NEAL: ISTA ‘Crying Wolf’ Over Education Reform

June 4, 2012


In Chicago, teachers are poised to go on strike over a pay metric they think is unfair, longer school days they’d rather not work, and class sizes they consider unreasonable.

The Florida Education Association is challenging a proposal that ties teacher evaluations to student test scores, one of several factors used to determine merit pay awards.

The Massachusetts Teachers Association wants to keep off the November ballot an initiative that would make teacher effectiveness a more important element in school staffing decisions than seniority.

And in Indiana, the union is mobilizing teachers against a new educator licensing system that is more rigorous when it comes to content but more flexible in regards to who can become teachers and how they obtain and maintain their credentials.

You’d think by now teachers unions would have embraced the changes occurring in our schools, yet across the country they persist in efforts to preserve the status quo. In so doing, they risk their credibility as partners in education reform.

For example, the Indiana State Teachers Association has battled Gov. Mitch Daniels at almost every turn: on the expansion of charter schools, on the use of tax dollars to help parents pay for private schools and on changes in the teacher evaluation process that untie it from collective bargaining.

The most recent disagreement involving teacher licensing is a case in point. A memo to union members from Indiana State Teachers Association President Nate Schellenberger and Executive Director Brenda Pike warned that new licensing rules (REPA 2) before the State Board of Education “will de-professionalize teaching and possibly dismantle public education.” The memo urged teachers to speak out against the Rules for Educator Preparation and Accountability and provided talking points detailing their objections.

“We must act quickly,” the memo said. “By licensing individuals who have no university-based teacher preparation or pedagogical training, REPA 2 threatens the quality of our profession and the future of public education.”

The rules took effect in 2010 but are being tweaked by the state board to comply with other legislation. Among other things, they make it easier for non-traditional teachers to enter the profession and weaken the grip held by the major education schools on who can become a teacher and how. A public hearing on the rules is set for 9 a.m. June 21 at the Indiana Department of Education Riley Room, 151 West Ohio Street in Indianapolis.

It’s hard to imagine how new licensing rules threaten to end public education, which serves more than 1 million children in Indiana compared with 76,000 in the private system. The hyperbole brings to mind the “boy who cried wolf” and was eventually ignored after sounding one too many false alarms.

Theirs is the kind of rhetoric that alienates the public from the teachers unions although not from teachers themselves. In the most recent Phi Delta Kappa-Gallup Poll of public attitudes toward public schools, 47 percent of respondents said they thought unions have hurt “the quality of public school education in the United States.” This was up nine percent from the last time the question was asked in 1976. At the same time, almost three-fourths of respondents still express trust and confidence in public school teachers.

That’s what the unions don’t get. Their members still enjoy tremendous good will from the families they serve, with the most positive sentiments coming from people under 40. That same public wants a variety of school reforms and guarantees that effective teachers are in every classroom.

In his book “Special Interest: Teachers Unions and America’s Public Schools” Terry Moe of Stanford University made the case that unions are the most serious obstacle to school reform and that the only way to curb their power is to end collective bargaining.

In 2011, Indiana lawmakers limited the scope of collective bargaining with teachers unions to salaries and benefits, but the fact is unions still play a powerful role in local schools here. They’d be wise to join rather than fight reform efforts if they want to maintain their spot at the negotiating table.

Andrea Neal is adjunct scholar with the Indiana Policy Review Foundation. Contact her at


  • Horace Mann says:

    The recent changes in public education; teacher pay based on contrived metrics (RISE), high stakes testing, common core curriculum, voucher systems, loss of seniority and bargaining rights, and now REPA II are not coincidental. Collectively, they are removing the “public” from public education.

    A teacher now has no seniority, is oppressed with a flawed, subjective evaluation system that can be manipulated to remove her, and has no union support. What system is now in place to protect students from poor authoritative State decisions? The State has successfully removed every teacher’s ability to advocate for children.

    The State has tremendous, organized power. It is always the nature of power to become corrupt. The corruption exists by public education being “commodified” by private corporations. Follow the money trail. The State has sold out public education, and in return, the private corporations buying out public education have funded the politico’s coffers.

    That is why the unions are crying out (not crying wolf). Educators, parents, and unions are sounding an alarm as they witness the last vestige of democracy in public education and attempt to keep students from being indoctrinated with a government controlled, government dictated knowledge base,

    You would be well served to do more research on this topic and then decide which position is more aligned with your website’s mission statement.

  • john b. baker says:

    I support the efforts of our state’s teachers unions to maintain its credientials as a progressive body with its students clientel’s best interests at heart.
    I can’t understand how we can accept teachers in the future who are not trained through our rigorous academic system now in place.
    Teacher’s pay and teacher’s evaluations based on student success must not be left to adminstrative discretion. Forever, the system has penalized the effective teacher with a classroom full of less-motivated students because the effective teacher can somehow get through to them; or the administration has loaded the non-conforming teacher’s classroom with rejects who can’t fit in anywhere in order to send a message to the ‘out-of-step’ teacher to get in line or face the consequences.
    The latest government reform of the public school teacher is an attempt to blame the teacher for the student failure to succeed.
    For too long, the state educational hierarchy has deminished the classroom teacher’s abiity to teach by requiring paperwork incidental to and not relavent to the teacher-student relationship.
    If the state school superintendent persists, as he will, on this path of privatization of our public schools, then the proper recourse to combat this approach is to vote the offenders out of office. Don’t let these Republicans govern us.
    John B. Baker, former English teacher

    • Martha J Meyer says:

      The big vote is coming down on December 5. Even though the citizens of Indiana voted Tony Bennett OUT, he is going to strike one last time to push through REPA II. Among issues buried in the language is changing ALL special education licenses to P-12, Think of this. Would you want your child with blindness be taught be a teacher that might have “a few clock hours” of training and probably know nothing of the technology or teaching students braille and new technology systems? How many people noticed that the Dept. of Education graded our Indiana School for the Blind and Indiana School for the Deaf as “F?” Yes, Fs for our two special schools for sensory impaired children — both have been operating just fine for well over 100 years until Tony and his grand plan came along. It is a disgrace, and it implies these children are not getting an appropriate education for their special needs. Both are among the top schools for sensory impairment in the nation. REPA 2 must be tabled until our new Superintendent takes over.

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