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.”

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”

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.”