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    Member Voices: School Reform Pushing Potential Teachers Away From Profession

    Editor’s Note: In this opinion piece written for his local newspaper, Gonzalez provides his perspective on the enrollment decline in his state’s teacher preparation programs. This post originally appeared in the Indianapolis Star and is reposted with permission. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of AACTE. See also Sharon P. Robinson’s recent post calling national attention to the same topic.

    I was pleased to see Tim Swarens’ Oct. 26 column making the point that education reform in Indiana needs a conversation not confrontation. That conversation should start with an honest assessment of the impact of reform efforts to date.

    Over the last decade, teacher salaries in constant dollars in Indiana have decreased by more than 10%. Outpaced only by North Carolina, which experienced teacher salary decreases of 14%, Indiana had the second largest decrease in the country.

    More than $300 million was taken out of Indiana public schools during the Great Recession, and millions more have been diverted from traditional public schools to charters and increasingly to private and religious schools through vouchers. At the same time, Indiana has implemented numerous ill-informed policies that discourage teachers from pursuing higher levels of education, promote merit pay based largely on unreliable test-based evaluation methods, [set] lower standards for teacher licensure, and generally promote deprofessionalization of teaching.

    Whether these are the intended or unintended results of efforts by groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council that promote model legislation and lobby at the state and federal levels, or that of other reform-minded groups and individuals who believe change is needed at the local level to improve schools, the consequences for public education have been disastrous. The only clear winners so far are the test companies making billions of dollars in profit from the standardized-test accountability craze in an experiment never before tried anywhere in the world, especially not in countries that have attained the highest levels of achievement in international comparisons of student performance.

    U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, himself an early proponent of standardized-test accountability, recently said, “I believe testing issues today are sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools…” It is time for Americans, including Hoosiers, to understand that economic and public policies that undermine public education and teaching as a profession will have long-term negative consequences on America’s economic competitiveness and, importantly, on our democratic way of life.

    In Indiana, enrollment in teacher education programs has decreased by more than 30% over the last decade, and the rate of decrease recently has accelerated. Indiana is not unique in experiencing a drop in teacher education enrollment fueled by disinvestment in public education and contentious public policies that discourage talented students from going into teaching as well as encourage experienced teachers to leave the field. It is happening nationwide.

    California, Texas, and other large states already are having significant teacher shortages as a result of the decreasing interest in education among the people we need most to improve our schools. Who can blame our teachers when the exchange for a lifelong commitment to the “noble profession” is lower pay, more ill-conceived accountability, and blame for society’s failures?

    If Indiana continues down the “education reform” path, Hoosiers will soon face the same problems bigger states are already experiencing. The research is incontrovertible that regardless of the type of institution a student attends, the single most important school-based factor for improving student achievement is the quality of the classroom teachers and school leaders.

    In current reform terminology, we must invest to “turn around” the trends in teacher pay in Indiana, recruit the best and brightest into teaching, raise professional standards for teacher and school leader preparation, provide teacher professional development, design better and more reliable accountability systems, and otherwise support real, research-based education reform. Anything less will just lead to more failed, ideologically driven “reform” and empty rhetoric about education improvement.


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    Gerardo Gonzalez

    Dean, School of Education, Indiana University

    Comments (4)

    • Celia Oyler

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      I love seeing deans of schools of education who are willing to speak publicly about the travesties being wrought on teachers and children in the name of educational “reform” “equity” and “rigor”.

      Let’s focus on LEARNING rather than narrow measures of “achievement” and let’s challenge VAM as a way to evaluate a teacher’s effectiveness. And let’s challenge narrow tests as a way of getting a good picture of student learning.

      Schools of Education faculty and deans must speak up, even if it means we will not win all the venture philanthropy monies coming down the pike.

      Reply

    • Nick Michelli

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      Dean Gonzalez’s piece is what I would expect from him–clear, to the point, and smart. I don’t think we have ever, at least in the course of my career, been in a worse place with respect to the impact of policy on teacher education, including unintended impacts. I prepare teacher educators these days and when we talk about the intended and unintended outcomes of Race to the Top, the new CAEP standards, Common Core in its implementation, or the new EdTPA we see the unfortunate and, for most part unintended, outcomes. For example at least in New York State edTPA has been set up as a high stakes certification exam that displaces the traditional role university faculty and K-12 collaborators–cooperating teachers/clinical faculty–in judging that a student is ready to begin his or her career as an educator. No matter what the considered judgment of professionals spending a semester with a student might be, the 15 minute video snippets assessed by Pearson employees trumps their judgment. Methods courses model the horrors of high stakes testing in the P-12 world–they become test-prep for edTPA. Not the intent of the developers, I know, but the reality in implementation. I am also pleased to see Geraldo’s reference to ALEC and its invidious influence. We need to be aware and proactive regarding all these policy players. Maybe most importantly, Geraldo reinforces the point that we need conversation and not confrontation. Rick Hess said that in a book I edited recently with David Imig and Penny Early, “we must stop drawing lines in the sand and talk about mutual concerns.” I would add that those we disagree with are not, for the most part, evil but their world view is different and the starting point is understanding it. We have to engage in meaningful conversation to seek compromise rather than reacting with immediate confrontation, as attractive as that may feel at the moment!! That, along with careful study of policy proposals, should be our starting point. Good job my friend.

      Reply

    • Rob Bligh

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      I strongly suspect that this goofy political effort to make educators responsible for the academic failure of badly raised children will eventually mean that the only people who will be willing to work as teachers in K-12 classrooms will be people who should not be allowed anywhere near children.

      Reply

    • Howard Weiner

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      Is it possible that enrollment in teacher prep programs is down, in part, because the certification requirements are more rigorous? Pen and paper certification exams have attracted the mediocre to education and low student achievement has continued unabated. Isn’t change needed when 40% of fourth graders can’t read simple connected text and the US is not anywhere near the top ten industrialized nations in student achievement.comparisons. Requiring people to actually demonstrate that they can develop and teach a unit of lessons before putting them in classrooms may help get brighter and talented people where they are desperately needed. Teachers should be paid better and we need to expect them and the programs that prepare to do more to bring highly qualified people to the field..

      Reply

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