Another viewpoint editorial: Teachers rightly challenge added literacy-training requirement

Terre Haute Tribune-Star

A TV commercial for a vaccine is aimed at folks 50 and older who naively believe their healthy lifestyle shields them from the shingles virus.

The narrator repeatedly reminds them, “Shingles doesn’t care.” Bike riding, trail walking and good citizenship cannot stop the varicella virus from emerging.

That phrase, with a slight twist, could be used to describe the efforts of Indiana teachers to get the Republican-ruled legislature to treat them as educated, qualified professionals.

The educators’ long-running predicament bubbled up again last week at a State Board of Education meeting in Indianapolis. Teachers from around the state packed into the May 8 session. They pushed back against a new law requiring all pre-K to Grade 6 and special-education teachers to complete 80 hours of professional development on “science of reading” concepts, and to pass a written exam. Teachers will not be able to renew their licenses without completing the 80-hour Keys to Literacy training and passing the exam by 2027.

Teachers would get a stipend of $1,200, amounting to $15 an hour, for earning their “early literacy endorsement.”

Legislators in the Indiana General Assembly passed the law earlier this year as part of an effort to remedy falling literacy scores, based on science of reading principles. The science of reading encompasses a body of research in education, psychology and neuroscience that explains how people learn to read and details best practices for teaching reading.

At last week’s meeting, teachers spoke out about the added time burden, given that many work second jobs to make ends meet during the summers. Teachers described the extensive education and degrees they already have invested time and resources into completing. Special-education teachers pointed out that they already go through multiple requirements for licenses. Others complained there were not enough open spots in the training, delaying their attempts to complete it.

A Fort Wayne educator testified that teachers agree with the need to improve, and do not expect the science of reading approach to disappear. They just want it to be relevant to the classroom. As a Vigo County elementary music teacher stated, the 80 hours of her off time devoted exclusively to the science of reading “will not make me a better music teacher, and it will certainly not allow me time to seek out professional development in ways that will benefit my classroom environment.”

The Indiana General Assembly doesn’t care.

The law was not concocted and passed with teachers’ burdens and concerns in mind. The legislature’s leadership has a track record of not trusting teachers to do their jobs and has periodically added complications to their duties. Lawmakers’ disrespectful approach has compounded Indiana’s teacher shortage. Much of that attitude stems from a dislike of teachers unions, such as the Indiana State Teachers Association. Indeed, the ISTA encouraged teachers to attend last week’s meeting, and they came with valid objections to the application of the literacy teaching requirements.

A fourth-grade teacher explained that she had completed more than 85 hours of professional development, by choice, in her first two years on the job. “You’re dangling this $1,200 stipend in front of my face, telling me it’s worth it,” she said. The implication from the state toward teachers is, as she put it, “We respect you. Here’s a little crumb.”

“I don’t want a crumb. I want respect,” she concluded.

The training is free through 2025 via a third-party professional development program, Chalkbeat Indiana reported. State Secretary of Education Katie Jenner said she will collaborate with legislators to keep the teachers’ course free beyond 2025. Jenner also said she, the state board and education officials want to create more flexibility for teachers to complete the training.

That flexibility should have been a prime consideration when legislators enacted the teaching requirements.