Tomorrow (10/28) the state board of education will meet to look at the new requirements for high school diplomas (here are the old ones). There appears to be multiple concerns about what they have proposed. If we set aside the offensive idea that we are condoning a caste system of education with the names "College and Career Ready" versus "Workforce Ready" for the types of diplomas, just the idea of sequencing or potential tracking the requirements for diplomas is concerning. An important question is if they don't require the arts, will financially-strapped schools be required to provide art/music teachers and classes? The arts education community is very concerned; see their blog post here. But it is most upsetting for the students with special needs. Please read this post in The Arc here. But don't just read this post. Share it, email it, and write to the state board of education members.
Use these wonderful letters from our friends Shelly Scott-Harmon and Penny Githens for inspiration for your own. Here is Shelly's:
Dear Members of the State Board of Education,
And here is Penny's:
I am rarely at a loss for words when I truly care about something, but at the moment I am afraid that I will not be able to truly convey what I feel. I hope I will be able to find the words needed to convince you to reverse your current position on the requirements for the new Workforce Ready Diploma.
Write to the state board members individually:
Dr. Vince Bertram: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Byron Ernest: email@example.com
Dr. David Freitas: firstname.lastname@example.org
Gordon Hendry: email@example.com
Lee Ann Kwiatkowski: firstname.lastname@example.org
Eddie Melton: email@example.com
Sarah O'Brien: firstname.lastname@example.org
Superintendent Ritz: email@example.com
B.J. Watts: firstname.lastname@example.org
Cari Whicker: email@example.com
Dr. Steve Yager: firstname.lastname@example.org
And they are asking for submission of comments to this address: email@example.com
Perry township teacher Michelle Smith sat on a bench on the side of the House Chamber for over seven hours in order to give her thoughts on the teacher shortage. To watch Michelle deliver her powerful testimony, go to about 7:09:37 in the archived video here (select the October 19 meeting from the drop-down menu).
Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen,
I greatly appreciate having the opportunity to speak to you concerning the issue of whether or not there is a “teacher shortage” here in Indiana. I am an educator as well as a citizen of the US and served my country as a US Army soldier in military intelligence as a Korean linguist. After serving, I could have gotten any number of jobs in government or corporate America, but purposefully chose to be an educator for life because I believe that education is the true practice of freedom in a living democracy.
I thought that perhaps you would like to hear from an actual educator about who our students are. Of my 104 students, 64% are English language learners, 36% are special education, 12% have medical disabilities, and all 104 are in intensive math and English intervention programs because of their inability to perform on the ISTEP. These kids are more than just a number and I feel it is my civic responsibility to advocate for them.
You dictate that my teaching effectiveness be judged based on one test with students who come to school with more than just a desire to learn, yet you expect them to sit down and focus on an exam that has absolutely no bearing in their real scheme of life.
I have had students who have been shot, strangled, tortured, beaten, starved, and burned. I have had students who have seen their parents, their siblings, and their entire families massacred, hacked to pieces with machetes. I have had students who fled their country with only the clothes they were wearing when they were attacked by rebel forces. I have had students who were raped, physically dismembered or altered simply because they were born female. I have had students who lived in garbage dumps, begged for food and have eaten dirt.
All of this before even entering the United States.
I have had students living in automobiles, homeless shelters, in tents and on the streets under doorways.
Students living in foster care, with grandparents, cousins, and older siblings because their parents never came home. Students whose only source of food is the meager breakfast and lunch served by the school. Students who have walked to school, in 15-degree weather wearing nothing but jeans and a t-shirt because they do not have a coat or winter shoes.
This sort of thing is a daily occurrence where I work and have worked. It is always something, and usually something you don’t see coming or can plan for.
Professional development now is only about how to obtain a better score on the teacher evaluation so that I can keep my job. I am rated on a scale of Regularly, Sometimes and Rarely, all this based on the 4 45-minute observations made by an administrator.
Those of you who think you know what is best for the penurious have yet to realize that you are dealing with the lives of people without ever asking them what it is they need or want.
Unlike in private schools, public educators accept, appreciate and educate each and every student who walks in the door. Public educators will not and cannot turn students away because they have a pre-existing condition, behavioral or social disabilities, lack of money, lack of family connections, lack of political power, lack of academic skills and background or cultural knowledge, lack of internal desire to learn, lack of external desire to learn, do not speak the language, or are physically or mentally challenged.
One can always find fault with public entities. And you, as a legislative body should be the last to cast stones.
If you want to know why teachers are leaving or are going to leave the profession, it is because you, the political representatives, have enacted legislation that is undemocratic and you know it.
It is because of these punitive policies that people like me will be leaving the profession. I am not threatening you; I am just telling you the facts of the matter. We will not take it anymore. THIS IS NOT DEMOCRACY!
Rather than tear down public education, why do you not try to support and uplift one of the greatest unifiers in democratic history? Regardless of private and religious affiliations, you were elected to protect the integrity of the constitution and promote the welfare of all your constituents.
Thank you for your time.
As Jenny said in Part 1, we were kept waiting for nearly five hours before we heard from the public. Our public education advocate friends from Fort Wayne, Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education, had to leave without speaking (read their powerful testimonies here). Highlights of those 5 hours-I-will-never-get-back-of-my-life:
Somewhere in these five hours, our state superintendent Glenda Ritz presented the position of her Blue Ribbon Commission on the teacher shortage and refreshingly stated that they were going forward on the assumption that there IS a teacher shortage and looking into solutions.
After seven hours of waiting, my friends Michelle Smith (a teacher) and Jenny Robinson (a fellow parent) and I were able to speak. When I got up to the mic, I told these men that they really needed to change this procedure. I was speaking to a now-empty room with maybe 12 people at 8:40 pm. I said something like, "At this point I have missed after school time, dinner, and now tucking him into bed-time. If you need your consultants, they should be in a separate meeting or something.There were passionate voices that should have been heard." And then, fully angry at this point, gave this speech:
I am a mother of four children in public schools.
Cathy and I arrived at the statehouse today around 11:30 a.m. We made our way to the House Chamber, but it turned out that it was not possible to sign up for public comment yet for the 1 p.m. hearing. When we returned after lunch, it was 1 p.m. and we filled out cards indicating we wanted to speak. The chamber was full--every chair filled and benches along the sides holding the overflow. The hearing commenced. First were the invited (perhaps paid) speakers. Some of the committee members began to leave after several hours. Public comment (item M. on the agenda, which you can view here) commenced around 5:30, four and a half hours after the meeting began. At that point, it seemed that at least half the committee had left. So had many of those who had come to give public comment. Seven and a half hours after the meeting began, it was our turn. We were the last two speakers but one, whose request to give comment had been lost. Few committee members were left. The chamber was almost empty. I'll post my testimony below.--Jenny Robinson
I am a stay-at-home parent with three children in my local public schools. My kids have consistently had thoughtful, caring, and creative teachers. Many of these amazing teachers are now nearing retirement. Who will enter the profession to try to fill their shoes?
As a parent with young children, I want trained professionals to be in charge of my kids’ classrooms. I want people with teaching degrees—degrees that involve courses on pedagogy and child development as well as time spent student teaching with an experienced mentor teacher. I want people who, like the teachers my kids have had so far, are committed to teaching as their career, people who will be teaching for decades. I want people with adventurous minds and lots of initiative, people with expertise in their subject matter, people who are curious and intellectual and who like and relate to children, people who will actively pursue professional development. And I ask you, why would these people enter the teaching profession here in Indiana?
Teachers in Indiana lack autonomy. Good teachers do not want to be teaching to a test, but the high stakes that Indiana’s legislature has attached to standardized tests mean that schools are focused on those tests in order to survive. The focus on scores means that children with learning challenges are a liability for teachers. Children whose native language is not English or who come from poverty or abuse are a liability to teachers. That is unfair to teachers and unfair to children.
The top-down demand for more and more data to be gathered is stifling. It is crowding out active learning. It is crowding out library time, projects, field trips, and art. It is crowding out the ability of teachers to take time to get to know the kids in their classes as individuals and to shape lesson plans that respond to the interests of those individuals.
Our schools are under-resourced. Class sizes are too large. Many schools lack a certified teacher-librarian in the library.
The evaluation process imposed by the state is demeaning. I went to a panel a couple years ago on the RISE requirements. I came away with the conviction that I would never want to teach in this environment and that I would not encourage anyone in my family to do so.
Teachers are underpaid. I know a teacher, a fabulous, inspiring teacher, who felt financially compelled to be working another job on weekends and living at home with her parents. I know teachers who haven’t had a raise for five years.
As a parent of young children, I have a lot at stake in the quality of the environment in our schools. I want the state of Indiana to respect the teaching profession. We need highly trained and certified professionals in all areas, including art, music, library, and p.e. Require that applicants have a teaching degree and appropriate specialized certification. Encourage and compensate teachers for additional coursework and degrees. Pay a salary that can compete with the salaries in other professional fields—and one that will increase predictably with years of experience. Encourage teachers’ autonomy in the classroom and collaboration with other teachers. Don’t tie teachers’ evaluations to standardized test scores. Get rid of our inane and punitive A-F grading system for schools. And give unions the power to bargain about all aspects of the school environment, not just salaries. Our teachers’ working conditions are our kids’ learning conditions, and I want the professionals who are with my kids every day to be able to advocate for an environment that will enable all children to thrive.