From the Statehouse

Conference panelists urge stronger teacher prep

Teacher preparation needs to be more rigorous, Stanford University professor Linda Darling-Hammond Monday told a Denver conference on educator prep and licensing.

Stanford Professor Linda Darling-Hammond (right center) addressed a Denver conference via an Internet video connection.
Stanford Professor Linda Darling-Hammond (right center) addressed a Denver conference via an Internet video connection.

The tone of the event contrasted with many of the conversations during meetings of the LEAD Compact, an appointed study that studied teacher licensure and that recently completed its work (see story). Much of the compact’s discussion involved ways to ease entry to the teaching profession.

Monday’s conference, organized by a group of education and community groups, was held as a counterpoint to the work of the compact. Conference moderator Dave Van Sant said, “Today’s event was designed as a supplement to that effort … to consider additional ideas.”

Darling-Hammond, a nationally known researcher, led off Monday’s conference at the University of Denver’s Morgridge School of Education. She spoke to the group and took questions for about 45 minutes via an Internet video connection.

“I do believe we need a major ratcheting up of the quality of preparation,” she said.

Much of her talk detailed how nations with high-achieving education systems like Finland and Singapore stress high-quality teacher preparation.

“If you look at the counties that are leading the world…all of them treat teaching as an expert profession,” she said. “The fact that we’re still debating that in the United States is shocking.”

In contrast, she said factors that undermine teaching as an expert profession — many of which are present in the U.S. — include addressing teacher shortages by reducing preparation, high teacher attrition, reduced investment in preparation programs, requirements for standardized teaching practice, failure to support teacher collaboration and learning time, and basing evaluation on bureaucratic measures rather than professional practice.

Darling-Hammond also stressed the importance of clinical training for teaching. As a slide in her PowerPoint put it, “In the U.S., teacher education is today where medical education was in 1910.”

“There is a lot of evidence that the quality of medical care and the outcomes of medical care” improved because of the standardization and improvement of medical education that happened in the last century, she said.

She closed her prepared remarks with two variations on an old cliché about teaching: “Those who can, do. Those who understand, teach” and “Those who can, teach. Those who can’t go into a less significant line of work.”

The second speaker, Vanderbilt University Gary Henry, walked through an extensive review of research in North Carolina that indicated better student achievement for teachers with high-quality preparation.

Henry said value-added teacher data is an important tool for state-level research but remains problematic for “high-stakes situations at this point.”

He said value-added data could be used to identify the 20 percent of teachers who are the lowest performing so they can receive coaching, mentoring and support. “Anything that’s more punitive … seems to us to be overly risky at this point.”

Other speakers at Monday’s event include Penn State University researcher Edward Fuller on the role of principals as instructional leaders and Doris Williams, executive director of the Rural Schools and Community Trust, who spoke about the staffing challenges for rural schools.

Teacher licensing and, to a lesser extent, teacher prep have been hot topics since last spring, when Denver Democratic Sen. Mike Johnston considered, and then withdrew, a bill that would have changed the current licensing system and used teachers evaluations as factors in license renewal.

It remains to be seen what, if any, licensing legislation will surface during the 2014 legislative session. Johnston told EdNews, “By far my top two priorities of the session by far are trying to secure funding to implement high priority components of SB 213 and effectively supporting district implementation of current reform efforts. Licensure is a distant third priority after those, so now that LEAD is concluded and we are far closer to an agreement we will move licensure to the back burner and get to work on school funding.”

The event was sponsored by several education and community groups, including the Colorado Education Association, the Colorado Rural Caucus, the public-interest law firm Children’s Voices, the Public Education & Business Coalition, the Colorado BOCES Association, the NAACP of Denver, the Colorado Latino Forum and the Boulder Valley Education Association.

More than 80 people attended the event in person, and organizers said more than 50 others observed a webcast of the session. Several members of the LEAD Compact attended the meeting, as did Tony Lewis, executive director of the Donnell-Kay Foundation, a funder of the LEAD group.

More grades?

Schools with lots of transfer students say A-F labels don’t fit

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Schools with large numbers of kids who transfer in or out should get an extra grade from Indiana’s A-F system, a legislative committee said Thursday.

The proposal, backed by both Democrats and Republicans on the House Education Committee, would give schools a second A-F grade based just on the scores of students who have attended for at least a year.

The goal is to account for schools with “high mobility,” common in poor neighborhoods where families move frequently and kids sometimes change schools several times in a single school year. When kids change schools, their test scores often sink. Lawmakers argued the schools where they end up on test day can be unfairly saddled with a low grade that doesn’t necessarily reflect the quality of teaching at the school.

Even so, the schools will still be judged the same as all schools in Indiana on their first A-F grade.

The proposal was added as an amendment to House Bill 1384, which is mostly aimed at clarifying how high school graduation rate is calculated. The bill passed out of committee today, 8-4. It next heads to the full House for a vote, likely later this week.

The amended bill would require the Indiana State Board of Education to first define a “high-mobility” school. Then, starting in the 2018-19 school year, the board would assign those schools both the typical grade based primarily on state tests and a second grade that only considers the test and other academic data of students who have attended the school for one year or more.

The second grade could not be used by the state board to make decisions about state sanctions, the bill says. But it would help parents and others better understand the circumstances at the school, said Rep. Bob Behning, the bill’s author and chairman of the education committee.

“Especially in our urban centers, there are several schools … that have very high mobility rates,” Behning said. “We could all recognize that if you’re being moved from school A to school B to school C to school D in a year, it’s going to be very difficult for your performance to be where it needs to be.”

The bill also makes a similar change to high school graduation rates, which would help Indiana better comply with new federal law, Behning said. The bill would alter the graduation rate calculation so that students who drop out would only count in a school’s rate if they attended that school for at least 90 percent of the school year. Otherwise, their graduation data gets counted at the previous school they attended for the longest time.

Melissa Brown, head of Indiana Connections Academy, one of the largest online schools in the state, testified in support of the bill. She said the graduation rate change and second letter grade better reflect the work they’re doing with students.

“We really believe that if we can keep a student, we can help them,” Brown said.

Virtual schools have performed poorly on state tests, which some school leaders argue is because they serve a challenging population of students, including those who frequently move and switch schools, come to school far behind grade level and have other learning difficulties that make them more difficult to educate.

Read: The broken promise of Indiana’s online schools

Indiana Connections Academy sees about 20 to 25 percent of students come and go each year, Brown said. Other virtual schools, such as Hoosier Academies, have reported more than double that rate.

Although the rates for individual schools could vary widely, Beech Grove schools had the highest district mobility rate in 2015 in Marion County, where 20.1 percent of students left a Beech Grove school to go outside the district, according to state data. Franklin Township had the lowest, with 8.5 percent. Generally, transfer within districts was much lower.

In IPS, the rate was 18.4 percent for students leaving to attend a school in another district, and 8.2 percent of students left their home school to attend another in IPS.

Brown said she thinks the second school grade could help all schools that see high turnover, but it also could dispel some misinformation about what virtual schools are for — it’s not a “magic pill” for kids who are far behind, she said, a scenario she encounters frequently.

“At the end of the day, it’s really about what’s best for the kid,” Brown said. “And it’s not best to send a student to another school with two weeks left in the semester expecting a miracle to happen.”

new plan

Lawmakers want to allow appeals before low-rated private schools lose vouchers

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Rep. Bob Behning, chairman of the House Education Committee, authored HB 1384, in which voucher language was added late last week.

Indiana House lawmakers signaled support today for a plan to loosen restrictions for private schools accepting state voucher dollars.

Two proposal were amended into the existing House Bill 1384, which is mostly aimed at clarifying how high school graduation rate is calculated. One would allow private schools to appeal to the Indiana State Board of Education to keep receiving vouchers even if they are repeatedly graded an F. The other would allow new “freeway” private schools the chance to begin receiving vouchers more quickly.

Indiana, already a state with one of the most robust taxpayer-funded voucher programs in the country, has made small steps toward broadening the program since the original voucher law passed in 2011 — and today’s amendments could represent two more if they become law. Vouchers shift state money from public schools to pay private school tuition for poor and middle class children.

Under current state law, private schools cannot accept new voucher students for one year after the school is graded a D or F for two straight years. If a school reaches a third year with low grades, it can’t accept new voucher students until it raises its grade to a C or higher for two consecutive years.

Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, the bill’s author, said private schools should have the right to appeal those consequences to the state board.

Right now, he said, they “have no redress.”  But public schools, he said, can appeal to the state board.

Behning said the innovation schools and transformation zones in Indianapolis Public Schools were a “perfect example” for why schools need an appeal process because schools that otherwise would face state takeover or other sanctions can instead get a reprieve to start over with a new management approach.

In the case of troubled private schools receiving vouchers, Behning said, there should be an equal opportunity for the state board to allow them time to improve.

”There are tools already available for traditional public schools and for charters that are not available for vouchers,” he said.

But Democrats on the House Education Committee opposed both proposals, arguing they provided more leeway to private schools than traditional public schools have.

“Vouchers are supposed to be the answer, the cure-all, the panacea for what’s going on in traditional schools,” said Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary. “If you gave an amendment that said this would be possible for both of them, leveling the playing field, then I would support it.”

The second measure would allow the Indiana State Board of Education to consider a private school accredited and allow it to immediately begin receiving vouchers once it has entered into a contract to become a “freeway school” — a type of state accreditation that has few regulations and requirements compared to full accreditation.Typically, it might take a year or so to become officially accredited.

Indiana’s voucher program is projected to grow over the next two years to more than 38,000 students, at an anticipated cost — according to a House budget draft — of about $160 million in 2019. Currently in Indiana, there are 316 private schools that can accept vouchers.

The voucher amendments passed along party lines last week, and the entire bill passed out of committee today, 8-4. It next heads to the full House for a vote, likely later this week.