INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A new state law that allows Indiana to expand the number
of charter schools is sparking concerns that some schools will trade
traditional teachers for professionals who lack teaching licenses.
The law signed by Gov. Mitch Daniels allows 10 percent of teachers at any
charter school to be unlicensed, but the numbers could go higher if charters
obtain a waiver from the state.
Previously, all teachers had to be licensed by the state.
Supporters say that provision, which takes effect July 1, provides easier
entry into teaching for people from other careers. But opponents worry such
teachers might lack the skills to be effective educators.
"Teaching at a middle school or high school level isn’t about being an
expert in content. It’s about teaching kids to learn,” said Alene Smith, who
teaches social studies at Indianapolis Public Schools’ Shortridge Magnet
High School. “Some students are in foster care; others have emotional
problems. . They don’t care if you have a Ph.D.”
Some studies have shown that teacher certification has little impact on
student test performance. And there are schools where largely unlicensed
teaching staffs have produced outstanding results, the Indianapolis Business
Scott Bess, superintendent at Indianapolis Metropolitan High School, said
about half his staff comes to teaching through non-traditional routes. He
thinks that increases the teaching pipeline in critical fields such as math
and science and brings a fresh perspective to the classroom.
“Here’s someone who has done it, who has lived it,” said Bess, who returned
to education after leaving a job teaching middle school math to work in
technology for several years. “They have the aptitude.”
Indiana has looked elsewhere for inspiration, including Arizona, which
doesn’t require any teachers at its 511 charter schools to be licensed.
Just 24 percent of teachers at three charter schools operated by BASIS in
Arizona are licensed. The schools recruit teachers who have strong knowledge
in the areas they teach. Before they’re hired, prospective teachers must
present mock lessons to demonstrate their knowledge and ability to convey
Once hired, BASIS teachers go through a week-long summer program to learn
basic teaching methods. They also have access to ongoing training throughout
“We want to hire teachers who are experts, give them as much autonomy as
possible, and hold them accountable for results,” said Arwynn Gilroy, the
school’s communications director. “It’s much more difficult to learn a
subject than it is to convey something you know to students.”
Gerardo Gonzalez, dean of Indiana University’s School of Education, said
teachers in training need to spend time in classrooms with mentor teachers
and be taught how to teach a certain subject to a particular grade level.
"Having teachers who are not certified at all teaching students is a
disservice to the students and teachers because you’re putting them in
situations that, in many cases, they can’t handle,” Gonzalez said. Licensing
“is the mechanism the state has to ensure that every teacher has met the
minimum standards necessary to be a practicing teacher.”
But Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett said allowing
flexibility can enable teachers to be trained in ways that makes them most
“I want teachers to be consumers of preparation based on the needs of
children,” Bennett said. “That’s going to be a major paradigm shift.”