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 kids...like 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.