new strategies

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

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Indianapolis Public Schools is planning on offering teachers bonuses of $2,500-$5,000.

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.”

Follow the money

Final Denver school board campaign finance reports show who brought in the most late money

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Victoria Tisman, 8, left, works with paraprofessional Darlene Ontiveros on her Spanish at Bryant-Webster K-8 school in Denver.

Final campaign finance reports for this year’s hard-fought Denver school board elections are in, and they show a surge of late contributions to Angela Cobián, who was elected to represent southwest Denver and ended up bringing in more money than anyone else in the field.

The reports also showed the continued influence of independent groups seeking to sway the races. Groups that supported candidates who favor Denver Public Schools’ current direction raised and spent far more than groups that backed candidates looking to change things.

No independent group spent more during the election than Raising Colorado, which is affiliated with Democrats for Education Reform. In the week and a half before the Nov. 7 election, it spent $126,985. That included nearly $57,000 to help elect Rachele Espiritu, an incumbent supportive of the district’s direction who lost her seat representing northeast Denver to challenger Jennifer Bacon. Raising Colorado spent $13,765 on mail opposing Bacon in that same period.

Teachers union-funded committees also were active in the campaign.

Individually, Cobián raised more money in the days before the election than the other nine candidates combined. She pulled in $25,335 between Oct. 30 and Dec. 2.

That includes a total of $11,000 from three members of the Walton family that founded Walmart: Jim, Alice and Steuart. The Waltons have over the years invested more than $1 billion in education-related causes, including the creation of charter schools.

Total money raised, spent by candidates
  • Angela Cobián: $123,144, $105,200
    Barbara O’Brien: $117,464, $115,654
    Mike Johnson: $106,536, $103,782
    Rachele Espiritu: $94,195, $87,840
    Jennifer Bacon: $68,967, $67,943
    Carrie A. Olson: $35,470, $35,470
    Robert Speth: $30,635, $31,845
    “Sochi” Gaytan: $28,977, $28,934
    Tay Anderson: $18,766, $16,865
    Julie Bañuelos: $12,962, $16,835

Cobián was supported in her candidacy by donors and groups that favor the district’s brand of education reform, which includes collaborating with charter schools. In the end, Cobián eclipsed board vice president Barbara O’Brien, who had been leading in contributions throughout the campaign, to raise the most money overall: a total of $123,144.

The two candidates vying to represent central-east Denver raised about $5,000 each in the waning days of the campaign. Incumbent Mike Johnson pulled in $5,300, including $5,000 from Colorado billionaire Phil Anschutz. Teacher Carrie A. Olson, who won the seat, raised $4,946 from a host of donors, none of whom gave more than $500 during that time period.

The other candidates raised less than $5,000 each between Oct. 30 and Dec. 2.

O’Brien, who staved off two competitors to retain her seat representing the city at-large, spent the most in that period: $31,225. One of her competitors, Julie Bañuelos, spent the least.

money matters

In election of big spending, winning Aurora candidates spent less but got outside help

Four new board members, Kyla Armstrong-Romero, Marques Ivey, Kevin Cox and Debbie Gerkin after they were sworn in. (Photo courtesy of Aurora Public Schools)

A slate of Aurora school board candidates that won election last month were outspent by some of their rival campaigns — including in the final days of the race — but benefited from big spending by a union-backed independent committee.

Outside groups that backed the winning slate spent more overall during the campaign, but wound down as pro-education reform groups picked up their spending in the last period right before the election. Those efforts were not enough to push their candidates to victory.

According to the last campaign finance reports turned in on Thursday and covering activity from Oct. 26 through Dec. 2, Gail Pough and Miguel Lovato spent the most from their individual contributions.

Together Pough and Lovato spent more than $7,000 on calls, canvassing and consulting fees. Both candidates were supported by reform groups and had been reporting the most individual contributions in previous campaign finance reports.

But it was the slate of candidates endorsed by the teachers union — Kevin Cox, Debbie Gerkin, Kyla Armstrong-Romero and Marques Ivey — that prevailed on election night.

How much did candidates raise, spend?

  • Gail Pough, $12,756.32; $12,328.81
  • Lea Steed, $1,965.00; $1,396.16
  • Kyla Armstrong Romero, $7,418.83; $3,606.12
  • Kevin Cox, $2,785.54; $2,993.07
  • Miguel Lovato, $16,856.00; $16,735.33
  • Jane Barber, $1,510.32; $1,510.32
  • Debbie Gerkin, $4,690.00; $4,516.21
  • Marques Ivey, $5,496.50; $5,638.57
  • Barbara Yamrick, did not file

The slate members spent varying amounts in the last few days before the election. For instance, Cox, who won the most votes, spent $403 while Ivey who recorded the fewest votes of the four winning candidates, spent $2,056.

Most of the slate candidates’ spending went to Facebook ads and consulting fees.

The four also reported large amounts in non-monetary contributions. Collectively, the slate members reported about $76,535 in non-monetary contributions, mostly from union funds, to cover in-kind mail, polling, office space and printing. All four also reported a non-monetary contribution in the form of a robocall from the Arapahoe County Democratic Party.

Other financial support for candidates, through independent expenditure committees, showed that the group Every Student Succeeds which was backed by union dollars and was supporting the union slate, spent less in the last days than the reform groups Raising Colorado and Families First Colorado which were supporting Pough and Lovato.

Overall, the independent expenditure committee groups spent more than $419,000 trying to sway Aurora voters.

Incumbent Barbara Yamrick failed to file any campaign finance reports throughout the campaign.

This story has been updated to include more information about in-kind contributions to the union-backed candidates.