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Charter school law spurs questions on teacher quality

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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 Journal reported.

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 it.

Once hired, BASIS teachers go through a week-long summer program to learn basic teaching methods. They also have access to ongoing training throughout the year.

“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 effective.

“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.”




Posted 5/16/2011




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