May 8, 2024

Teachers challenge Indiana education leaders over literacy license requirements

Educators and members of the Indiana State Teachers Association voiced their concern over new literacy license requirements during a State Board of Education meeting in Indianapolis on Wednesday, May 8, 2024. - Rachel Fradette / WFYI

Educators and members of the Indiana State Teachers Association voiced their concern over new literacy license requirements during a State Board of Education meeting in Indianapolis on Wednesday, May 8, 2024.

Rachel Fradette / WFYI

More than 100 teachers packed the State Board of Education meeting Wednesday to voice their frustrations about new literacy training requirements tied to the state’s push for learning aligned with the science of reading.

The state Department of Education shared its literacy training rules last month for elementary and special education educators. It’s part of state leaders' approach to address young students’ declining reading skills with a classroom focus on teaching phonics and other skills

But educators say there's many problems. Fourth grade teacher Rebecca Bryant completed more than 85 hours of professional development in her first two years as an educator. That was her choice, she said.

“In light of this literacy endorsement, it is evident that I am not considered a professional in the eyes of the people sitting before me,” Bryant, who teaches in the South Newton School District, said.

The Indiana State Teachers Association has continued to challenge IDOE and its rollout of the endorsement. The state's largest teachers’ union sent a letter to education secretary Katie Jenner last week detailing changes educators would like to see going forward.

They also encouraged teachers to attend Wednesday’s meeting in Indianapolis where they could share their concerns. Dozens of teachers shared issues with how state leaders communicated the requirement, balancing time to complete this training and what they are being paid to finish it.

“You are dangling this $1,200 stipend in front of my face telling me it’s worth it,” Bryant said of a stipend available from the state. “‘We respect you. Here’s a little crumb.’ I don’t want a crumb, I want respect.”

More than 12,000 educators have signed up for the training, which includes the stipend once completed. Some teachers expressed their worry that there’s not enough funds to cover training for all educators.

And there’s not enough spots, other teachers claimed. Keys to Literacy, a third-party provider, is offering the courses for the state among other training.

“I saw some people joking saying it's harder to get signed up for this than to get Taylor Swift tickets,” Jenner said.

In response to teacher concerns, Jenner said she will work with state lawmakers during budget discussions ahead of the 2025 legislative session to ensure these courses remain free to educators. Plus, the state is adding more seats for training, she said.

The new literacy requirements were set by state law in 2023 and then tweaked this legislative session to ensure that targeted teachers renewing their license must also be trained in the science of reading.

New teachers will need to get this endorsement starting in July 2025 while current teachers have until on or after July of 2027 or until they move to renew their teaching license to complete the endorsement and take a state exam.

Third grade teacher Aaron Eastom told state leaders that the required exam after training does not reflect a teacher’s ability.

“It is possible to pass these tests with zero ability to teach,” Eastom said. “We need to stop splitting professionals based on an exam that's keeping quality talent out of our classrooms.”

Eastom, who teaches in Fort Wayne Community Schools, said no teachers expect the science of reading training to go away, rather they want to apply it effectively in the classroom.

“Teachers don't disagree with the need to do better,” Eastom said. “The majority of us are hungry to learn and seek out opportunities to learn from each other.”

Rachel Fradette is the WFYI Statehouse education reporter. Contact Rachel at rfradette@wfyi.org.

 

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