Grading Indiana's Education Reforms: Three Local Teachers Weigh In

By Jeff Neumeyer

May 11, 2011 Updated May 11, 2011 at 5:26 PM EDT

ALLEN COUNTY, IN (Indiana's NewsCenter) --- What is the teacher perspective on Indiana's controversial education overhaul?

In a special report, Jeff Neumeyer gathered opinions from three Allen County educators, including a veteran instructor, a rookie, and a teacher-in-training.

They aren’t certain they are ready to warmly embrace the reforms, as they question whether the changes will help students learn, and teachers be treated fairly.

Jennifer Fenn is re-learning the ropes at Miami Middle School.

It's her first year back in the classroom after taking time off to raise her own kids.

It’s a most different scenario for Mike Gorman, a recent "Teacher of the Year" in Southwest Allen Schools, who is a computer instructor with 33 years in the profession.

Teacher-in-training Deb Graf is hoping to land her first job this fall.

Different backgrounds, shared anxieties about the future public school teachers face.

Governor Daniels’ education reforms, signed into law last month, include a new evaluation system that ties student performance to teacher pay.

The natural fear is what if I perform, but my students don't?

Jennifer Fenn/FWCS Teacher: " The old phrase goes, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. You can teach the life out of a subject and if a child does not test well, if that's going to impact your pay, I don't think it's very fair."

ISTEP+ test results are an important measuring stick under the new standards, but Gorman and Fenn teach classes not part of ISTEP, and Graf isn't sure if she will either.

Deb Graf/Future Teacher: " Each one of us is going to have a different definition of what is a good teacher. I just wonder what the criteria is to determine that."

Mike Gorman/SACS Teacher: " I think it's so important that we get beyond the test."

Proponents of the reforms say bad teachers will now be less able to hide behind seniority protections.

Critics say cash-strapped schools will be quick to layoff higher paid, experienced teachers.

Jennifer Fenn: " Those are the people that I'm always going to be learning from, and I don't want to lose them."

Some teachers may alter their classroom approach to meet new expectations. Gorman says it won't impact his plan of attack in the least.

Mike Gorman: " I'm going to say what great things can I do for kids, and I'm going to do that, regardless of what new rules there are."

The profession's frustrations are real, but did they lessen Deb Graf's passion for her new career?

Deb Graf: " If I didn't love youth and want to teach, I would not have gone into this profession. I'm excited about the possibilities."

Jennifer Fenn: " Of course, some things are frustrating for me. But I'm in it for the kids, and I just hope we don't lose sight of what's the most important thing, that is these children's education."

The education reforms also involve giving families who meet income guidelines the chance to use vouchers to send their kids to charter or private schools.

Gorman, Fenn and Graf generally worry that vouchers will rob public schools of money that they will badly need in an environment of dwindling revenues, but teachers, it appears, are going to have to get used to a number of changes they might not favor.

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