Teachers’ union, McCormick blast new literacy endorsements

The Indiana State Teachers Association is raising alarms and criticizing the Indiana Department of Education over its rollout of the state’s new literacy endorsement requirements needed for teachers to instruct in the science of reading – calling the process, so far, disrespectful to teachers.

Teachers are also calling this out as another example of what they see as the state (particularly Republican lawmakers) continuing to move goalposts for educator certifications.

ISTA lambasts IDOE for a “disappointingly brief” webinar last week outlining the new literacy endorsements that will soon be required for all teacher licensures. ISTA, in a statement via President Keith Gambill, described the 13-minute pre-recorded video as brief, “devoid of any opportunity for live interaction,” and contending that it “failed to meet the reasonable expectations of our educators who are seeking clarity and support amidst significant professional changes.”

“Such a format is not only insufficient but also disrespectful to the dedicated professionals who are striving to understand these new requirements,” Gambill asserts.

ISTA is demanding IDOE provide clearer details of how educators are affected by the literacy endorsement requirement.

Some of the ISTA concerns include proper compensation for the training, as well as insufficient time to complete the training. They also see a new certification as a disregard for current teachers’ experience already gained through years of teaching or other professional development.

Breaking down the new requirements, every current teacher who holds a pre-kindergarten to sixth grade or special education license must learn how to use the science of reading ­– the newest solution passed by lawmakers last year (and tweaked this year) to tackle the state’s dismal reading proficiency rates. Teachers are required to complete 80 hours of professional development on concepts of the science of reading, plus a written exam. Without it, they cannot renew their teaching license.

A third-party provider, Keys to Literacy, is endorsed by IDOE to offer a professional development course tied to the endorsement.

New teachers seeking an initial license will need to obtain the endorsement beginning in July 2025. Future teachers must participate in a college, or another preparatory program aligned with the science of reading. IDOE partnered with the Lilly Endowment Inc. to award the state’s universities grants to implement the science of reading teachings into their education programs.

Current teachers can begin in July of 2027 (and have three years after), or until they move to renew their teaching license, to complete the endorsement and take a licensure test.

The state-funded course through Keys to Literacy is free through June 2025. The state’s licensure exam is funded through a voucher after completion of the 80 hours of professional development. Teachers will also receive a $1,200 stipend if they complete the training and the exam through Keys to Literacy.  They can also earn credit for other training they have already done to meet the 80-hour requirement. This includes 25-hour science of reading modules offered in partnership with Marian University.

Teachers could also be paid more for getting an early literacy endorsement. The law enacted in 2023 requires pay differentiation for teachers who possess an early literacy endorsement.

IDOE hasn’t said much publicly following ISTA’s criticisms and has pointed to memos posted to address concerns.

IDOE issued a two-page memo on April 15 the association says clarifies questions posed, and misinformation spread about the literacy endorsements. “Over the weekend, misleading information was used to encourage teachers to contact the state and express concern regarding early literacy endorsement requirements,” the memo reads. “This information omitted key details, previously communicated by the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE), around flexibility and timing to complete the new requirements.”

The memo then delves into the literacy certification requirements we briefed for you above.

Still, ISTA is concerned another certification process will “significantly increase[ ] the stress on teachers’ already full schedules.” Their concern is that frustrated teachers will retire early or leave the profession when their licenses expire, rather than take these additional steps for renewal.

Gubernatorial candidate Jennifer McCormick (D), a former teacher herself and the state’s last state superintendent of public instruction, also is jumping in criticizing the new literacy endorsement requirements. Dr. McCormick offered her thoughts on the plan, and other education policy on Wednesday during the announcement of her endorsement from ISTA’s political action committee.

“It was a knee-jerk reaction to the literacy rate problem,” Dr. McCormick observes. “I thought it was sloppy, at best. And I just think it was a knee-jerk reaction to appease that they’re doing something under the Republican Party.”

She criticized Republican lawmakers for changing standards and expectations for educators constantly ­– drawing comparison to how the state sends a mixed message to continue to allow emergency teaching licenses, but then ask current teachers to take more certifications. McCormick asserts, “We are at a time when we are being told by the people in the house behind us, ‘Hey don’t worry, anybody can teach . . . they went from that to all of a sudden, no one is credentialed to teach and you need so much more regardless of your competency level.”

Dr. McCormick also reminds Hoosiers that literacy intervention programming has gone underfunded for years. She explains she tried to raise alarm about dwindling literacy rates among students years ago when she was the state’s education chief.

“When we were in office during Covid, we were signaling we were going to have a problem down the road,” McCormick says.

She stands by her platforms on investments in child care and providing universal pre-K education, and believes those would be better approaches.

She later adds that IDOE could be doing more to directly communicate with concerned educators, though she doesn’t entirely blame the department because they are just implementing policies made through state laws.

Stacy Kurdelak, a special education teacher at Rensselaer Central High School who voiced support for Dr. McCormick with ISTA on Wednesday, believes the new rule is disrespectful to experienced teachers. Kurdelak, as a special education teacher, will need to earn a literacy endorsement to keep her special education license.

She explains she has 28 years of experience, a master’s degree, a teaching license in four areas, and she’s consistently evaluated as highly effective by her building administrators. But she states, “according to the state, it is no longer enough.”

We expect to hear more from educators as the rollout of the training requirements continues. ISTA is calling on IDOE to host more webinars  . . . and it is encouraging its members to attend the next State Board of Education meeting on May 8 to express their frustrations.