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New teacher licensing requirement is ill conceived

Indiana teachers were not happy about the state Legislature’s changes this spring in the rules for how they must renew their professional licenses. As a result, thousands have been hurrying to begin the process before those new rules take effect July 1.

Why? Because if they do most won’t have to worry about it for another five years, and perhaps by then the rules will be changed again — or the new change scrapped.

The rules change requires teachers who are renewing their license through a “professional growth plan” to log 15 hours of professional development related specifically to their community’s workforce needs. Those 15 hours of exposure to such things as jobs that are available with local employers, will be part of 90 hours of professional development that most teachers need for renewal every five years.

Indiana Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, a sponsor of the bill, told South Bend’s WSBT-TV, Channel 22, the rules change helps teachers help students “so they can help teach and guide those kids so they can fulfill those job opportunities that are out there.”

The new section 20, added to Indiana Code 20-28-5-25, advanced through the Indiana General Assembly and was passed in April. But most teachers didn’t know about it until the Indiana Department of Education sent out guidelines in early May on how to meet the new requirements.

Fort Wayne Community Schools Public Information Officer Krista Stockman told us this week the change has been a topic of conversation among local teachers, “but it’s still unclear exactly what it means for teachers and how they can meet the new requirements.”

The law passed quickly, without much teacher input or awareness, reported Rachael Krause on Wave3 News in Louisville, Ky.

“It says you have to do 15 hours for professional growth points,” Greater Clark Education Association President Mark Felix told Krause. “There’s very little clarity in it, but also, what’s the necessity of a kindergarten teacher going and working in a business?”

Felix and his spouse are teachers within Greater Clark in Jeffersonville and said these new license renewal requirements are an unpaid burden, particularly for teachers who don’t readily have businesses willing to help them with these requirements nearby.

“I’ll tell you why teachers are upset,” said Rep. Tonya Pfaff, D-Terre Haute, who is also a high school math teacher. “It’s because it’s just another thing that we have to do.”

Pfaff is one of several Democratic lawmakers who voted against the bill who have spoken out against the changes.

“It’s so frustrating, one more thing without bothering to talk with educators about it, and teachers have just had it,” said Indiana State Teachers Association President Teresa Meredith, a teacher for more than two decades. “We already are having experiences in things like preparation for field trips, working with community partners, all that sort of thing,” she told WSBT. “This was something that was absolutely not needed.”

The state education department reported 22,760 teachers (nearly a third of all teachers in Indiana) had professional growth plans in process between May 1-June 2, according to The Indianapolis Star, compared with 514 during the same time last year.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick told the Star, “It’s going to be kind of a mad dash to the end,” adding that she expects those numbers to climb through June. She said there has been a lot of confusion and frustration from teachers across the state and that her department has had to answer a lot of phone calls and emails.

After a legislative session in which lawmakers did not approve pay increases for teachers, ISTA President Meredith said many see the new unpaid mandate as an insult.

It’s hard to see how the new requirement benefits classroom instruction. Legislators should revisit the law during the est session and, this time, make sure they get input from educators.

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