In the Classroom

Plans to solve Indiana's dual credit problem still coming into focus

PHOTO: Alan Petersime
Tindley Accelerated Schools plans to take over a vacant Indianapolis Public Schools building in the fall.

Indiana educators and policymakers are still looking for a way to save thousands of popular courses that allow students to earn college credits while still in high school.

Indiana high schools are required by law to offer dual-credit courses, but the classes have been endangered by new rules mandating their teachers to have advanced degrees in the subjects they teach.

The state’s dual credit advisory council met today to figure out how they might quickly shore up the education of thousands of high school teachers to keep the college-level classes going, but the council is still looking for guidance from the national organization that accredits Indiana colleges and universities for these programs.

At first, the new rules from the Higher Learning Commission that required dual-credit teachers to have a master’s degree or 18 credit hours in their subject area were set to take effect in 2017, but the commission in November told states they could apply to extend the deadline to 2022.

Since then, the commission has been pretty quiet on letting schools know what their next steps should be, said Teresa Lubbers, who heads Indiana’s Commission for Higher Education.

“I was very hopeful today that we’d be able to give more information,” Lubbers said. “We have not heard back from HLC again, and what we’re waiting for is on what basis do we send them this application for this extension that we want for 2022.”

Today, the state advisory council discussed proposed solutions, including cooperating with state universities to pay teachers’ tuition and develop plans to accelerate teacher education. There are also a few bills moving through the legislature that could help restore incentives for teachers who pursue graduate courses.

The rule change is intended to make sure teachers of college classes are uniformly and highly qualified, but for Indiana and other states across the country, it brings with it some serious consequences.

Almost 75 percent of Indiana’s existing 2,531 dual credit teachers don’t completely meet the new requirements, Lubbers said. About 26 percent of dual credit teachers have both master’s degrees and the subject-specific credits, and 75 percent already have a master’s degree in general. But many of those teachers might have a master’s in education, which doesn’t include the subject-area classes the commission is looking for.

Among the legislative measures under way to address the issue is a bill from Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Mount Vernon, that would allow teachers with master’s degrees already teaching dual credit classes to get free or reduced tuition for college credits, up to 18 credit hours per person. The bill, House Bill 1370, passed the House Education Committee on Tuesday.

“I think the biggest challenge with this piece is one, we’re just trying to … maintain or keep what we have, but the other piece is the incentive to go back to school,” McNamara said.

The decision to raise the bar for dual-credit teachers comes at a time when Indiana has veered away from pushing teachers to earn master’s degrees — and when some districts say they are having trouble finding enough teachers at all.

That could be even more motivation for lawmakers to put incentives for extra education back on the books, said Janet Boyle, the executive director of the Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning at the University of Indianapolis. Many of those incentives were removed in 2011 as part of a broader overhaul of how Indiana teachers are paid.

Senate Bill 10 would allow schools to pay teachers extra for getting master’s degrees or graduate credits, and up to half of that extra pay could be added outside of union negotiations to the teachers’ base salaries. The other bill, Senate Bill 382, proposes a mentoring and residency program to give teachers time to earn a master’s degree, but bill author Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, said last week that the bill likely would go up for a summer study committee.

The legislation is geared mostly toward teachers who are already on their way to credentials, and it doesn’t necessarily take into account teachers who are starting at square one without any advanced education, said Todd Bess, executive director of the Indiana Association of School Principals. The state also needs to consider that some currently qualified teachers could retire, he said, reducing the pool of available teachers further.

“If (25 percent) exist, and (25 percent) aren’t incentivized, we’ve lost 50 percent of our dual credit teachers, and that’s going to be another huge step back,” Bess said.

Support from Indiana colleges and universities is essential as the state tries to find ways to make sure all dual credit teachers have the required education to teach their classes.

Mike Beam, director of pre-college programs at Indiana University, said his department is starting a pilot where a college faculty member would partner with a dual credit teacher to structure and deliver course content. The partnership could be years-long, allowing the teacher to take more time to earn a degree while still working full-time.

“We think the plan will allow (teachers) to earn those graduate credit hours in a much more humane timeframe,” Beam said.

Indiana law requires high schools to offer dual-credit courses as a way to ensure that graduates are prepared for college, and high schools partner with local colleges to design the courses and decide who can teach them.

Because of the looming deadline, there’s some urgency around finding ways to get by until teachers can be properly trained. Until then, schools could look into bringing back qualified retired teachers and identify fully qualified teachers who aren’t currently teaching dual credit.

But long-term, the council will also address how Indiana could again support a pay system that rewards teachers for extra education and encourages them to go back to school. For now, Lubbers said, the council plans to survey teachers and universities and calculate how much some of the proposed solutions might cost.

“I think we need to be very thoughtful on this,” Lubbers said. “We need to consider not only the impact of what it would (cost) for us to provide incentives for tuition, but then, (how) to incentivize teachers teaching dual credit classes on an ongoing basis.”

How I Teach

Crazy contraptions, Chemistry Cat, and climbing stories: How this Colorado science teacher connects with kids

PHOTO: Courtesy of Shannon Wachowski
Shannon Wachowski, a science teacher at Platte Valley High School, holds a toothpick bridge as a her students look on.

Here, in a feature we call How I Teach, we ask educators who’ve been recognized for their work how they approach their jobs. You can see other pieces in this series here.

Shannon Wachowski once started a parent-teacher conference by sharing that she was concerned about the student’s lack of motivation. The boy’s mother quickly began adding criticisms of her own — alarming Wachowski enough that she started defending the teen.

It was then the student’s behavior began to make more sense to Wachowski, who teaches everything from ninth-grade earth science to college-level chemistry at Platte Valley High School in northeastern Colorado. She realized that school, not home, was the boy’s safe place.

Wachowski is one of 20 educators who were selected to serve on the state Commissioner’s Teacher Cabinet. The group provides input to officials at the Colorado Department of Education.

She talked to Chalkbeat about how she uses parent conferences and classwork to learn students’ stories, why making Rube Goldberg contraptions boosts kids’ confidence, and what happens when she raises her hand in the middle of class.

This interview has been condensed and lightly edited.

Why did you become a teacher?
Originally a practicing chemical engineer, I became a teacher because I wanted a more fulfilling career. I had tutored chemistry in college and really enjoyed it.

What does your classroom look like?
Because my students work in teams 90 percent of the time, my tables are arranged so that students can sit in groups of four. I wrote a grant last summer for standing desks so each two person desk raises up and down. They are convenient for labs or when students need a change of scenery. My walls contain student-made license plates (an activity I do on the first day of school) and other student work from class, including various Chemistry Cat memes!

Fill in the blank. I couldn’t teach without my ________. Why?
My heart. Initially I became a teacher because I loved my content. I soon realized however, that while content is important, developing relationships with students is paramount. No learning will happen if positive relationships are not established first. When I am frustrated with student behavior, I try to put myself in their place and respond in a caring and compassionate manner.

What is one of your favorite lessons to teach?
One of my favorite lessons is when my students build Rube Goldberg devices. It gets somewhat chaotic because they are working in teams and materials are everywhere, but every single student is engaged. In the end, they can apply what they know about energy to design a multi-step contraption. I have seen very low-confidence students excel at this activity, and it is very rewarding to see them experience success in a science class.

How do you get your class’s attention if students are talking or off task?
One strategy I’ve recently started using came from my experience leading professional development for other teachers. I will be somewhere in the middle of the room (usually not the front) and raise my hand. When students see me raise my hand, they will raise theirs and pause their conversation. Then other students see those students and raise their hand, etc. Once everyone is quiet, then I’ll make my announcement. Like all other strategies, I need to practice being consistent with it.

How do you get to know your students and build relationships with them? What questions do you ask or what actions do you take?
I always plan the first couple of days for “get to know you” activities. My students design their own paper license plates using whatever letters, numbers, or design they would like. They then have 30 seconds to talk about their license plates.
I noticed that in some of my more challenging classes I needed a way to better connect with my students. At the beginning of most class periods I share some sort of funny story about what happened to me the evening prior — for some reason, I am never short of these stories — or a picture of my dog, or my latest climbing adventure. Sharing this information does not take long and eventually, students will ask if I have a story to share if I haven’t done so in a while. This also leads to them sharing stories with me, and finding that we may have more in common than we think.

Tell us about a memorable time-good or bad-when contact with a student’s family changed your perspective or approach.
At parent-teacher conferences one year I had a parent come in with their student. This student was not the most motivated individual — not disrespectful, just did not seem to want to do anything with his time. As I was explaining this to his parent, the parent started talking very negatively to and about the student, so much so that I found myself trying to defend the student and bring up positive qualities about his character. This interaction helped me to understand some of the student’s behavior in class, as well as realize that for some students, school is their safe place. There are often lots of reasons for a student’s behavior that I may not be aware of, which is why it is important to get to know each student and their situation as best as possible.

What are you reading for enjoyment?
When I have time outside of school, one of the things I enjoy doing is throwing pottery. I am currently reading “Science for Potters” by Linda Bloomfield. It combines my love of science and art into one book.

What is the best advice you ever received?
Since I teach a variety of levels, I often have one class that challenges my classroom management skills. This can be frustrating as I am the type of person that would like to achieve perfection in every circumstance. When I have a discipline issue in my class, I often see it as a personal failure. My husband often reminds me that “You can’t control other people’s behavior, you can only control your response to it.”

behind the music

‘We just wanted to help the movement’: Meet the NYC teacher whose students wrote a #NeverAgain anthem

PHOTO: Kyle Fackrell

Among the many creative displays of protest that stood out during Wednesday’s national student protest against gun violence was an original song by Staten Island students: “The truth: We need change.”

The song, uploaded to YouTube Wednesday morning, features John W. Lavelle Preparatory Charter School students in a soaring anti-gun counterpoint, led by seniors Jerramiah Jean-Baptiste and Aeva Soler.

“Don’t run away from the truth,” Soler sings during one exchange. “If we don’t act now, what should we do?”

Jean-Baptiste picks up where she leaves off: “We need change in this time of doom. It shouldn’t be the case that we’re losing lives too soon. I shouldn’t feel afraid inside my school. We need change.”

We checked in with Kyle Fackrell, Lavelle Prep’s longtime music teacher, who has worked with Jean-Baptiste, Soler, and their classmates for nearly five years, since their introductory eighth-grade music class. Here’s what he told us about the song, his students, and their ambitions.

How the song came to be: “I knew that my students were very passionate about this subject. When I learned about the walkout coming up and that it would be coming up soon, I was aware of these students and their songwriting abilities, and I suggested the idea of writing a song. They really just ran with it.”

What the process was like: “We’ve worked together a lot and have made a lot of music together. When I proposed this idea it was like clockwork. It was really exciting to see how fast Jerramiah could come up with the ideas.”

On the students’ goals: “We just wanted to help the movement. I was having that conversation with my students today, should the song get the success we hope it gets, that would be great, but really want we to maintain our genuine interest in making a difference with the song. I’m just supporting them.”

What the reaction has been: “It’s been very positive. … Everyone who hears the song is blown away. It really is thanks to the talent of the young students that I’m blessed to be helping them develop.”

On what motivates his students: “None of them were coming at it from knowing people who were in a shooting. They’re just very aware and intelligent students. I think the point that the students in Florida are making is that a lot of people underestimate kids and youth, and I think these students are also underestimated — about how much they are aware of what’s going on in the world, and that they should have a say.”