It looks like the blueprint for the relationship between newly-elected Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction, Democrat Glenda Ritz, and the Republican-controlled State Board of Education was set this week when the board voted to approve new teacher licensing rules over Ritz's objections. In casting their votes, the board members on the winning side chose the path laid down by the outgoing superintendent, Republican reformer Tony Bennett.
Among the objections voiced by Ritz was to a controversial rule that would allow teachers and administrators to transition to different parts of the district to take on different tasks — all without requiring nearly the same level of preparation and training that was required before. Ritz spoke out against the rule during her campaign and requested permission to address the board members prior to the vote to object to it in person.
During her statement, she asked for a delay on the vote until she takes up her duties this January.
"I am here before you to respectfully request you might table these items," she said. "Pre-service training and licensing for our educators is very important. We cannot put unqualified teachers in the classroom."
Ritz wasn't the only one who expressed opposition to loosening the training requirements. Also speaking at the meeting was Butler University Dean Ena Shelley, who pointed out that lowering the standards for preparation was not the best way to ensure that only well-qualified teachers and administrators worked with students.
When the rule goes into effect, teachers who are interested in teaching fine arts will be able to do so simply by passing an exam.
The vote also created a new class of teacher – at least new in the primary and secondary education – those who have so-called "adjunct" licenses. Anyone with at least a 3.0 GPA from a four-year college will be able to begin teaching after passing an exam, but they will lose that right if they don't score well on a yearly teacher assessment. Novice teachers will also be allowed into the classroom on an emergency basis, as long as they are enrolled in teacher training program and are working to obtain their license.
Although the board handed Ritz a resounding 9-2 defeat on this issue, those who oppose Bennett's agenda did have something to celebrate.
A proposal that could have stripped licenses from teachers who earned consistently low performance evaluations — potentially kicking them out of the profession — was dropped before Wednesday's meeting.
Another sticky proposal — allowing teachers to teach new subjects or to new groups of students if they can simply pass a standardized content exam — was also altered in response to criticism. Teacher licenses traditionally require coursework, student teaching and content exams in the specific subject teachers wish to teach.