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Economy, Changes in How Teacher Performance is Evaluated Cut Interest in Teaching Careers

FORT WAYNE Ind. — Colleges across Indiana are reporting drops in the number of education majors this fall as a bleak job situation and changes in how teacher performance is judged dampen enthusiasm for what once was viewed as a noble profession.

Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne saw the number of education majors decline 19 percent, dropping from 1,020 last fall to 822 this fall. Ball State University’s Teachers College, a nationally ranked program, saw its undergraduate enrollment drop from 1,491 last year to 1,368 this year or slightly more than 8 percent. Trine University saw an 18 percent drop.

“Because the jobs aren’t there today, they are deciding to pursue other interests,” David Finley, vice president of academic affairs at Trine University in Angola, told The Journal-Gazette ( ).

Clayton Whistler, a sophomore at Trine and son of a retired teacher, said he wanted to pursue a career as a high school teacher. But by the time he got to college, he had changed his mind, deciding to become a physical therapist instead.

“The job market was closing,” he said. “And I thought I would change (my major) so I could get a job when I graduate.”

The job market hasn’t been the only deterrent, said professor Michael Slavkin, director of teacher education at Manchester College.

The number of undergraduate education majors at Manchester has decreased 20 percent in the past five years, a drop Slavkin also attributes to the administration of Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels.

Slavkin said Daniels and Superintendent of Education Tony Bennett have been outwardly aggressive in their disdain for teachers. The discourse became particularly caustic during the recent legislative session, he said, when lawmakers passed legislation limiting collective bargaining rights, linking teacher pay to test scores and other measures.

“Obviously, the current political environment around education probably makes (the field) less appealing,” Slavkin said. “I think this is the most important job we have to offer college students. I think it’s the most valuable. And yet, I think I would probably second-guess right now if my children were to come to me and say they wanted to be teachers. It’s been a hard couple of years in Indiana for educators.”

Professor Terrell Peace, director of teacher education at Huntington University, agreed.

“My profession has been downplayed, and there’s been a lot of criticism about the quality,” he said. “It’s not a popular profession, and it’s not an easy profession. If people go into the profession seeing that, I think it speaks to a higher level of commitment.”

Joseph Cortes-Gurule, a spokesman for the Indiana Department of Education, said the administration wants to elevate the profession, not tear it down.

“We’re doing exactly the opposite of denigrating teachers,” he said. “We want to reward great teachers. That’s what this last session aimed to do.”

Manchester sophomore Chelsea Fox, an education major, said she plans to follow her dream despite the current climate.

“I love children,” she said. “I’m one of those people who wants to make a difference in a child’s life.”

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