University pairs professors with high school teachers to stave off dual credit crisis

A new pilot program at Indiana University has high school teachers working alongside college professors in an effort to fend off a looming crisis that could shut down hundreds of popular dual-credit classes in Indiana.

Dual credit classes let kids earn college credit while still in high school, but recent rule changes from an organization that governs the state’s universities mean that many of the people teaching the classes no longer have the right qualifications.

Indiana University hopes to help change that with a pilot program now operating in about a dozen schools around the state. The program pairs college professors with high school teachers, allowing schools to keep the classes running while giving high school teachers more time to meet new requirements.

“Early results from teachers are positive,” said Mike Beam, the director of IU’s Office of Pre-College Programs, who is running the pilot. “We intend to learn more when we bring all the teachers back together this summer, and then bring the other teachers into the fold.”

The new requirements behind the crisis come from the Higher Learning Commission, which accredits Indiana colleges. The Commission released new guidelines last year requiring teachers of classes that offer college credit to have either a master’s degree or 18 credit hours in their subject area.

When the new rules go into effect — as early as September 2017 — more than 1,200 Indiana teachers currently teaching dual credit classes could become ineligible.

Since every district in the state is required by law to offer dual credit classes, the issue has alarmed Indiana educators and had even caught the attention of state lawmakers.

The Indiana General Assembly passed legislation earlier this year that charged the state’s Commission for Higher Education and dual credit advisory council with studying the issue. The new law called on universities to come up with solutions to the problem, but the effort has been stalled by communication issues. Indiana education officials and lawmakers say the accrediting body doesn’t respond to questions and has been slow to clarify hazier parts of the new rules.

IU is one of several colleges looking for ways to solve the problem.

The university started its pilot with teachers in dual-credit public speaking classes in about a dozen schools last year. It plans to expand the pilot to two additional subject areas — math and political science — this summer and next fall.

The program assigns a college professor to be the “lead” educator in the class. The professor develops materials and concepts for the class then works with the high school teacher to figure out the best way it should be taught.

Most of the professors are based at the university’s main Bloomington campus, but he or she can connect with classrooms anywhere in Indiana via recorded or live-streamed video. The high school teacher is the person on the ground in the classroom, helping students master the material.

High school teachers won’t be passive observers, Beam said. They are the ones giving examples, generating discussion among students and guiding the class while the professors are the content experts.

“It’s really not a passive thing from the teacher’s vantage point,” Beam said. “Let the expert give us something to wrestle with, and then let’s wrestle with it together.”

Throughout the class, the teachers can benefit from the professor’s guidance, Beam said, while taking the time they need to figure out how to earn the extra credits they need to teach the classes on their own.

For some teachers, it might make sense to go back to school for extra credentials. Others, who might be closer to retirement and less willing to invest in additional training, might be able to rely on this strategy for a few years while their schools figure out how to keep offering the courses in the future.

Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Mount Vernon, who authored the bill lawmakers passed this session, said the University of Southern Indiana is also looking to make it easier for teachers to get the extra education they need. Over the summer, the university offered free tuition to dual credit teachers. Yet not every university or college can take on that expense, which has state officials looking for ways to quickly educate teachers who need it.

At a meeting of the state’s dual credit advisory council on Monday, other colleges talked about how they are quickly ramping up efforts to create more opportunities for dual credit teachers to shore up their credentials.

“I think we can develop a pipeline (of qualified teachers) quickly,” said Allison Barber, the chancellor for the online-only Western Governor’s University in Indiana, which offers master’s degree programs in education.

Because WGU’s program allows students to set their own pace, teachers seeking master’s degrees can often complete them more quickly than traditional programs, Barber said. Public four-year universities have already met twice regarding an effort to develop subject-specific 18-credit programs geared toward the 1,238 teachers who have master’s degrees but don’t meet the new rules

Meanwhile, the Higher Learning Commission might loosen its deadline, giving teachers until 2022 to meet the new education requirements.

As the state slowly moves to expand options, teachers are still worried that the additional requirements will be too expensive and too time-consuming. In a survey of Indiana teachers by the University of Indianapolis’ Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning, teachers said they wanted more pay incentives for earning a master’s degree, and they didn’t necessarily agree that earning one made you a better teacher for introductory dual credit classes.

“I see this as one more thing,” one teacher who responded to the survey said. “Every time we learn to do something, or every time we change something to comply, they they change the rules again.”

Based on the University of Indianapolis’ CELL survey, 49 schools that responded said the rule change would cause them to lose between 50 percent or 100 percent of their dual credit classes.

While Beam said teachers so far have given good feedback on IU’s pilot and the university is excited to continue it, he doesn’t see this as a cure-all — it serves one need of one group of teachers who might want to learn more from university professors. The state as a whole needs to come together to devise a long-term plan.

“We believe the pilot will be a very useful component in a very holistic approach to making sure teachers have everything they need in terms of a relationship with faculty,” Beam said. “We’re not looking at this as a work-around from the HLC requirements.”