Teacher talk

Ritz: Indiana teacher shortage still a problem, needs to be addressed

PHOTO: Scott Elliott

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz said addressing teacher shortages will be a priority during next year’s legislative session.

“We’re developing a legislative agenda,” Ritz said Tuesday at an event for teacher leaders in Indianapolis. “We are going to be getting groups together to make sure we are always on the next steps: What it is we need to do and where it is that we’re headed.”

Ritz’s effort continues a conversation that began last year when some Indiana districts reported problems finding teachers and keeping them in the classroom, but despite many debates and a 49-member panel dedicated to finding solutions, legislators took little action, passing just two laws that aligned with the panel’s recommendations.

This week, her event featured college of education professors from Butler, Marian and Purdue universities and teachers from across the state, including 2006 Milken Educator Award-winner Marjorie Ramey.

Indiana educators who participated in the event offered a range of solutions. Among them:

Teachers need to talk more about teaching.

Angela Lupton, assistant dean for Butler University’s college of education, said one way to encourage more kids to become teachers is simply to talk about it with them.

“It’s amazing how looking someone in the eye … and saying, ‘I just want you to know you’re the person I want teaching next door to me in five years,’ (can be powerful) to a high school student,” Lupton said. “We’ve got to not only make teaching seem appealing but make it a privilege you are being invited into.”

Create more education classes and give them a competitive advantage.

The state needs to consider offering a dual credit class in teaching, Lupton said, which could serve as an incentive to students who are planning for college and careers.

Lupton mentioned one of her students had an opportunity to take a teaching class in high school — something only 36 percent of Indiana high schools even offer — but the girl eventually decided against it in favor of Advanced Placement and dual credit courses that give a bigger boost to a student’s GPA.

The state also needs expand what kinds of education classes it has on the books for high school students, she said.

“Most education courses are early childhood-focused or elementary-focused,” Lupton said. “Quite frankly, we need secondary teachers.”

Support local efforts to seek out diverse teachers.

David McGuire and Blake Nathan, two Indianapolis teachers, founded an organization called EducateME, which aims to recruit more black students — and black men in particular — to be teachers.

Read: A shortage everyone can agree on: Indianapolis schools don’t have enough black teachers

The two have developed a comprehensive program that spans high school, college and the first years of a teacher’s career. This year, their goal is to get more than 400 people involved: 25 high school “cadets” who learn about teaching through an after school program and time spent paired with elementary schools; 20 college “ambassadors” to help recruit at universities in and out of state; 200 teaching fellows; and 200 mentor teachers to guide them.

It’s ambitious, but McGuire and Nathan have already had successful college tours for high school students and interest from prospective out-of-state teachers. The more students can see teachers who look like them in schools, the better they’ll do, McGuire said. It’s a win-win situation for kids and for the community as a whole.

“The people who led the community (where I grew up), who were stalwarts of the community were the preachers and the teachers,” McGuire said. “You saw when there became a lack of black teachers.”

Learn more about Ritz’s priorities around teachers and her legislative agenda here.

moving on up

With Holcomb’s support, Indiana’s next education plan heads to Washington

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Gov. Eric Holcomb address lawmakers and the public during his State of the State Address earlier this year. Today, he signed off on Indiana's ESSA plan.

Gov. Eric Holcomb has given his stamp of approval to Indiana’s next education plan under the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

In a tweet Monday afternoon, state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick thanked Holcomb for his support:

Holcomb was required to weigh in on the plan, but his approval wasn’t necessary for it to move forward. If he disagreed with the changes proposed by McCormick and the Indiana Department of Education, he could have indicated that today.

So far, it seems that the state’s top education policymakers — Holcomb, McCormick and the Indiana State Board of Education — have reached some level of consensus on how to move forward.

The state has worked for months to revamp its accountability system and educational goals to align with ESSA, which Congress passed in 2015.

Although there are many similarities between this plan and the previous plan under the No Child Left Behind waiver, several changes affect state A-F grades. Going forward, they will factor in measures that recognize the progress of English-learners and measures not solely based on test scores, such as student attendance.

However, the new plan also alters the state’s graduation rate formula to match new federal requirements, a change that has a number of educators, policymakers and parents worried because it means students who earn a general diploma no longer count as graduates to the federal government.

You can read more about the specifics of the state plan in our ESSA explainer and see all of our ESSA coverage here.

Politics & Policy

Over pulled pork, rural Indiana parents make the case to Betsy DeVos that public schools are important

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Betsy DeVos met with families at Eastern Hancock High School.

At Eastern Hancock High School in rural Indiana, the hog roast is an annual tradition.

This year, the event was also a chance to show off a thriving traditional public school to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who often highlights private and charter schools and advocates for school choice.

“We wanted to make sure that she understands the importance of public education,” said Natalie Schilling, a parent of two students at Eastern Hancock.

Schilling and her husband, Eric, had the chance to share their perspective sitting with DeVos over pulled pork sandwiches in the high school cafeteria. They were surrounded by families grabbing food ahead of a football game between Eastern Hancock and rival Knightstown. DeVos was there, she said, for a great game.

The visit was the conclusion of a six-state trip branded as the “Rethink Schools” tour. On the tour, DeVos visited several schools serving unusual populations, such as an Indianapolis high school for students recovering from addiction and a Colorado private school for students with autism.

“It was really, really exciting to see all these opportunities that kids have to learn in different environments or different approaches,” she said. “It just once again reaffirms to me the importance of the opportunity for every child to find that right niche for them.”

Earlier Friday DeVos stopped at charter schools in Gary and Indianapolis. But Eastern Hancock was the only traditional public school on her itinerary in Indiana.

Eastern Hancock, however, has been reshaped by school choice policies like those that DeVos has long supported. Indiana allows open enrollment, so students can attend schools in neighboring districts if they can get transportation. At Eastern Hancock, DeVos noted, many students come from other districts.

Eric Schilling said many of those students come because of the strong agriculture programs at the school, including an animal science facility and horticulture building.

The hog roast Friday night was a fundraiser for FFA, an agricultural education program. Students in the organization spent months planning the event, roasted the hogs and pulled the pork themselves, said Gracie Johnson, a senior at Eastern and the chapter and district president of FFA.

It was a little bit thrilling to have secretary DeVos visit her school, Johnson said. “I think it’s pretty awesome. Especially since we’re so small, it kind of makes us feel like we’re important.”

Natalie Schilling said that one of the most important things DeVos can do is support agricultural and career and technical education. But she said that she was a bit concerned about DeVos’ past experience and agenda.

“I think everybody is a little worried,” she said. “We have to keep talking about it and keep pushing it so she will understand what skills students are learning. It’s going to be able to fuel the workforce.”