SOUTHERN INDIANA — State superintendent Jennifer McCormick recently released her policy priorities for education in 2018. The list includes advocating for lowering the compulsory school-age from 7 to 5 years old, loosening teacher licensing requirements and reconfiguring diploma requirements, among other things.
“The foundation of these policies is to create a rich, innovative and immersive educational environment that challenges our students to be successful lifelong learners,” McCormick said. “Our 2018 priorities are the result of meeting with hundreds of Hoosiers over the last 11 months. During this time, I met with hardworking and dedicated educators, parents, and community members. The bounty of information shared is at the heart of our desire to ensure our children not just succeed, but achieve their full potential.”
The lowering of school age made to sense to Southern Indiana superintendents.
“For the most part, I believe that that’s already happening," Andrew Melin, superintendent of Greater Clark County Schools Corp., said. "Five-year-olds starting kindergarten is pretty much more the norm than the exception. Especially now that school systems are offering full-day kindergarten. It just makes sense that the earlier we can get kids in school, the sooner we can close any potential achievement gaps that can occur.”
Getting students into a public education setting sooner is more vital for students from lower socio-economic levels, Melin added, because those children sometimes don’t benefit from a preschool setting due to the cost.
“Kids at that age, ages 3, 4 or 5, research proves if you don’t have them kindergarten-ready and grade-ready by 8 you can’t get them caught up,” West Clark Community Schools superintendent Chad Schenck said. “The earlier we can fully fund and have compulsory attendance the better.”
Brad Snyder, interim superintendent of New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corp., said he thinks “early education appears to be the key for life success and we see that students who have a head start remain ahead. I think the public schools have done a good job educating 7-year-olds and have no reason to believe they won’t do a good job educating 5-year-olds.”
Teacher shortages in the state, as reported by Terry McDaniel of Indiana University’s Department of Educational Leadership, may be the cause for McCormick looking to “secure opportunities for flexibility in teacher licensing across all disciplines.”
A study done by McDaniel revealed that of 141 surveyed superintendents in the state, 94 percent said they had a teacher shortage, according to the Associated Press. Teachers for special education, mathematics and sciences were reported as the hardest to find.
“On one hand we do see some beginning signs of a teacher shortage so lowering requirements could assist with that,” Snyder said. “There is a high assurance now that we get good quality and good credentials. It could help with making placements, but that’s going to be buffered against the harm of reducing standard.” In his district, Snyder said there can be challenges in finding teachers for upper-level math and science courses.
In West Clark, Schenck said he feels state law permitting districts to release a teacher within two years of their employment would remedy any potential bad hires as a result from lax licensing.
“You hire slow, fire fast," Schenck said. "For the first two years you can dismiss a teacher if they aren’t doing a good job. Of course we are going to get them a mentor on the first day, get them professional development and the help they may need. Ultimately, we want someone who has the knowledge… and the ability to [work with] kids."
This set of priorities are just that: priorities. McCormick will work with the 2018 Indiana General Assembly to see that her vision makes a reality, but there are no policy changes as of yet.