Montana Board of Public Education hears concerns about axing ‘equity,’ ‘trauma,’ in updated rules

Comment period on standards for educator programs ends Friday

By: - August 30, 2022 4:36 pm

(Illustration by Getty Images)

Students who experience trauma at home throw chairs in the classroom, don’t pay attention, and use profanity, and teacher Jenny Murnane Butcher said she sees challenging behaviors every day.

“I needed training in how to respond to these trauma-caused behaviors and how to prevent them in the future,” said Butcher, who noted she has taught public school for the past five years. “And I assure you that aspiring educators will need these skills as well.”

As such, she said she was “extremely concerned” about proposed changes to the Board of Public Education’s educator preparation standards that would eliminate terminology such as “trauma-informed” in relation to classroom management. Rather, she said educators should be required to understand the effects of childhood trauma and other stressors.

Another educator raised a concern over the elimination of the word “equity” from the standards.

Tuesday, Montana Board of Public Education Executive Director McCall Flynn presided on behalf of Board members over a public hearing on the proposed changes in advance of the final comment deadline at 5 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 2, on Chapter 58 of the Board’s administrative rules. The chapter is called “Professional Educator Preparation Program Standards.”

The Board also is in the midst of updating Chapter 55, called “Standards of Accreditation,” and Flynn said she anticipates public comment will open on those changes in October. Some of those proposals already have been controversial, such as ones to ax the minimum requirement for school counselors to students and minimum ratio of school librarians to students.

Tuesday, only Chapter 58 was on the agenda, and Julie Murgel, with the Office of Public Instruction, said the recommendations made by the superintendent came out of significant outreach and recommendations from a task force. In particular, she said focus groups said teacher retention is a challenge, particularly in rural and reservation communities, and one goal is ensuring schools have an adequate and sustainable number of teachers.

However, members of the public, including leaders of education organizations and longtime education researchers from both the University of Montana and Montana State University, suggested changes to portions of Chapter 58, including those that address standards for principals and superintendents.

John Matt, department chair of educational leadership at UM, was among the educators who urged the Board to rely on more current standards for training principals and superintendents, those from National Educational Leadership Preparation, with specific additions related to Montana. He said the old standards currently in place create ambiguity.

“We have a high standard of leadership in the state,” Matt said. “It’s imperative we continue that standard and ensure that all residents in Montana know that we are setting a high bar for our leaders.”

Rob Watson, with the School Administrators of Montana, also urged the Board to ensure Montana’s standards for educational leaders align with best practices and current research. He said the old standards are from 2008 and don’t directly address important concepts, such as curriculum development or the use of data for making decisions.

“These concepts are key to the effectiveness of all school leaders,” Watson said. “And we would expect that our university partners would incorporate these concepts in their training of Montana principals and superintendents.”

Dennis Parman, head of the Montana Rural Education Association, said he didn’t want to see three terms in particular removed from the rules: ethics, ethical and equity. He noted Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen had recommended changes that eliminated those words from the revision.

The draft linked with the meeting agenda Tuesday had been updated and included references to ethics. However, it struck out all references to “equity,” a term the Gianforte Administration has opposed in favor of “equality.”

For example, the draft said K-12 reading specialists must demonstrate certain understandings through “developing and implementing strategies to advocate for equality of opportunity” instead of “for equity.”

The Board of Public Education is scheduled to make decisions on Chapter 58 at its meeting Sept. 14 and 15 in Helena.

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Keila Szpaller
Keila Szpaller

Keila Szpaller is deputy editor of the Daily Montanan and covers education. In Montana since 1998, she loves hiking in Glacier National Park, wandering the grounds of the Archie Bray and sitting on her front porch with friends. Before joining States Newsroom Montana, she served as city editor of the Missoulian, the largest news outlet in western Montana. She worked there from 2006 to 2020. As a Missoulian reporter, she was named a co-fellow by the Education Writers Association to report on a series about economic mobility; grantee of the Society of Environmental Journalists for a project on conservation from the U.S. to Africa; and Kiplinger Fellow in Digital Media and Public Affairs Journalism. She previously worked at the Great Falls Tribune and Missoula Independent, and she earned her master’s in journalism from the University of Montana. She lives in Missoula with her husband, Brock, who is also her favorite chef, and her pup, Henry, who is her favorite adventure companion. She believes she deserves to wear the T-shirt with this saying: “World’s most mediocre runner.”