if the student took nothing but pedagogy courses, 15 hours a week solid for nine months — to convey “essential teaching skills”? Somebody needs to send a memo back to the great one-room schoolhouse teachers from 100 years ago, and all the successful homeschooling parents today, letting them know that they are badly lacking in their preparation and need more pedagogy courses. Perhaps the gist of this entire plan is to say to education schools: Align your conception of what constitutes “essential teaching skills” with reality, and then redesign your programs to match.