Who Is In Charge

Momentum builds for career and technical diploma

A bill to create a new career and technical diploma won unanimous support in the Indiana House today, despite concerns from the Indiana Chamber of Commerce that the state does not need a fifth diploma type.

House Bill 1213, authored by Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Mount Vernon, would direct the Indiana Career Council to name a committee to design the new diploma, including what courses are required. It passed the House 92-0.

McNamara, who is director of Evansville’s Early College High School, argued that the state’s primary diploma, known as the Core 40, has discouraged students from participating in career and technical programs and caused schools to offer fewer of those options.

“We all know that when kids do what they love they are going to shine,” she said. “Having a diploma in classes in which kids can learn English and math skills in the context of doing what they love only means good things for the state of Indiana.”

Indiana has four diploma types — general, Core 40, honors and career and technical honors — and has encouraged students to aim for at least the Core 40. Because that diploma requires more courses, and more challenging courses, some advocates for career and technical education believes students may shy away from career and technical courses to concentrate on meeting their Core 40 requirements.

But Derek Redelman, vice president of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, said his organization opposes the bill.

“We strongly support the general goals that have been laid out in this bill,” he said last week when the House Education Committee heard testimony. “But rather than creating another diploma that might confuse the situation, we’d rather figure out a way to address the diplomas we have.”

The state does offer a career and technical honors diploma, but to earn that credential students must first complete the Core 40 diploma and then add extra classes or academic achievements like a high SAT score.

McNamara argues that some of the advanced courses in the Core 40 might not be needed by students who are aiming for good jobs in careers that do not require college degrees. Her hope, she said, was that a separate career technical diploma would still be demanding but that the coursework could be tailored to skills those students need.

The bill drew praise from Democrats, including Rep. Kreg Battles, D-Vincennes. Battles, a teacher, said it was one of the best bills the legislature had seen in years. Battles framed the idea as a step back from a Republican-led push for ever higher standards in recent years, saying the push often fails to consider the needs of all students.

“We get so caught up with rigor,” he said. “That has become a buzzword. We have forgotten about relevance. Rigor is only good if it is relevant.”

Battles said the bill was needed to revive career and technical education.

“Our technical and career programs are being destroyed and it isn’t because we don’t have kids who are interested,” he said. “They don’t have room in their schedules.”

Indiana has moved in recent years to require students to complete the Core 40 diploma. In order to opt for a general diploma, students must demonstrate that they are following an alternative graduation plan that meets all the state’s requirements in basic subjects.

A 2012 study by IUPUI, however found even a Core 40 may not be enough to guarantee a student succeeds in college. Marion County graduates in the study significantly increased their chances of going to, and graduating, from college if they completed the honors diploma. There was little difference in college attainment and completion for students who earned a Core 40 vs. a general diploma.

The bill now moves to the Senate, which will begin considering House bills next week.

General Diploma
English/language arts: 8 credits (Includes literature, composition and speech)
Mathematics: 4 credits (Includes Algebra 1 or integrated mathematics)
Science: 4 credits  (Includes Biology 1 and at least one credit in physical science or earth and space science)
Social studies: 4 credits (Includes U.S. History and U.S. Government)
Physical education: 2 credits
Health and wellness: 1 credit
College and career pathway courses*: 6 credits
Flex credits**: 5 credits
Electives: 6 credits
Total credits: 40*Must select electives with a deliberate purpose to prepare for college or work.
**Courses in college or career readiness, co-op or internships, college dual credits or additional courses in core subjects.

Core 40 Diploma
English/language arts: 8 credits (Includes literature, composition and speech)
Mathematics: 6 credits (Includes Algebra 1, geometry and Algebra 2)
Science: 6 credits (Includes Biology 1 and Chemistry 1, Physics 1 or an integrated chemistry and physics course)
Social studies: 6 credits (Includes U.S. History, U.S. Government, Economics and World History or Geography)
Physical education: 2 credits
Health and wellness: 1 credit
Directed electives: 5 credits (Includes world languages, fine arts and career or technical education)
Electives: 6 credits
Total credits: 40

Technical Honors Diploma

Must complete all the Core 40 requirements plus:
– At least at least 6 additional credits in college or career preparation courses
– A grade of C or better in all courses that count toward the diploma
– A GPA that averages at least a B
– At least two Advanced Placement/dual credit college courses, or a score of 530 on each part of the SAT, or an ACT score of 26 or higher or 4 credits of International Baccalaureate courses.
Total credits: 47

Academic Honors Diploma
Must complete all the Core 40 requirements plus:

– At least 2 additional math credits
– At least 6 to 8 credits in world languages
– At least 2 credits in fine arts
– A grade of C or better in all courses that count toward the diploma
– A GPA that averages at least a B
– At least two Advanced Placement/dual credit college courses, or a score of 530 on each part of the SAT or an ACT score of 26 or higher, or 4 credits of International Baccalaureate courses, or a earn a minimum score on special state math, reading and writing skill tests.
Total Credits: 47

pushing back

State’s most drastic school intervention plans won’t work, say Memphis board members

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Shelby County Schools board member Stephanie Love

School board members in Memphis are pushing back on the state’s plan to intervene in two low-performing schools.

In their first public discussion of an intervention plan outlined this month by the Tennessee Department of Education, members of Shelby County’s board of education said they aren’t convinced the most drastic recommendations will work for Hawkins Mill Elementary and American Way Middle schools.

The state has recommended closing Hawkins Mill because of its low enrollment and poor academic performance. American Way is on the state’s track either for takeover by Tennessee’s Achievement School District or transfer to a charter organization chosen by Shelby County Schools beginning in the fall of 2019.

But school board members said they’d rather move both schools to the Innovation Zone, a turnaround program run by the local district which has had some success since launching in 2012.

And Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said he wants to keep Hawkins Mill open because the Frayser school is in its first year under his “critical focus” plan to invest in struggling schools instead of just closing them.

“I would prefer to stay the course,” he told board members Tuesday evening. “I don’t think the board should be forced to close something by the state.”

Whether local school leaders can make that call is up for debate, though.

The intervention plan is the first rolled out under Tennessee’s new tiered school improvement model created in response to a 2015 federal education law. State officials say it’s designed for more collaboration between state and local leaders in making school improvement decisions, with the state education commissioner ultimately making the call.

But Rodney Moore, the district’s chief lawyer, said the state does not have the authority to close a school if the board votes to keep it open.

Both Hawkins Mill and American Way are on the state’s most intensive track for intervention. The state’s plan includes 19 other Memphis schools, too, with varying levels of state involvement, but only Hawkins Mill and American Way sparked discussion during the board’s work session.

Until this year, Hawkins Mill was one of the few schools in the Frayser community that hadn’t been under a major improvement plan in the last decade — unlike the state-run, charter, and iZone schools that surround it. But last year, Hopson’s “critical focus” plan set aside additional resources for Hawkins Mill and 18 other struggling schools and set a three-year deadline to turn themselves around or face possible closure.

School board members Stephanie Love, whose district includes Hawkins Mill, said that timeline needs to play out. “I am in no support of closing down Hawkins Mill Elementary,” she said. “We have what it takes to fully educate our children.”

PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier
Protests over the state takeover of American Way Middle School in 2014, which is in Rep. Raumesh Akbari’s district in Memphis, motivated her to file legislation designed to limit the power of the state’s Achievement School District.

American Way Middle has been on the radar of local and state officials for some time. In 2014, the state explored moving it to the ASD, but that didn’t happen because the southeast Memphis school had higher-than-average growth on student test scores. American Way has not kept up that high growth, however, and Chief of Schools Sharon Griffin considered it last year for the iZone.

Board member Miska Clay Bibbs, whose district includes American Way, was opposed to both of the state’s intervention options.

“What you’re suggesting is something that’s not working,” Bibbs said of the ASD’s track record of school turnaround based on its charter-driven model.

Bibbs added that any improvement plan for American Way must be comprehensive and offered up a resolution for consideration next week to move the school into the iZone next school year.

“We can no longer be: change a principal, tack on an extra hour. It has to be a holistic approach,” she said, adding that feeder patterns of schools should be part of the process.

Turnaround 2.0

McQueen outlines state intervention plans for 21 Memphis schools

PHOTO: TN.gov
Candice McQueen has been Tennessee's education commissioner since 2015 and oversaw the restructure of its school improvement model in 2017.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen has identified 21 Memphis schools in need of state intervention after months of school visits and talks with top leaders in Shelby County Schools.

In its first intervention plan under the state’s new school improvement model, the Department of Education has placed American Way Middle School on track either for state takeover by the Achievement School District or conversion to a charter school by Shelby County Schools.

The state also is recommending closure of Hawkins Mill Elementary School.

And 19 other low-performing schools would stay under local control, with the state actively monitoring their progress or collaborating with the district to design improvement plans. Fourteen are already part of the Innovation Zone, the Memphis district’s highly regarded turnaround program now in its sixth year.

McQueen outlined the “intervention tracks” for all 21 Memphis schools in a Feb. 5 letter to Superintendent Dorsey Hopson that was obtained by Chalkbeat.

Almost all of the schools are expected to make this fall’s “priority list” of Tennessee’s 5 percent of lowest-performing schools. McQueen said the intervention tracks will be reassessed at that time.

McQueen’s letter offers the first look at how the state is pursuing turnaround plans under its new tiered model of school improvement, which is launching this year in response to a new federal education law.

The commissioner also sent letters outlining intervention tracks to superintendents in Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Jackson, all of which are home to priority schools.

Under its new model, Tennessee is seeking to collaborate more with local districts to develop improvement plans, instead of just taking over struggling schools and assigning them to charter operators under the oversight of the state-run Achievement School District. However, the ASD, which now oversees 29 Memphis schools, remains an intervention of last resort.

McQueen identified the following eight schools to undergo a “rigorous school improvement planning process,” in collaboration between the state and Shelby County Schools. Any resulting interventions will be led by the local district.

  • A.B. Hill Elementary
  • A. Maceo Walker Middle
  • Douglass High
  • Georgian Hills Middle
  • Grandview Heights Middle
  • Holmes Road Elementary
  • LaRose Elementary
  • Sheffield Elementary
  • Wooddale High

These next six iZone schools must work with the state “to ensure that (their) plan for intervention is appropriate based on identified need and level of evidence.”

  • Sheffield Elementary
  • Raleigh-Egypt High
  • Lucie E. Campbell Elementary
  • Melrose High
  • Sherwood Middle
  • Westwood High

The five schools below will continue their current intervention plan within the iZone and must provide progress reports to the state:

  • Hamilton High
  • Riverview Middle
  • Geeter Middle
  • Magnolia Elementary
  • Trezevant High

The school board is expected to discuss the state’s plan during its work session next Tuesday. And if early reaction from board member Stephanie Love is any indication, the discussion will be robust.

“We have what it takes to improve our schools,” Love told Chalkbeat on Friday. “I think what they need to do is let our educators do the work and not put them in the situation where they don’t know what will happen from year to year.”

Among questions expected to be raised is whether McQueen’s recommendation to close Hawkins Mill can be carried out without school board approval, since her letter says that schools on the most rigorous intervention track “will implement a specific intervention as determined by the Commissioner.”

Another question is why the state’s plan includes three schools — Douglass High, Sherwood Middle, and Lucie E. Campbell Elementary — that improved enough last year to move off of the state’s warning list of the 10 percent of lowest-performing schools.

You can read McQueen’s letter to Hopson below: