The basics of education in Indiana

The basics of Indiana’s teacher shortage debate: What comes next?

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
House Bill 1004 would allow districts the freedom to determine where on the pay scale teachers in hard-to-fill positions should fall.

(This story is one in a series exploring the basics of key issues in education in Indiana. For a list of the issues and links to the other stories in the series, go here.)

When some Indiana schools had trouble finding enough qualified teachers to fill open jobs in 2015, it wasn’t the first time, but it did seem to be the first time the problem captured wide attention.

Ever since news broke in that July that state teaching licenses and teachers college enrollment were down from years past, educators, community leaders and policymakers have been organizing all manner of meetings, panels and proposed legistlation to try to find ways to attract teachers to the state and get those already in the classroom to stay.

But not every school or district is having trouble hiring, and data on whether the state is seeing a true teacher shortage is inconclusive and doesn’t span every region or subject. Some researchers even say the notion that there are teacher shortages, both in Indiana and across the nation, have been vastly overstated for years.

It could be that in some parts of Indiana there is a mismatch between certified teachers with the right expertise or training and the available jobs, rather than too few certified teachers in general.

Even so, some Indiana schools have definitely struggled to hire teachers to fill open positions. Typically, urban, high-poverty schools and those in rural areas have the hardest time attracting teachers. There are also generally fewer applicants for jobs teaching science, math, foreign language and special education.

In 2015, state Superintendent Glenda Ritz put together a 49-member panel to devise strategies to recruit and retain teachers. Separately, lawmakers gathered to hear from policy experts on teacher labor markets. Finally, Republican leaders in the statehouse proposed an early draft of a bill to reward aspiring teachers with free college tuition.

But by the end of the year, no one solution had broad support. Many educators, including the largest teachers union in the state, joined Ritz in calling for the rollback of reforms adopted in 2011 that discouraged districts from using traditional teacher pay scales and banned automatic raises to teachers who earned master’s degrees.

Others prefer widening the state’s “talent pipeline,” by focusing more on persuading high school and college students to pursue teaching as a career.

Still others have a more specific angle — recruiting more minority students to teaching programs, creating mentoring programs and new career paths for new and veteran teachers and making it easier for teachers to transfer their licenses from other states to Indiana.

There are lots of suggestions, but little decisive action just yet.

Complicated data collection

Using data to try determine whether Indiana has a teacher shortage is complicated, and it’s very easy to misinterpret.

Changes to reporting rules and how data is collected both in the state by the education department and nationally through college submissions, for example, made some data sets slightly different and difficult to compare.

Isolating data on just licensed teachers prior to 2009 has proved especially difficult. Federal data from 2000 to 2012 show a relatively stable number of teachers, but the number of state licenses tells a different story.

From 2014 to 2015, 21 percent fewer educators received first-time licenses. The drop is 33 percent since 2009-10 — 3,802 licenses were issued in 2014-15, down from 5,685 in 2009-10.

But that data includes licensed educators who aren’t classroom teachers, such as administrators and other staff, and new information from 2015. For those reasons, it differs from numbers the department cited earlier in the summer of 2015, showing an 18.5 percent decline in first-time teaching licenses between 2009-10 and 2013-14.

Some districts raised alarms that they couldn’t fill jobs in 2015 that were easily filled in years past, like Greensburg schools, a rural district headed by Superintendent Tom Hunter.

Yet others, such as Wayne Township, have less than a handful of teachers leaving each year.

Attracting aspiring teachers

Also raising concern in 2015 that Indiana was facing a major teacher shortage was a decline in the number of college students studying to become teachers.

But some of the college enrollment data cited in earlier reports didn’t show true drops. Rather, dips in the numbers could be explained by changes in federal reporting requirements. Some reports counted only licenses issued, rather than people certified. As teachers can be certified in multiple subjects, those comparisons don’t always paint the clearest picture.

According to information from the Indiana Commission on Higher Education, there was a 37 percent decline in students completing teacher preparation programs from 2004 to 2014, but that doesn’t include teachers from alternative preparation programs such as Teach For America or The New Teacher Project.

Indiana State Board of Education member Gordon Hendry released a proposal in 2015 to encourage students to go into teaching by paying for four years of college tuition. The idea gained traction with Republican lawmakers. House Speaker Brian Bosma said House Bill 1002 would include many of Hendry’s ideas in 2016.

But there would be key differences. For example, teachers would have to teach for five years, not four, to get tuition paid, and the program would begin in 2017, not 2016.

Hendry estimated the plan would cost $4.5 million, but Bosma did not put a price tag on his plan or elaborate on exactly how it might work. He did say he didn’t think funding concerns would keep such a measure from moving forward, even though 2016 is not a budget year.

Keeping teachers in the classroom

Perhaps the most overlooked part of the problem is retaining existing educators. Many education policy researchers identify that as the biggest challenge to maintaining a strong teaching force.

According to education department data, Indiana school districts brought back about 80 percent, or four out of five, of their teachers the next year in the same schools between 2012-13 and 2013-14. In Marion County, 73.6 percent of teachers returned to the same school in the second year, but IPS was far lower at 61.3 percent.

“Retention,” however, doesn’t just refer to teachers who either choose to stay in teaching or leave the profession altogether. If a teacher switches districts or retires, that person counts against a district’s retention rate. Indiana’s retention rate is at about 80.8 percent, according to state data, but that number likely underestimates the number of teachers still teaching because it doesn’t count those who switched schools or finished their careers.

In Indiana, rapidly changing education policy and teacher expectations have led to increasing dissatisfaction among educators. In Ritz’s panel meetings, state education department staff identified three main reasons why teachers might leave: training, working conditions and pay and the public’s perception of teachers.

Pay, naturally, is a big sticking point.

From 2012 to 2015, the state reported that teacher pay increased by between 8 and 9 percent for teachers with up to seven years of experience. But after that point, pay fell for more experienced teachers, eventually plateauing for those with about 20 years in the classroom.

The average salary for a first-year teacher was $37,044 in 2015, up from $33,530 in 2012. Inflation between 2012 and 2015 was just more than 4 percent nationally.

But money isn’t the only thing that can affect whether teachers are happy with their jobs. School climate, such as whether there is good discipline and leadership, and the opportunity for additional training and support mean a lot, too.

One principal at Wayne Township’s Chapelwood Elementary School, Heather Pierce, said that was a main priority for her. The school has a program through which veteran and new teachers can collaborate and another just for new teachers to help them acclimate to their jobs.

It’s that kind of deliberate, readily available support, Pierce said, that makes her teachers stick around.

Looking ahead to 2016, it’s unclear how the legislature will try to address the problem. In 2014, bills promoting a well-regarded program known as National Board Certification were never discussed despite strong support from the Indiana State Teachers Association and from Ritz. The Indiana Department of Education announced earlier this week that teachers seeking certification or already-certified teachers who want to mentor others are eligible to apply for grants to support their work. More than $30,000 is available, the department said in a statement.

Bosma said he plans to introduce his bill when the session begins in January of 2016. Ritz’s panel’s suggestions will be sent to legislative leaders after a final round of editing.

However, Ritz pointed out that legislators might not be completely on-board, as many of the panel’s ideas stand in opposition to decisions lawmakers have made about teacher pay and similar issues in recent years.

-Updated December 2015


After almost 10 years of changes to Indiana classrooms, ESSA’s headed your way. Here’s what you should know about the new federal law.

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Students in IPS School 91's multi-age first-, second- and third-grade classroom work on math activities.

This year, Indiana education officials are focused on shifting education policy to comply with the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which Congress passed in late 2015.

But given Indiana’s history, ESSA is likely to be just the latest in a long line of education policy changes.

What started with a new schools chief focused on shaking things up in 2008 turned into major legislative changes that gave Indiana its oft-cited charter school and voucher programs in 2011.

Around the same time, Common Core standards burst on the scene, highlighting Indiana once again as an early adopter and — just a few years later — as one of the first states to jump ship. Battles over replacing ISTEP ramped up in late 2015, followed in rapid succession by an election resulting in a new governor and an upset in the race for state superintendent.

Throw ESSA into the mix, and it’s safe to say the last decade of Indiana education policy has been tumultuous. What does this new law mean for Indiana? We answer some of those questions below.

Where did ESSA come from?

U.S. lawmakers passed the newest version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in late 2015 to replace the controversial No Child Left Behind Act.

The goal, in part, was to remedy a number of complaints around NCLB. State and federal officials have talked up how ESSA is supposed to give states more autonomy and remove NCLB’s rigid performance goals.

Advocates hope ESSA will bring more attention to the country’s neediest children and those most likely to be overlooked — including English-learners and students with disabilities.

What does ESSA mean for testing?

As it turns out, not that much — most of Indiana’s testing changes come down from the state, not the feds.

Indiana’s ISTEP test would have fulfilled most of the federal requirements, but the state trashed ISTEP earlier this spring in favor of a new test (still in the works) that will be given for the first time in 2019 — “ILEARN.”

For elementary and middle school students, ILEARN will be “computer-adaptive,” and adjust difficulty based on students’ answers. In high school, students would be expected to pass end-of-course assessments in Algebra, ninth-grade biology, 10th-grade English and 12th-grade U.S. Government.

The state’s plan also includes a chance to pursue giving state tests in other languages. So far, Spanish would be the focus.

How does this affect A-F grades?

Congress passing the Every Student Succeeds Act collided almost directly with Indiana’s overhauled A-F grade model, used for the first time in 2016.

Although the new model checks many boxes when it comes to new ESSA requirements, there’s still work that needs to be done.

Indiana’s new A-F model replaces one that centered primarily around ISTEP test scores. A-F grades still factor in test scores higher than other measures, but they no longer reflect just test passing rates. How students improve on tests from year to year is also included and weighted equally with passing rates.

Beginning this school year, A-F grades will include these measures (see weights here):

  • Academic achievement in the form of state test scores.
  • Test score improvement.
  • Graduation rate and a measure of “college and career readiness” for high schools.
  • Academic progress of English-language learners, measured by the WIDA test.
  • At least one aspect of school quality. For now, that will be chronic absenteeism, but the state hopes to pursue student and teacher surveys.

The last two are new to Indiana, but represent ESSA’s goal of being more inclusive and attempting to value other measures that aren’t test scores.

What about low-performing schools?

So the timeline doesn’t change — public schools can still only get four Fs in a row before the state steps in. But once they do, that’s where the process differs starting in 2018-19.

Going forward, two new categories will replace priority schools and focus schools. Two new ones will be introduced: “targeted support” and “comprehensive support.”

At schools receiving targeted support, certain groups of students — ethnic groups, English learners, low-income students or students with disabilities — would score in the bottom 5 percent of state test-takers for at least two years in a row.

Comprehensive support is similar to what are now priority schools — those that fall in the bottom 5 percent of passing state tests; any school that receives an F grade; or any high school where the four-year graduation rate is lower than 67 percent.

If a school gets a C grade or better for two years in a row, it is no longer categorized as needing comprehensive support. Schools in targeted support have five years to earn two consecutive C grades.

Doesn’t the graduation rate change, too?

Unfortunately, yes.

As early as fall of 2018, the general diploma could cease to count in the graduation rate the state is now required to report to the federal government.

The federal calculation will likely cause rates to drop and school A-F grades to take a hit because general diploma students students would no longer be considered graduates to the feds.

Students can still earn a general diploma — it just can’t factor into state accountability grades. ESSA requires states to count graduates that earn the diploma that a majority of students get or one that is more rigorous, but not one that is less.

What happens next?

There are still some major questions lingering over how the new A-F grade components will play out next year, particularly when it comes to dual credit classes and changes to graduation rate.

Those issues won’t get solved right away, if only because the Indiana State Board of Education must officially approve any A-F grade system changes, which won’t happen until after the ESSA draft plan is completed.

The plan must be submitted to federal education officials in September. First it gets a review from the governor, who can choose to endorse it or not — no formal approval is required.

Read more of Indiana’s ESSA coverage here.


The basics of...

The basics of Jennifer McCormick: Political newcomer struggles to set herself apart

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Jennifer McCormick speaks during a 2016 campaign event.

This is one of two stories summarizing the basics facts about Indiana’s two major party candidates for state superintendent. A more detailed story about Jennifer McCormick’s policy positions can be found here. To learn more about Glenda Ritz, go here. To see all of Chalkbeat’s “basics” stories, go here. To read all of Chalkbeat’s 2016 election coverage, go here.

Tune in to our live blog on Election Day for highlights from the field and updates on the races as results trickle in.

As the political newcomer to this year’s race for Indiana state superintendent, Republican Jennifer McCormick has had to spend a lot of time telling voters who she isn’t.

She isn’t Glenda Ritz, she’s said, emphasizing that as a former teacher and principal who has spent the last 12 years as a top administrator in the Yorktown school district, she has experience as a steady, organized manager that she says Ritz lacks.

And she says she isn’t Tony Bennett, the education reform-darling who lost in a huge upset to Ritz in 2012, either.

In fact, McCormick falls somewhere between the two: She’s a career public school educator and district leader with policies not entirely unlike Ritz’s. But she also has the backing of the Republican party and advocates who’ve pushed to expand charter schools and private school vouchers.

Although McCormick has been more supportive of charter schools and vouchers than Ritz has been, the Yorktown superintendent says she’s concerned about the way school choice efforts divert money from public schools and vehemently denies suggestions that she would want to see them expand.

On the campaign trail, McCormick has tried to steer the conversation away from controversial policy matters toward what she sees as her strong suit: Her years of leadership running schools and districts.

The New Castle native has spent her career in Yorktown, a traditional public school district in northeastern Indiana that enrolls about 2,500 students K-12. Her school district is wealthier, whiter and faces few of the challenges that confront urban and rural districts across the state.

Yorktown school board president Tom Simpson said McCormick has worked to provide more computers and tablets to students and has made a point of ensuring that teachers are trained to use and teach with the devices. She’s also worked over the years to help the district adapt to its growing population.

How she’ll govern

It’s still not clear what kind of relationship McCormick would have with lawmakers if elected. Although her policies don’t necessarily line up with those of Republican legislative leaders, the fact that she brings none of Ritz’s baggage after four years of clashes with Republican Gov. Mike Pence could ease tensions and lead to smoother working relationships.

But McCormick’s lack of policy experience and adamant statements that she won’t engage in “politics” could also mean she underestimates the work needed guide her vision through the sometimes-thorny Indiana legislature.

Plus, should both she and John Gregg, the Democrat running for governor, prevail, there’d once again be a political division between the state’s top education leader and top executive, who is responsible for appointing the majority of members to the state board of education.

On the issues

McCormick’s positions on many state education issues are similar to those of her opponent. She largely agrees with Ritz on the need for an A-F grade overhaul, more school funding, and adding support and pay for teachers.

Here’s a rundown of her positions:

Vouchers. McCormick said while she supports the power of parents to choose the best school for their children, she’s not interested in expanding programs that divert money from public schools.

Testing. While Ritz has called for a new kind of test that would be given to students in chunks throughout the year and provide feedback to teachers, McCormick said she would be in favor of adopting the SAT, or something like it, for high school students and keeping a simple, ISTEP-like test for elementary and middle school students.

Preschool. While Ritz has campaigned strongly for a “universal” preschool plan for all Indiana four year-olds, funded with what she anticipates would be $150 million per year from the state’s budget, plus federal and private grants, McCormick has called for a more conservative approach — at least at first. She says the state should prioritize students who are struggling or from low-income families rather than offer pre-K to kids with more resources.