News From Terre Haute, Indiana


May 1, 2011

FLASHPOINT: Inadequate thought has gone into state’s educational reform effort

One of the points made loud and clear at the last Vigo County crackerbarrel session is that much of the legislation regarding public education has not been carefully thought through.

Here’s one example. After a second try at a crackerbarrel session for an answer to the question, what about merit pay for areas that don’t have any standardized test like music, there still wasn’t an answer. The Republican, Heaton, pretended to answer the question, and when pressed by teacher Chris Williams, a music teacher in West Terre Haute, to please answer the question, Heaton could still not give an answer.

Rep. Baird, a Republican, also could not provide an answer. The two Democrats, Sen. Skinner and Rep. Kersey, sat there silently. Why? Because they know it is not addressed in this legislation, which was precisely one of the points of the Democrat boycott. Much of the pending legislation has not been examined thoroughly, and some of the experts on education, including educators Skinner and Kersey, are continually dismissed as being “too close to the problem.”

It is disturbing to see what many consider “life-altering” legislation being whisked through the House and Senate without much thoughtfulness or consultation with the experts. The concept of merit pay for teachers is not something many educators are opposed to, but how is this going to be fairly and accurately assessed? That’s the point of disagreement.

The Indiana legislation proposing this initiative does not provide an accurate way to assess the quality of educators. I was at a meeting at which Tony Bennett suggested that teachers should be part of this process of evaluating their colleagues or an outside agency can come in. (Where’s the funding for that?) Imagine being party to the reduction in your close colleague’s pay. Using standardized tests may appear to be an unbiased way to assess teacher quality, but consider these questions: what about the test scores of the special education population being connected to teacher pay? What about teachers who teach the honors and advanced classes with the most studious students? They will surely get higher tests scores from their students.

What about all of those areas without a standardized test, such as art and music? Does a standardized test best assess learning? What about those students who I haven’t taught from day one of the course? Is there really any money for merit pay and will some teachers have reduced pay in order to provide the money for merit pay? The administrators at my school are already working long days, more than five days a week. How many extra hours will it take them for this additional evaluation process? How many hours are administrators expected to work? And what about me, a teacher who happily works many extra hours every week already? How many additional hours a week am I expected to work?

As a teacher of science, I can tell you that the problem-solving component of science education is mostly missing from any standardized test. I do many hands-on activities in my classroom, which by their very nature are loaded with many simple little problem-solving tasks, simply because students have to manipulate the lab materials. I won’t stop teaching science this way even if the standardized test is the link to my paycheck, but expect this from some other teachers who are more motivated by money, or simply need the money more because they are raising a family. If you want to take the joy out of science, take away the incentive to do the valuable hands-on activities which are not assessed very well on any test.

I do feel like I am being attacked as an educator, despite what Tony Bennett, the Indiana Superintendent of “private schools,” suggests. Teachers work hard at creating a favorable classroom climate for learning, but Bennett and Daniels have failed to create a positive environment for education in the state of Indiana.

Folks, when these pieces of legislation are passed, they become law, regardless of the missing pieces and problems with the verbiage. It is ridiculous that so many in our Statehouse have so little knowledge of what truly happens in our public schools, yet are so willing to vote for legislation they don’t fully understand and has loads of problems in it.

And, lastly, those of you who think I have this cushy job with all these luxurious conditions and benefits, why are you not rushing to join us educators? I think I know why. You may know that teaching is a profession that is all-consuming, requiring a huge dose of patience and compassion every day, is truly a challenge that is not for everybody, and to be really good at it takes a trunk load of skills that many people simply don’t possess. And, if you do have these skills, you can probably make a lot more money doing something else.

— Denise Marie Sobieski

Biology Teacher at Terre Haute North Vigo High School


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