For quite some time now education policy-making in the state of Indiana has been nothing short of a mess. Republican lawmakers have long been at odds with the state’s elected superintendent of public instruction, Glenda Ritz, whose recently unveiled legislative agenda for the Indiana Department of Education reveals some of the many problems plaguing the state’s public education system.
Here are some of the issues as explained by Ritz in her budget message:
“First, we need to hold our schools harmless from the 2015 ISTEP+ as Indiana transitioned to new, more rigorous, college and career ready standards and a more rigorous assessment at the same time. Indiana’s schools, educators and communities simply cannot be blamed for mandated changes in standards and assessment….
“Second, it is clear that Indiana needs to reform our costly, lengthy, pass/fail, high-stakes assessment system. Simply put, we need to move on from ISTEP+. Recently, the federal government reformed No Child Left Behind and gave states more control over their assessment systems. While annual student assessments are still required, the federal mandate has undergone substantial changes. Indiana must reclaim control over its assessment system and move towards a streamlined, student-centered assessment that provides students, families and educators with quick feedback about how a student is performing and how they have grown over the course of a school year.
“Third, we absolutely must take steps to stem the teacher shortage that is affecting schools and communities throughout the state. Over the last six years, Indiana has seen a 30 percent decrease in the number of individuals receiving their initial license and we must take action ensure that every child has access to excellent educators.”
Ritz, not surprisingly, accuses the Republican governor, Mike Pence, of failing to support public education. Meanwhile, many Indiana teachers feel under siege from evaluation systems that use student test scores and other things, including legislation moving through the state legislature that would, among other things, allow district superintendents to bypass collective bargaining and pay more to new teachers in hard-to-fill jobs than veteran educators receive.
And there’s more trouble in Indiana, as articulated in the following piece by school counselor Brenda L. Yoder, which she posted on Facebook and gave me permission to publish. Yoder is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, teacher, and parent. She is also a speaker and freelance writer on life, faith, and parenting beyond the storybook image. She and her family live in northern Indiana.
This is a version of Yoder’s Facebook post:
This headline — Teacher Shortage Addressed, Goshen News, Feb. 19, 2016 — is hard to read. Another round of legislation has passed in the Indiana statehouse that compounds a problem which is now systemic and is affecting children across the state, along with families, colleges, and our economy.
Yes, the mess in education isn’t just affecting those of us who are in education. First, legislators thought we weren’t doing our job, so they legislated the pay scale so good teachers would get paid more for their efforts. In reality, the legislature has capped teacher salaries, not allowing years of experience or education to fiscally matter. Being a highly effective or effective teacher results in a minuscule stipend, maybe enough to get the brakes fixed on your car.
Salaries for teachers statewide are stagnant. Your income does not rise over time. Families cannot be supported on a teacher’s salary over time, and yet college costs the same for them as it does to be an engineer.
I wonder why there’s a teacher shortage.
Schools are the main employers in many rural communities throughout Indiana. Low income jobs in education do not booster those economies. Our liberal arts colleges are losing income from prospective teachers entering the field. Our kids are losing out because the best and the brightest are not the ones entering education.
Except for those like my son. He’s a recipient of a prestigious, full-ride scholarship to any university in Indiana. He’s chosen to use it to be an elementary and special education teacher for kids with extreme disabilities. I have to encourage him to “just focus on the kids” as he wonders if he’s done the right thing. I promise him the education mess has to eventually swing back.
Or he can move out of state.
As a family of educators, what goes on in the statehouse directly affects us daily. We haven’t had a raise in over six years, yet my husband and I both have master’s degrees. I see my husband working every night on new technology to implement in his classroom after he’s graded papers. I see my colleagues do the most amazing things in the classroom, only to be told their efforts haven’t shown enough growth acknowledged by the state. I see a room full of smart, passionate, talented people, told by data on a PowerPoint that they aren’t doing enough for students, regardless of the poverty, addiction, violence, mental health, or trauma that happens in the homes of those kids.
And yet I see each of us—my colleagues, my husband, my son, my friends, and myself — walk into a school building every day because teaching and working with kids is embedded in our souls. I see my 6’3 son show me, with pride, the briefcase with children’s books his fiance bought him for Valentine’s Day, of which he can use for student teaching.
I bought his dad the same gift 28 years ago when he started student teaching.
In recent years, politics has become important to me. Because one governor, his party’s legislators, and the present governor and his party have forever changed my life, my colleagues’ lives, and the lives of local families and communities all across the state of Indiana. They continue to make foolish laws which band-aid the problem. Kids are hurting the most because teachers can’t “just teach” the way God designed teaching — to be from the heart, to inspire, to meet kids where they’re at. It’s a numbers game, and the rigor which lawmakers decide, who are outside of education, determines what happens in a teacher’s classroom.
You think that doesn’t affect kids? Kids who have more challenges than any generation before them? How is that student who only has a second-grade reading level leaving sixth grade going to advance the economy of his family when he’s older — if he graduates? And please don’t tell me more wasn’t done for him. Every intervention/Best-Practice was done for him. By multiple teachers and paraprofessionals. Every year.
So, friends, elections matter. People with integrity—not programs or political parties—matter.
I met with an Indiana State Board of Education member last year because, with integrity, he cared enough to listen. And he was not appointed by the governor for this year’s term because he tried to stand up for things.
If you think this election doesn’t matter—it does. Not just for my Indiana friends, but for our country. I know the political process seems like a farce as we watch name calling and rallies on our big screens.
And yet, for those educators who walk into school buildings every day, there is one thing that no one can take away from us, and that’s the honor and eternal value of impacting a child.
You see, that’s the only encouragement I can give my son in a text when he’s down. It’s what we, as educators, do every day. The child we correct, the one we encourage, the one we hug when they give us a Valentine, the one who shows growth that data will never measure. It’s the human connection that technology, laws, testing, and poor government can never take away.
Unfortunately, a smile or hug can’t financially sustain a family anymore.
And that headline doesn’t solve it, either.