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.”


Double whammy: Indiana schools could see two A-F grades in 2018

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Students work on an assignment at Decatur Central High School. (File Photo)

Indiana schools could get two A-F grades in 2018 — one official grade based on state requirements, and a separate calculation based on the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

The proposal comes as changes in graduation rate calculations and dual credit teacher training have complicated the state’s plan to comply with the new law, which went into effect this school year.

There was an opportunity to make adjustments when the plan was introduced in June, but Gov. Eric Holcomb and Indiana education officials endorsed it with few major changes. It’s unclear why separate state and federal grades weren’t considered earlier.

The proposal highlights the pressure Indiana and other states face to quickly adjust to ESSA and changing expectations from Betsy DeVos’ Department of Education. A number of regulations were either thrown out when she came into office or could not be finished in time by the Obama Administration. Indiana, too, saw a dramatic election that brought in a new schools chief, governor and other key education policymakers.

The idea to create dual standards was revealed tonight when Ken Folks, chief of governmental affairs for the Indiana Department of Education, spoke with educators and community members at Noblesville East Middle School.

Adam Baker, state department of education spokesman, said officials need more time to figure out how to meet the federal rules for graduation rate and new regional rules regarding dual credit teaching. Both factor heavily into high school A-F grades, and the changes could result in lower grades for many schools.

“We are trying to support schools and trying to do what’s best to make this transition a lot smoother,” Baker said.

Read: Educators to state officials: ‘Indiana needs just one diploma’

Here’s how it might look:

About a year from now, after students take the spring 2018 ISTEP test, schools will get a letter grade from the state that won’t encompass any of the changes proposed in Indiana’s ESSA plan.

The state grade would determine where a school falls on the timeline for state intervention — public schools, for example, can only have four consecutive years of F grades before takeover or other serious improvement plans are on the table.

But nothing about the ESSA rules will change or pause. Unlike in 2016, federal officials have no plans to give states a reprieve from accountability sanctions. Every school will still receive a percentage calculation based on federal guidelines using the same 100-point scale that state letter grades are based on, where 90 percent is an A, 80 is percent a B, and so on.

The federal calculation would count under rules for identifying struggling schools and those that govern Title I funding. For example, any high school where the four-year federal graduation rate is lower than 67 percent would be considered under “comprehensive support” from the state.

Conversations with the governor’s office and the state board around the specifics of the state/federal split are still happening, Baker said, and the dual system would only be for 2018.

Grades based on 2017 ISTEP tests that are set to come out next month, which schools have already seen, are not part of this change.

This idea was floated a month ago at a state board of education work session that was held to build consensus around the state’s ESSA plan. Board members asked state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick and her staff why there couldn’t just be two grades next year.

At the time, Lee Ann Kwiatkowski, McCormick’s chief of staff, told board members that in the past, Indiana did operate two accountability systems, one for state and one for federal.

“The reason Indiana moved from two accountability systems to one was because it was confusing and caused chaos,” she said. “We would have schools that could look very different in the two systems.”

But as the ESSA plan’s due date rapidly approached and diploma and dual credit situations remained in limbo, Baker said the department changed its mind. Keeping the state’s grading system consistent, even if it meant a separate federal piece, ended up making more sense than a series of state grades with big fluctuations.

“The extra time wasn’t like, ‘OK, let’s give ourselves a fifth quarter,” Baker said. “It was more or less like, this is coming down the pipeline — what can we do (for schools)? Our hope is that things will change.”

See all of Chalkbeat Indiana’s ESSA coverage here.

the race is on

Stand for Children chooses not to endorse in northeast Denver school board race

DENVER, CO - March 16: A Denver Public Schools emblem and sign on the Evie Garrett Dennis Campus that houses five separate schools with 1,600 students in Pre-K through 12th grade in Northeast Denver, Colorado on March 16, 2016. (Photo by Katie Wood/The Denver Post)

Stand for Children Colorado on Tuesday announced its candidate endorsements for this fall’s Denver school board races — and one notable non-endorsement.

The pro-education reform group chose not to endorse a candidate in the three-person race in District 4, which encompasses a diverse mix of northeast Denver neighborhoods. The group said both incumbent Rachele Espiritu and challenger Jennifer Bacon had surpassed the group’s “threshold for endorsement,” and that “Denver’s kids would be well served by either candidate.”  

Recent Manual High School graduate Tay Anderson is also vying for the seat.

With four of seven seats in play, this fall’s election could swing the balance of a school board that unanimously backs the school district’s education reform efforts.

Stand is a significant player in Denver school board elections. It donates money to candidates and helps marshal resources on the ground, including door-to-door canvassing.

Kate Dando Doran, a spokeswoman for Stand for Children Colorado, said in an email the group will not contribute financially to candidates in District 4. She said that families Stand works with in southwest Denver are supporting former teacher Angela Cobián’s campaign in that part of the city, and that Stand would focus its energy and resources there, too.  

Cobián has the support of incumbent Rosemary Rodriguez, who is not running again. Stand endorsed Cobián in her race against parent Xóchitl “Sochi” Gaytán, who has teachers union backing.

Stand for Children’s other endorsements do not come as a surprise: incumbent Barbara O’Brien in the citywide at-large race that includes former Denver teacher Julie Bañuelos and parent Robert Speth; and incumbent Mike Johnson for District 3 in central-east Denver, who is facing English language development teacher Carrie A. Olson.

To be considered for Stand’s endorsement, candidates agree to answer a candidate questionnaire and to be interviewed by a committee of parents. Doran said O’Brien, Cobián, Johnson, Bacon and Espiritu went through the group’s process.

That Stand could not settle on an endorsement in District 4 adds to the drama in the three-person race. Opponents of the district’s reforms haven’t united on a pick, either. The Denver teachers union endorsed Bacon, a community organizer and former teacher. The advocacy group Our Denver, Our Schools and a progressive caucus of the teachers union are backing Anderson.