New laws and regulations related to teaching might be having an impact on the number of people aspiring to enter the profession, at least in Indiana. The San Francisco Gate is reporting that Indiana teacher colleges are drawing the lowest number of applications in five years, with some schools experiencing enrollment declines as high as 30%.
Melissa Colonis, who teaches mathematics at Tecumseh Jr. High School and has more than 20 years of experience, posits that some of the recent political speech which places the blame for the failures of the country's education system square on the shoulders of teachers and teachers unions is making young people less inclined to pursue a career in the field. She added that the occasionally fiery education reform rhetoric makes a teaching career seem a lot less attractive.
Meanwhile, the largest Indiana teaching colleges are continuing to report student drops. Indiana University's School of Education has seen a 20% drop in applications since 2008, which translated to an 11% drop in student enrollment. Applications are down by 23% over the same period at Purdue's College of Education, while Ball State's Teachers College is off by 32% from its 2008 peak.
The decline in applications stems in large part from a wave of education changes that emerged from the 2011 Legislature. Their goal is to increase teacher and school accountability, but many teachers feel they've come under fire unfairly and are being blamed for failing schools. The political rhetoric that has polarized both sides of the education overhaul arguments hasn't helped.
IU Dean of Education Gerardo Gonzales says that the criticism often poured down on the teachers is having an effect of driving "the best and brightest" away from the profession rather than towards it. If the goal is to improve the quality of candidates looking to become teachers, it doesn't help to tar the lot with such a broad brush.
Indiana was one of the states that adopted a compensation scheme that ties teacher salaries and promotions to student achievement. Governor Mitch Daniels admits that such a model might not be perfect quite yet, but says it is an important first step to determining the best way to evaluate teacher effectiveness.
Yet, heads of teacher colleges say that the new law has had a chilling effect on the teacher training system, with many veterans now more reluctant to bring apprentice instructors into their classrooms. They seem to be avoiding situations that might have an impact on student performance and on their own effectiveness rating. This was one factor that led Purdue to decrease the number of candidate teachers they accept every year.
Gonzales said the new evaluations send a mixed message by de-emphasizing the link between advanced degrees and higher pay. In the past, teachers could get more money by earning a master's degree.
"New teacher evaluations now disallow, or at least discourage, the use of master's degrees as a factor in teacher raises," Gonzales said. "So here we are saying we need better educated teachers — and we're passing legislation that discourages master's degrees among teachers."