Wednesday, October 21, 2015

More Reactions to Teacher Shortage Hearing

A legislative committee met Monday, October 19, in Indianapolis to consider Indiana's looming teacher shortage. The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette reports that "several education experts spoke" to the committee. Unfortunately, the marathon of "several education experts" took about 5 hours for their part of the meeting. Those teachers and supporters of public education who were waiting for "public input" were forced to wait until late into the evening. By that time many of the legislators had left. At the end of the meeting only six of the sixteen legislators were listening to the public.

Several NEIFPE members spent hours in Indianapolis waiting for their turn to speak before finally giving up and returning home. We have published statements from three NEIFPE members in, Testimony for Teacher Shortage Hearing.

The following is NEIFPE member Terry Springer's reaction to the Teacher Shortage Hearing.
I also attended the hearing on teacher shortages on Monday along with Anne Duff, Phyllis Bush, Kathy Candioto, Julie Hollingsworth, and Becky Hill. I really appreciate school board members taking time to attend. Here is my reaction to that hearing:

Never have the words “supply,” “demand” and “data” been repeated more at any one time and in any one place than at the hearing before the Interim Study Committee on Teacher Shortage on Monday, 10/19. The House of Representatives Chamber was packed: sixteen committee members, 40 or more people waiting to testify, representatives of the press, and other interested observers like me. I did not go to testify before this committee. I went to observe, learn, and support my friends and fellow public ed advocates who planned to testify.

After Sen. Kruse convened the meeting at 1:00, it quickly became clear that the agenda was frontloaded with “experts” in data collection. For nearly five hours, I listened as the “experts” presented data to show whether Indiana has a teacher shortage or not and the reasons it might if it does. With the exception of three speakers – Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers, and Angela Minnici of Center for Great Teachers and Leaders, the testimony was all about the numbers – supply and demand as if teachers are a commodity and as if education is an industry rather than an institution that is made up of and serves people – children to be exact. And as I listened to the data spew from the experts – some from outside Indiana and some calling for even more data – I wondered how some of those people came to be on the agenda. I assume the expert from Georgia didn’t just decide on his own to fly to Indiana and testify, nor the woman from Washington D.C. either. So who brought them and who paid their way? I also thought about the kids and teachers in classrooms around the state at that very moment who were doing school as usual in less than ideal learning situations. How quickly would this hearing affect any changes in the challenges they face?

To be fair, some committee member asked good critical questions. Hats off to Rep. Smith, Rep. Austin, Sen. Stoops, and Rep. Cook who asked pertinent questions to challenge the experts. But some members called for more data to be collected.

And so it went for nearly five hours. I waited to hear from the people truly engaged in the reality of the teacher shortage – parents, teachers, administrators, school board members. But these people were relegated to the end of the list and lumped together as a group under “public comments.” My companions and I had to leave before that testimony began. But some people did stay to testify after all the experts – after 6:00 and after most committee members had left the hearing. They had real stories to tell about the reality of teacher shortage and the reasons experienced and new teachers are leaving the profession and the reasons fewer people want to enter it. Hats off to FWCS Board Member, Julia Hollingsworth, to Rep. Ed Delaney and Rep. Melanie Wright, and to Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer and Jenny Robinson, parents from Bloomington for waiting more than six hours to testify and provide much needed perspective on teacher shortages. Unfortunately, most of their stories were not heard by a majority of the Committee.

This committee is scheduled to make recommendations about the teacher shortage. After Monday’s hearing, I have to question their ability to make well-reasoned recommendations.

We have a problem in Indiana. Our schools are in trouble thanks to reform legislation that is punitive and demoralizing for teachers, administrators, and students alike. Through their legislation, policy makers have made it clear that they do not trust teachers nor value teaching as a profession. They have made it clear that they do not see children as people but as products who can be trained to attain the same amount of knowledge and skill at the same time and to perform in the same way. Our children have become data points to measure not their individual growth and achievement but to evaluate the system created by reformers and profiteers. The number of teachers is now a data point as is the number of licenses issued and the number of students enrolled in teacher training programs.

Analyzing teacher shortage in terms of supply and demand will not solve the problem. Teachers are not commodities. If we want good, qualified teachers for our children, we have to pay them a decent salary, we have to show them respect and trust and treat them as professionals. We have to make the learning environment conducive to learning by eliminating the oppressive and punitive pressure of test performance and evaluation. Teacher shortage is but one of the consequences of ed reform in our state. Until we are ready to undo what has been done over the past decade, we will continue to face this problem. And at the end of the day, our children will suffer for our failure.

So while the Committee sits and hears hours of data from experts and considers recommendations, schools and our children experience the impact of teacher shortage every day right now.


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