The Herald Bulletin

Evening Update

Letters

August 12, 2009

Viewpoint: Licensing rules for teachers must emphasize content and flexibility

By Dr. Tony Bennett

State superintendent of public instruction

We expect a lot from teachers in Indiana, and they expect a lot from themselves. Research shows that teachers are the primary influence on students’ academic achievement. Yet, our licensing requirements for teachers don’t help them meet those high expectations. We require them to jump through hoops that often cost thousands of dollars and do little to make them better teachers, but we don’t expect new teachers to master the subjects they’ll teach.

In its 2007 State Teacher Policy Yearbook, the National Council on Teacher Quality gave Indiana a ‘D’ for its policies to identify teacher effectiveness and retain the best new teachers. Given the essential role teachers play in students’ achievement, this is an area requiring swift action.

Recently, the Department of Education proposed changing educator licensing rules to attract successful professionals to careers in education and to ensure future teachers have deep content knowledge of their subjects.

To guarantee all new teachers will be experts in the subjects they teach, we’ve recommended requiring teaching candidates to dedicate more of their undergraduate credit hours to content knowledge by majoring in a core subject, such as mathematics or chemistry. We’re not the first to recommend this change; Purdue University already requires a content major for all its education graduates who will be teaching specific subject areas.

Under the proposed rules, teaching candidates also would be required to pass tests for their subject-area and instructional knowledge to prove they know both what to teach and how to teach before standing in front of a classroom.

While it is imperative to raise the bar on incoming teachers’ depth of content knowledge, our proposed rules also plan for the future. With 54 percent of all Indiana teachers age 50 or older, Indiana will face a critical teacher shortage in the coming years. Teachers in subjects like science and math will be in the highest demand. Of all the new teaching certifications in 2008-09, only 7 percent were issued to future math teachers and only 6 percent were issued to future science teachers. Within five years, 25 percent of mathematics and science teachers will be eligible to retire. Within 10 years, those projections increase to 36 percent.

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