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Why They Wore Red

by BEN RICHARDSON - Indiana teachers rallied at the State House to push for fairer wages, smaller class sizes and major reform to ILEARN.

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Nov. 19, 2019) - The morning of Nov. 19 wasn’t just any other Tuesday at the Statehouse. As lawmakers found their way up the building’s limestone steps and through the doors to start their workday, estimates of close to 15,000 Indiana teachers dressed in red welcomed them with handmade signs, chants and a legitimately frustrated drumline. The swarm of educators made sure that the kickoff to the 2020 legislative session would not somehow overlook the realm of education once more, which has happened in past years. Several Westfield teachers attended the downtown rally, while several more gathered around our school flagpoles across the district to bring attention to the movement.

Hundred of teachers displayed handmade rally signs across the statehouse lawn (photo by THE INDY STAR)

“I think we had a great amount of support from our superintendent and our community,” Mrs. Holly Wheeler said. “I do think [Red for Ed] sends a message to the community that the teachers are important enough to take off a school day. I mean, this kind of stuff doesn’t happen. It hasn’t happened in Indiana yet.”

Over 100 districts across the state closed, but Westfield chose to continue on with the day as normal, with Superintendent Dr. Sherry Grate giving faculty her support if they chose to participate with ample notice for a substitute.

“I wasn’t opposed to the decision to keep school in session because I think that a lot of students need to be at school,” French and Spanish teacher Mrs. Stacey O’Brien said. “For some people, it’s a safe place. For others, just the continuity of having that routine is really helpful. But I was also not opposed to any teachers who wanted to go because the cause is obviously very important.”

In the meantime, teachers at the Statehouse demanded that the State Legislature address the amount of weight ILEARN holds for future funding. Before ILEARN results were released to the public on Sept. 4, even Governor Eric Holcomb warned legislators of low scores, urging them to pardon schools from any foretold funding consequences. The results showed that Indiana scored significantly lower on reading and math than the previous ISTEP+ year. Why? The ISTEP+'s replacement makes the process more rigorous through computer-adaptive questions, meaning students must answer harder questions as they answer correctly. Alongside major technology issues, teachers questioned its reliability as a standard for student achievement in the first year of being administered to their students.

Other hot button issues at the rally included oversized classrooms and a new requirement for teachers to take 15-hour externships in the workforce in order to renew their teaching licenses.

“Oversized classrooms is absolutely one of the biggest issues,” Mrs. Wheeler said. “It is such a challenge to meet 35 kids’ learning needs, and I’m not sure why our cap is that high. Students have even requested and wanted to be in smaller classes, but it’s out of our hands.”

What’s also out of teachers’ hands is the state’s decision to make them participate in 15 hours of professional development or externship to help them prepare students for the real-life workforce.

Teacher displays Dr. Seuss inspired rally sign to protest standardized test ILEARN (photo by THE INDY STAR)

“For some reason, there’s been a gap between what the kids are learning in school and what employers want them to the teacher knows what the employers need and wants, so they can help teach and guide those kids so they can fulfill those job opportunities that are out there,” Indiana State Senator Dennis Kruse (R – District 14) said.

The decision, however, doesn’t necessarily benefit teachers’ ability to teach in regards to their specific realm. Many felt blindsided by the new law, pointing out that they thought lawmakers are out of touch with the business and difficulties of the teaching profession.

“Red for Ed is about providing teachers more education geared toward what they teach instead of random things that will not help us in the areas that we teach," Mrs. O’Brien said.

Regardless of what passes or doesn’t pass in the Statehouse this upcoming January, Indiana teachers and the Indiana State Teachers Association have already made significant accomplishments this year. House Bill 1001 passed, ensuring that the State budget includes increases for public schools--the largest in 11 years. This secures funding for student mental health services as well.

“The one thing I would like students to know about wearing red [is that] the most important role in society is to educate and value children, so I want students to see that educating and valuing children is first and foremost, and there’s a domino effect with that,” Mrs. Wheeler said. “But if we can’t treat the teachers with respect and manage goals and class sizes, standardized testing and challenges, then how are those teachers supposed to reach every child?”

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