Friday, December 7, 2012

Tony Bennett's Swan Song

Wednesday I went with friends to testify at the state school board meeting on REPA2.  It was a big crowd.  As I wrote in my last entry to this blog, those of us in the public who were paying close attention were outraged that the Board had decided on Tuesday to change the agenda and vote on REPA2 first, allowing for public comments last.  In my typical fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants mode, I arrived with a notebook, prepared to write my "speech" while the meeting was going on.  Upon arrival, however,  it was announced that they were switching it up yet again--with comments now at the beginning of the meeting! Attended by ALL of the school board members, including Dr. Bennett himself,  it was standing room only (though I was sitting on the floor.. furiously writing).

One after another, the speakers testified about their concerns around the lowering of teacher quality with REPA2 and asked for it to be tabled.  The only naysayers were predictable players.  A teacher who was able to teach somewhere without a teaching background (a plant?), someone from the organization Students First (a misnomer if ever there was one) and the vice president of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce who thought this would help the quality of teachers (based on... his research in Education? Not.).  Phyllis Bush of NEIFPE (Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education) did a great job with her comments "This seems like a solution in search of a problem" as did many others. We had members of ICPE-MCSCI speak eloquently as well: Wendy Marencik, Bob Shanks, and Melissa Keller among them.  I finally scrambled together my piece which was difficult to read (ha!) but here is what I said (some of you have asked):

My name is Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer and I am a mother of four children in public schools.  I represent my friends who could not be here because they are either at work or at home with their many others across the state.

I entrust my children to the care of professionals, their teachers, every day.  It appalls me that we could expect someone who has passed one test in a subject to be a qualified teacher.  There is so much more to teaching than can be placed on a test.  Teachers need to be experts in child development and in different methods that work for different learning styles.  Teaching is not a quantifiable science of input and output.  It is a complex activity, involving complex human interaction.  Student teachers need to learn from mentor teachers on the job, because it is one thing to pass a test in a content matter you are passionate about, and it is an entirely different thing to try to get that content across to a room full of 13 year-olds. 

I assume REPA2 is another example of the business model taking over education.  I have seen this lowering of teacher quality on model bills created by ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council)--an organization which would see all public schools turned into for-profit ventures.  This "flexibility" of licensing teachers probably means flexibility of businesses to create different modes of teacher training like Teach for America.  This complete disregard for already established programs of schools of education is a disregard for the profession as a whole.  I am sure that businesses in the Chamber of Commerce can create the strategic plans and outlines for making profits--but I don't understand how they can begin to assume they are experts in education and all the research that points to quality teacher programs; research which does NOT support REPA2 in any way.

The fact is that schools are not factories outputting workers for our economy--they are places of learning where experts in child development help kids learn and grow to be the citizens of tomorrow.  The bottom line for business is profit.  The bottom line for schools is children.  Teachers educational background must be as deep and rich as the learning they will help to encourage on the job.  Don't buy this business model of a low-skilled replaceable laborer..easily and cheaply replaced by the next Pearson-backed teacher program test-taker.  

Teaching is an art and a service.  Teachers are professionals.  My children's education is not a commodity to be bought and sold---nor should their teachers' education be.

***** After all the testimony, board member Mike Pettibone was the only person who spoke to the concerns of so many.  He voiced his concerns about voting on something that was not the final draft (how can that even be allowed?).  He told the board that the morale of teachers is at an all-time low and said something to the effect that they could argue as to why that is, but that it is a fact and they need to accept it and think about how to address it.  When he mentioned that he had met with governor-elect Mike Pence and he quoted Superintendent Steve Yager: "If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, take others with you" a friend of mine who could see better said that Dr. Bennett rolled his eyes.  Pettibone motioned to table REPA2 until a final draft could be seen and no one seconded.  The board members looked straight ahead and would not give him eye contact.  Cari Whicker, a newer member of the board, did not second it although she voted against REPA2.  I don't really understand that.  Was she afraid to go against Bennett and the others but then worked her courage up to vote against it later?  I don't know.

Here's what I do know:  Tony Bennett, backed by corporate reformers, has railroaded (his favorite analogy when he speaks of educational reform is the railroad and being on the tracks) his agenda all over the state of Indiana, running down teachers, students and schools in his path.   For, despite some changes to REPA2, it is still evident that this was one last attempt by Tony Bennett to impose his agenda on the Indiana electorate, no matter their voice (votes) and the democratic process.  In so doing, he was able to slap down teachers one last time...despite their pleas.   I am thankful that we have collectively sent him off on an express train out of Hoosier land (apparently on a one-way ticket to Florida) and I can only hope that Indiana's voters will hold the new governor, his appointed board, and the supermajority in the statehouse accountable for enacting and supporting the platform of our new superintendent, Glenda Ritz-- a platform and candidate we overwhelmingly support.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Did I say "Dirty Tricks"?? Democracy, Anyone?

Yesterday we thought it was absolutely disgraceful that the DOE would make last-minute changes on Friday to the rules regarding teacher licensing and education (REPA2) to be voted only a few days later...on Wednesday.  Dr. Vic Smith noted that that was a ridiculously short amount of time to review those changes and get feedback.  They already had feedback in the summer at the public meeting on June 21st.  Thirty people spoke up and all of them opposed the new rules.  They supposedly revised these rules over the past five months and didn't announce the changes until a few days before the vote. (see Karen Francisco's post in the Journal Gazette).  Now we find that they have moved the public comments for after the vote tomorrow.

There is a great problem with our democracy here in Indiana.  It seems that these people in power, our governor Mitch Daniels, state superintendent Tony Bennett, and many of the board members are unwilling to accept that we still live in a democracy and are unwilling to participate.  Tony Bennett lost.  Soundly.  I thought Tony Bennett was a basketball coach? Isn't part of good sportsmanship the ability to accept defeat graciously?    Not for Bennett.  Not only are they going to pass REPA2, ignoring the fact that the voters have clearly called for a change in direction or, at minimum, a "time out" until Glenda Ritz assumes her leadership position, but they are going to ignore the electorate in general.  Their mailboxes are full of dissent from the voters who do not want to see these changes occur in teacher quality.  The experts in education have weighed in against REPA2.  Add to that the fact that now they are not even going to listen to the public comments until AFTER THEY HAVE VOTED.  Is this democracy?

"Dissent is the highest form of patriotism" is accredited to Thomas Jefferson.  Well, these would-be "reformers" (privatizers of public education) disagree.

In every way, through these sneaky tactics of asserting power or by the very fact that they would attack public education and try to turn it into a private, for-profit venture, they keep proving that they don't believe in a democracy.  We need to hold their feet to the fire.  Let the board members know how you feel about this unwillingness to listen to the people.  Let Senator Long (a big GOP figure who apparently holds a lot of influence: know that you disagree with REPA2 and want the board to table it until the new superintendent takes office.  Speak up.  If at all possible, please come tomorrow to the REPA2 vote and show your support for our children, teachers.. and democracy.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Revised REPA2: At the 11th Hour! Dirty Tricks!

Dr. Vic Smith, one of the "founders" of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education and strong advocate for public education has written another post in his "Vic's Statehouse Notes" that everyone needs to read and then ACT upon.  Please share this with friends!  We only have a day left!

Here it is:

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #99– December 3, 2012 
Dear Friends,

Despite losing his election mandate, Dr. Bennett is pressing ahead with his controversial plan to change teacher licensing rules, known as REPA 2.  He wants his new plan to be approved this Wednesday, December 5th at the regular meeting of the State Board of Education. 

The only public hearing on the REPA 2 proposals was held on June 21st.  There were 30 speakers that day in the Riley Room, and all 30 spoke against the proposed rules.   I was one of the thirty in opposition. Only one State Board was present, Mike Pettibone.  Dr. Bennett was not there.  After the hearing, the rules were eligible for passage at the next State Board meeting, which was held on August 1st.  Instead of bringing it up for a vote then, it was announced that it would be deferred to December.  To me, this seemed like an obvious move to take the issue out of the election. 

Nevertheless, REPA 2 was a subject of much discussion through the fall campaign.  It was the subject of a Select Commission on Education meeting on August 14th, where the clear consensus of public testimony that I participated in was that REPA 2 would lower the standards for teachers in Indiana and was simply unnecessary.

There were some who believed that the election results would send a message that REPA 2 should be shelved, but Dr. Bennett didn’t get the message.  The agenda confirming that REPA 2 would be voted on Wednesday was not released until this past Friday afternoon, Nov. 30th, presumably to shorten the time that anyone could mount a protest.   The memo released on Friday was dated Nov. 27th, three days earlier, but still not released until Nov. 30th.

Also released was a 25-page summary showing in a matrix format how REPA 2 has been revised since the June hearing.  You can get this summary from the IDOE website.  Click on State Board of Education, then on the December 5th agenda, then on the “summary” listed under the REPA agenda item.  There are many things to object to in this document.  My list below is not an exhaustive list of problems, but here are some key concerns:

Revisions in REPA 2 Revealed for the First Time Last Friday, November 30th

1.      The revised draft shifts the authority for approving teacher education programs at universities from the Indiana Department of Education, which would be supervised by the State Superintendent, to the State Board of Education.  The votes on approving programs would be in the hands of political appointees on the State Board rather than the elected State Superintendent.  This changes the current practice of having IDOE approve programs in line with the rules and would seem to set up the need for an independent staff for the State Board to do this work.  This represents an obvious power grab to take authority away from Glenda Ritz and put it in the hands of the State Board appointed by the Governor.  Such tactics were predicted by some after Dr. Bennett was defeated in the election, and this seems to be the first movement in the tug of war over Glenda Ritz’s authority.

The legal question here is whether the rule can be revised in this major way at the last minute without triggering the need for another round of public hearings.  Past practice in my decade of watching State Board rules go through the promulgation process was that if hearings revealed minor changes were needed, those minor changes were made and the rule was passed. If major changes were made, however, the rules were resubmitted for an additional round of hearings.  This revision of authority is clearly a major change, and under past practice, a new public hearing on the revised language should be in order.  This legal question will throw REPA 2 into the hands of lawyers and lawsuits, which is not good for making public policy which will have the confidence of the public.  It seems clear to me that this revision should be subject to additional public hearings.

2.      The revised draft cuts the classroom experience required for an administrator license from five years down to two years and would count teaching experience in higher education as classroom experience for qualifying for a K-12 administrative license, either as a building level administrator or as a superintendent.  This is a highly controversial subject to current administrators.  Reducing the amount of teaching experience required and eliminating the need for experience in K-12 classrooms should be subject to additional public hearings.

3.      The revised draft changes the approval of the content area tests required for licensure and the setting of the cut scores for those tests from the Indiana Department of Education to the State Board of Education.  As discussed above, this would truncate the authority of Glenda Ritz and would set up a bureaucracy under the State Board of Education.  Is this really what the General Assembly intended for the State Board of Education?  It has never functioned in this way before.  This change would require separate budgetary support for additional staff.  Perhaps the new General Assembly will agree and will make that happen in the April budget, but to pass rules now that assume budgetary support seems more than presumptuous .  At the very least, a change this big deserves more public hearings.

New Licensing Rules in REPA 2 that were Not Changed in Friday’s Revision But Should Have Been

Several controversial elements of REPA 2 remain unchanged after Friday’s revisions were revealed. These have been problems from the start of this process and remain in the document:

1.      A new provision allows the appointment of “Temporary Building Level Administrators” at the request of a local school board. Under great pressure from Governor Daniels, a license for a “Temporary Superintendent” was allowed in rules passed in 2010 (REPA 1).  That plan did not go so far as allowing for temporary principals on the same basis, but REPA 2 does go that far.  This concept reverses the reforms of the early 20th century when cronyism and nepotism influenced the appointment of administrators in many local communities.  The reform then was to have administrative candidates show that they were qualified in the eyes of impartial licensing agents, the university administrator programs.  This provision throws the door open again to local cronyism.  This is the kind of local control that no one is asking for.  This provision cheapens the credentials of all administrators who have worked hard to pass the existing credential requirements and are now told they weren’t really necessary.

2.      New content areas can be added with no new coursework but by passing a test, a test now to be supervised as noted above by the State Board of Education and not by the Indiana Department of Education.  The revision revealed Friday removed four areas from eligibility for the “test only” addition:  Exceptional Needs, Communication Disorders, Early Childhood, and Elementary Education.  These removals are a step in the right direction, but all other content areas are still eligible, from Economics to Physical Education, to be added to a license without any coursework but by simply passing a test.

3.      Any applicant holding a Bachelor’s Degree who passes a content test and has a 3.0 GPA in the content area in which the applicant intends to teach can get a 5 year teaching permit, called an “Adjunct Teacher Permit.”  This permit allows teachers into the classroom who have had no teacher pedagogy courses.  While other parts of REPA require 10 weeks of student teaching instead of 9, the “Adjunct Teacher Permit” allows teachers to teach for five years who have had no student teaching.  This is a bad idea which negates all that we have learned about preparing teachers in the past century.  I spoke against this provision at the Select Commission hearing in August, and I have attached my comments if you were like to read more details about this huge step backward.

What Can You Do About This? 

In summary, the REPA 2 rules are a combination of new bad ideas introduced last Friday and old bad ideas that were not supported by any speaker in the June public hearing.  How long can Dr. Bennett and the State Board keep moving in directions opposed by the vast majority of Indiana education stakeholders?
Here are your options if you would like to speak up on this issue:

1.       Attend Wednesday’s State Board meeting (December 5th, 9am, in the Riley Room of the IDOE, at the corner of Ohio and Capital) and sign up to speak during Public Comments. Anyone who signs in before 9am on the list provided has the right to speak for at least 3 minutes. Sometimes they allow 5 minutes.  Say what is on your mind, asking for changes or for a delay to review the major changes.  It is important that the State Board members hear from speakers representing many geographic areas of Indiana.  Come and speak briefly if you can, remembering that to do so, you must sign in before 9am.

2.      Emails or call members of the State Board of Education to express your opposition. This decision is in their hands on Wednesday.  They have had many messages already, but more would help.

3.      Complain loudly to your State Senators and State Representative about what the State Board is trying to do.  They can’t control the State Board on this vote, but when the State Board asks for the budget to pay for additional staff, members of the General Assembly will have been informed by you of the problems in this proposal and the overreach of authority by the State Board.

4.      Inform the public through the media where possible.   Let the public know that the new direction that voters asked for in the election is being ignored by Dr. Bennett and the State Board and that standards for teachers and principals in Indiana classrooms are being lowered.

5.      Start petitions directed at State Board members and members of the General Assembly who oversee education, asking them to table these new changes until additional public hearings are held.    Time is short for petitions, but it can be an effective way to express outrage to the decision makers involved.

I oppose passage of REPA 2 as revised last Friday.  I am outraged that so little time has been allowed from Friday afternoon to Wednesday’s vote (5 days) to review these major changes, after IDOE took five months to prepare the revisions.  I believe the revision is wrong to shift program approval and the setting of cut scores for teacher testing from the IDOE to the State Board in an obvious political power grab.

If you can help resist these changes in any of the ways listed above, please do so.
Best wishes,

Vic Smith
I urge you all to join the Indiana Coalition for Public Education by going to for membership information.

Some readers have asked about my background in Indiana public schools.  Thanks for asking!  Here is a brief bio:

I am a lifelong Hoosier and began teaching in 1969.  I served as a social studies teacher, curriculum developer, state research and evaluation consultant, state social studies consultant, district social studies supervisor, assistant principal, principal, educational association staff member, and adjunct university professor.   I worked for Garrett-Keyser-Butler Schools, the Indiana University Social Studies Development Center, the Indiana Department of Education, the Indianapolis Public Schools, IUPUI, and the Indiana Urban Schools Association, from which I retired as Associate Director in 2009.  I hold three degrees: B.A. in Ed., Ball State University, 1969; M.S. in Ed., Indiana University, 1972; and Ed.D., Indiana University, 1977, along with a Teacher’s Life License and a Superintendent’s License, 1998.