Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Testimony For Teacher Shortage Hearing

A legislative committee met yesterday 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. Phyllis commented,
What happened at that hearing today was yet another abuse of power with regard to public education. This is looking like a diversionary tactic to go ahead and do whatever they've intended to do all along. Even though I expected to have to endure at least an hour or two of "expert" testimony, I am appalled that the expert testimony (many from out of state shills) lasted for over 5 hours.

Please remember this the next time you vote.
Below are the written testimonies of our NEIFPE members. A comment from State Superintendent Glenda Ritz is also included.

Testimony by Phyllis Bush
Public education is so important; that is why I keep driving to Indianapolis to testify about various and sundry education issues. Sometimes it seems futile, but I won't give up. If I don't speak out when I see the consequences of misguided educational policies that are so fundamentally wrong, then I am complicit in the damage done to public education. Having said that, I will continue to speak out against what seems to be a legislatively orchestrated attempt to destroy public education. I’m tenacious by nature, so I’m in to stay. I’m in until Public Education is made whole.

Given the current teacher scapegoat climate both in Indiana and in the nation, it doesn't take rocket science to figure out why there is a teacher shortage. When our legislators and policy makers continuously demean and disrespect teachers, is it any wonder that teachers are leaving the profession faster than rats leave a sinking ship? Is it any wonder that young teachers would not want to stay in a profession where there is little chance for a salary increase based on spurious and often inaccurate data? Is it any wonder that good teachers don’t want to continue spending a great share of their time preparing kids for tests and teaching to the test? Is it any wonder that they don’t want to carry out state mandates which they know are instructionally inappropriate?

If we are to look for the causes of this supposed teacher shortage, the finger should point directly at the feet of government officials in this state and across the nation who have scapegoated, demeaned, and devalued the teaching profession.

When people are belittled or told that they are worthless or inadequate, when the expectations are inappropriate and punitive, when the opportunities for expressing views are stifled, there is a toxic mixture of factors which border on abuse.

How many new teachers will be drawn to a profession where there is no respect, where there are few rights, and where they are viewed with the same lack of respect as minimum wage workers are?

Maybe this committee is asking the wrong questions.

Is there really a shortage of teachers or is it that teachers have fled the profession because of untenable working conditions?

Superintendent Glenda Ritz and her Blue Ribbon Commission have made a list of suggestions which target teacher retention and recruitment, and their list sounds much like what teachers have been asking for since the so-called reforms of Mitch Daniels and Tony Bennett. Our organization, the Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education, is ready and willing to help by offering concrete suggestions.

Rather than discussing whether or not there is a teaching shortage, perhaps this committee needs to be discussing what is our legislature planning to do to repair the damage that has been done before it is too late?

Phyllis Bush
Testimony by Anne Duff
Testimony for Teacher Shortage Hearing

Good afternoon. My name is Anne Duff, and I have three children who attend our public schools. I am here today to speak to you, Senator Kruse and Representative Behning, to let you know how the causes for this teacher shortage affect my children and many other children in our public schools.

I know both of you believe in “choice” in one’s education, and you need to know we have chosen public education for our children. We want our children to be exposed to all kinds of children and cultures and there is no better place for that than a public school. Where else can my children see Christians, Jews, Muslims and Buddhists work peacefully together? My children have seen those who live in poverty and in wealth, those from single parent homes, homes with 2 moms, those in abusive homes and those in nurturing homes. My children have been exposed to probably more than they will encounter in the “real world” and this was by design. We love our public schools, but you have made us feel like public schools is a “bad” choice due to your legislation that ultimately sets public schools up for failure.

How do this shortage and the causes of it affect my children? There are several ways. First, with a teacher shortage come long term subs who, frankly, did not choose teaching as their profession and should not be in the classroom. My daughter had a long term sub in her Advanced Algebra class. He told them he was an “engineer” so they thought that would be a good thing. By the end of the semester, we found out that he was a music engineer, and they made it to Chapter 2. My husband had to tutor my daughter so she would be ready for pre-calculus because this substitute fell way behind. Most students aren’t as fortunate and are probably struggling now in pre-calculus.

This overuse of testing has got to stop. I am tired of teachers having to teach to a grade-level test for fear of low test scores costing them their jobs. I already know how my children perform. I know they are good students, and I don’t need a test to tell me they are at grade level. Drilling them to death doesn’t do a lot for them except to make them hate the tests and ultimately hate school. The way you use these tests are not what they were meant for – grading our schools, evaluating our teachers. My children experience the stress these inappropriate uses have caused. This is not a good education…text anxiety, pressure to do well and punishment when you don’t. You are wasting my children’s time with too much testing. Their learning could be enriched with a number of other innovative opportunities instead of pointless memorization and punitive measures all for a test.

Your decision to reduce teachers’ collective bargaining to salary, insurance, and benefits has affected my children. Do you realize that our former teacher contract had a maximum number of students a teacher could have in a classroom? Now my children see classes with numbers in the 40s. Because this no longer can be negotiated and because the money has been dwindling from public schools, my choice leaves my children with classrooms with more than twice the recommended number of students per teacher. I didn’t ask for this for my children and neither did our teachers.

In addition, recess time is limited so kids barely can eat and hardly play. Teachers need a break and so do our kids, but we focus on tests. Teacher morale is low and my kids sense this. I am worried of the quality of teachers my children will get because you have watered down the requirements for becoming a teacher and demean the ones who remain by taking away their rights and basing their raises on a test my child must pass. You no longer value our teachers. They are teaching to the hope of the nation, our future, our next generation of leaders…you need to put more value on that – I want my children to have teachers who want to learn more about what they teach and how to teach it, yet there is no longer value for education, no incentive for a Master’s degree or value for years of experience in the profession.

These things need to change. The current conditions of the classroom and the teaching profession need to change. Please don’t put a Band-Aid fix on this by thinking a sign on bonus to a new teacher will help with the shortage. Fix the things that have made our current teachers quit and young adults seek professions other than teaching. I’m tired of worrying about the quality of teachers, the ridiculous demands from these tests, and whether or not my school will get enough funding to lower the student-teacher ratio. Please undo the harm you have done. Make our choice for our children the best choice as it once was. My kids deserve better. So does our community and the future of this state.

Anne Duff

Testimony by Donna Roof
Teacher Shortage Comment by NEIFPE Member Donna Roof

A few years ago when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I thought that fighting for my life would be the hardest battle I would ever face. Little did I know then what awaited my teaching profession. As a career teacher, I never ever in my wildest imagination dreamed I would be battling to save my profession.

People ask me what teaching is like these days, so I tell them what I know: There are times these days that being a teacher is more challenging, more stressful, more worrisome, more physically and emotionally draining, more frustrating than my being a cancer patient ever was.

So now we have a teacher shortage here in our state and across the nation. In as much as my lump didn’t just magically appear one day, neither did this teacher shortage. It has been insidiously growing for years, mostly undetected. However, ever since the Daniels/Bennett tenure, legislators, teachers, administrators, parents, grandparents, and concerned citizens who support public education have been speaking out against the many ill-advised, inappropriate, and punitive educational legislative policies. Many of them have come before you numerous times to speak or have emailed you and warned you of the bad educational policies and their deleterious effects on teachers, students, schools, and districts.

My list of reasons for why there is a teacher shortage would be similar to those of others addressing you today: Race to the Top, lack of respect for public school teachers, siphoning off of public school funds for vouchers, charters, developmentally inappropriate curriculum, loss of recess time, financial costs of testing, loss of instructional time for test prep, harmful consequences for teachers, students, and schools, removal of collective bargaining, teacher evaluations tied to student scores, merit pay, but you already know all the reasons.

With my cancer diagnosis I worked closely with my team of doctors, my cancer experts. I always felt as though my input mattered. Together we made sound decisions. Yet teachers who support public education are left out of the decision-making process when it comes to public education. Those educational experts who support public education and are valued by teachers are dismissed by those making legislation in favor of individuals with business savvy and big bucks but no expertise—no experience—in the classroom.

If you really want answers to why there is a teacher shortage, plan one of your committee meetings on a Saturday when teachers from across the state can be here to speak in person. Better yet, go to a school and be a teacher for at least a week.

Witness what your legislation has done. This teacher shortage is a Frankenstein of your own creation.

Although I am now nine years out from my breast cancer diagnosis, I will continue to raise awareness of it in hopes that more lives can be saved like mine was. If I don’t, the cancer wins. Additionally, I will continue to speak up, speak out, and speak truth about public education because it’s the right thing to do. For the students.

Thank you,

Donna Roof

From Glenda Ritz:
"Today, I testified in front of the Indiana General Assembly’s Interim Study Committee on Education to bring them up to speed on the great work that is being done by the Blue Ribbon Commission for the Recruitment and Retention of Excellent Educators.

"The Blue Ribbon Commission is continuing to develop a legislative agenda in addition to other strategies in the hope of bringing about long-term systematic change.

"The Commission has done great work – in fact, the members have been focused on strategies to make sure that we are able to meet the demand of what is needed in our classrooms.

"The goal of this work is to be proactive. We know we’ve always had shortage areas in our schools; however we are now starting to see a dip in the number of those entering the field of education. I am committed to ensuring that, as a state, we are headed in a good direction." -- Superintendent Ritz


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