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Indiana Tech’s Francis gives testimony at state hearing

October 30, 2015

On Monday, Oct. 19, Dr. Joshua Francis, interim dean of Indiana Tech’s College of General Studies and director of teacher preparation, was one of several education experts who gave testimony regarding concerns about teacher shortages in Indiana.

Dr. Francis was one of three educators from the Independent Colleges of Indiana invited to speak to lawmakers on the Interim Study Committee on Education, who were tasked with determining whether a widespread teacher shortage exists in Indiana and if it’s worse than in other states. On Monday, Oct. 26, the committee endorsed 19 policy recommendations, urging the full legislature – when it reconvenes in January – to consider budgeting more money for teacher pay, offering career training and expanding mentorship programs.

“My colleagues and I were happy have this opportunity to share our concerns,” said Dr. Francis, who joined the Blue Ribbon Commission on the Recruitment and Retention of Excellent Educators, which was assembled in August by Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz. “We all agreed that there were some root causes that the legislature needs to consider: the negative commentary surrounding the teaching profession; the increased use of standardized testing, both in teacher prep and K-12 education; linking students standardized test scores to teacher evaluations; low teacher salaries and lack of incentive to pursue continued professionalization.”

According to an informal survey of 26 percent of Indiana’s public schools corporation superintendents conducted by Indiana’s Legislative Services Agency, many report having vacancies and are filling permanent teaching spots with substitute teachers. In addition, recent data from the Indiana Department of Education reports the state issued 21 percent fewer licenses in the 2014-15 school year than the year before.

Below is a transcript of Dr. Francis’ testimony, which he presented during the Oct. 19 hearing:

I have served in the field of teacher education for more than seven years, in both Ohio and Indiana. Over the past five years, I have had the distinguished honor of working in the field in an administrative capacity. During this time, I have seen a trend towards decreased enrollment in traditional teacher education programs in both Indiana and Ohio.

In conversations with prospective students and current students who are electing to leave the field, I have heard common messages. First and foremost, there is a dissatisfaction with the direction the profession has been heading: increasing lack of respect, increased reliance on testing, linking standardized testing and teacher accountability, and a lack of support and mentoring. Second, the expectations and costs associated with becoming a teacher are not in line with the respective recognition of the profession and future salary returns. This is especially true in the STEM fields where it is far more lucrative for students to consider industry over teaching.

Prospective teachers have come to realize that the tides shift in educational policy with an increasing frequency, based largely on the socio-political trend of the moment. The increasing frequency of these shifts makes it difficult for teachers to provide a consistent education to their students. Combine this with the increased trend toward accountability, which is becoming more commonly tied to salary, it is easy to understand the increasing dissatisfaction among existing teachers and the decreasing interest in the profession among high school students.

This is not to say that teachers object to being held accountable for their students’ performance. On the contrary, many understand this need. However, by linking accountability to their salary, especially through the use of standardized summative assessments, while removing the incentive to pursue continued professionalization and education through national board certification or graduate study, the equation has become unbalanced. If teachers are to be held accountable, then we must support their desire to improve their knowledge and ability to increase student performance and provide an incentive for them to do so. In addition, it is essential that schools be recognized as the highly diverse places that they are. The use of standardized assessments to measure a diverse student body doesn’t make sense – especially when these standardized assessments are a record of a single moment in time. Rather, it is more logical to consider performance-based assessments as a means of evaluation. Such a move is well supported by research. Linda Darling-Hammond is a prolific researcher on this topic.

In my role as a director of teacher education, and now as a dean, I have the opportunity to speak with both prospective and current students on a regular basis. Many times, I hear these students raise concern over the cost and process of becoming a teacher. The increased reliance on standardized tests, in lieu of performance assessments for both admission to teacher education programs and for licensure, raises concerns. These tests, especially for admission to teacher education programs, exclude characteristics that research shows as essential for effective teachers. As a teacher educator, I know that we must consider a balance between the academic and non-academic when determining who should pursue teaching as a career.

In short, Mr. Chairman, to address the looming teacher shortage, we need to address the public perception of the teaching profession, provide incentives for teachers to pursue continuing professionalization through national board certification and/or graduate study, and acknowledge that teacher educators need to consider more than scores on a standardized test when considering who should be admitted for teacher candidacy.