Future of Teaching

Indiana schools might struggle to hire teachers, but there’s no shortage of ways to become one

PHOTO: Thomas Barwick | Getty Images

Indiana has been tweaking its teacher licensure policies for years, but recent concerns over teacher shortages have prompted lawmakers to get more involved in pushing to create a larger teacher pool.

Controversial policies paring down licensure requirements have spawned debates about how to balance a teacher’s education and preparation with a school’s need to fill jobs. State legislators and policymakers have argued for years now that relaxed rules will encourage more people to become teachers — but the data shows that so far, relatively few are taking advantage of those opportunities.

In Indiana and across the country, schools have had trouble filling teaching roles, particularly in math, science, and special education — though there’s been debate about exactly where shortages exist and whether they’ve gotten worse over time. Although more licenses have been issued since a dip in 2015, some districts, especially ones that are urban and rural, have still reported challenges.

Read: Too few teachers? This Indianapolis school district is growing its own

This year lawmakers considered a bill that would have let districts have up to 10 percent of their teachers be unlicensed. The testing, paperwork and expense associated with licenses was keeping qualified applicants out of the classroom, they said, a view shared by state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick. Ultimately, after backlash from some educators and teachers unions — and a lot of back and forth — the bill was cut back significantly, and provisions regarding unlicensed teachers were removed. A simpler version of the bill passed.

At the time, the bill’s author said the state already had sufficient avenues for becoming a teacher, and he didn’t want to complicate it further.

Indeed, Indiana has at least nine different kinds of teacher licenses and permits and several pathways would-be teachers can take to get them. Teachers can complete in-state or out-of-state university-based preparatory programs as the basis for their license, or they can earn them through graduate studies or alternative programs, such as Teach for America or Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellows. For some licenses, no higher education is required.

We break down license options below, as well as with data on how many teachers in the state use them (Note: one teacher can hold multiple licenses).

Traditional teacher license

A full state teaching license is also known as a professional educator’s license, standard license, first grade license, permanent license, professional license, or provisional license, depending on the year it was issued.

This type of license makes up more than 95 percent of all 182,751 licenses issued to teachers currently employed in the state. It can be obtained through traditional and alternative teacher prep programs both inside and outside of Indiana (some short-term licenses convert to these). Depending on when the license was earned, it can be valid for two, five, or 10 years at a time, and some are considered “life” licenses.

For new teachers, these are called “initial practitioner licenses,” and they are valid for two years, after which they can be converted to a five-year “practitioner” license if the teacher has completed 40 hours of professional development. After completing a master’s degree, it can be converted to a 10-year license, known as an “accomplished practitioner license.”

Number of these licenses issued to currently employed teachers: 175,299

Main requirements:

  • Complete an accredited teacher preparation program or convert a short-term license from alternative teacher prep programs or transition to teach programs.
  • Pass specific subject exams.

Transition to teaching permit

This three-year, non-renewable permit is granted to teachers who are completing a transitional program but are hired by a school or district before they finish. Eventually, this permit can transition to a traditional license.

Number of these licenses issued to currently employed teachers: 641

Main requirements:

  • A bachelor’s degree in the subject to be taught and a passing score on an exam for the content area to be taught.

Charter school license

This license can be used by teachers hired in a charter school. Because of a recent change to state law, teachers with this license count toward a school’s 90 percent licensed educator requirement. Previously, only up to 10 percent of a charter school’s teachers could use this license.

Number of these licenses issued to currently employed teachers: 146

Main requirements:

  • A bachelor’s degree in the subject to be taught, from an accredited college or university, with an overall GPA of 3.0 or higher.
  • Or, a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university and a passing score on an exam for the content area to be taught.

Career specialist permit

This credential is valid for two years and is intended for a person who wants to switch careers and become a teacher in a specific subject. To renew, the teacher must receive additional education in how children learn, provided by an employer, a college or an entity approved by the Indiana State Board of Education. This can never be converted to a full teaching license.

Number of these licenses issued to currently employed teachers: 18

Main requirements:

  • A bachelor’s degree in the subject to be taught with at least a 3.0 GPA; passing scores content area exams; and 6,000 hours of verified work experience over the five preceding years related to the subject to be taught.
  • Or, a bachelor’s degree in the subject to be taught with at least a 3.0 GPA and 10,000 hours of verified work experience over the seven preceding years related to the subject to be taught.
  • Or, a passing score on a content area exam and 10,000 hours of verified work experience over the seven preceding years related to the subject to be taught.

Workplace specialist license

This credential can be earned by a person with experience in skilled trades or areas relevant to classes in a career center or a high school career and technical education program. These have also been known as “occupational specialist permits.” These licenses do not require a college degree.

Number of these licenses issued to currently employed teachers: 1,120

Short-term or specialized permits

Reciprocal permit: This permit is for a teacher coming in from outside Indiana who has not completed all the requirements for a full Indiana teachers license. This permit is good for one year until they finish the Indiana requirements. It can convert to a professional educator license. Number of these licenses issued to currently employed teachers: 187

Substitute permit: These are granted to substitute teachers. The only requirement is that they have a high school diploma, though districts can set higher standards if they choose. It is valid for three years. Number of these licenses issued to currently employed teachers: 2,703

Visiting teacher permit: Schools can request this permit for a teacher coming in from another country. That teacher must have a degree and a teaching credential from their home country, and an Indiana school must vouch for them to approve their application. This is a three-year permit that is not renewable. These are frequently used for teachers hired to teach other languages. Number of these licenses issued to currently employed teachers: 5

Emergency permit: Schools and districts can request these permits when they are struggling to hire. Teachers using these must have a bachelor’s degree. They are good for one year, and can be renewed if the teacher is pursuing a full license. Number of these licenses issued to currently employed teachers: 2,566

churning not learning

New research shows just how much losing a teacher midyear hurts students

PHOTO: Cyrus McCrimmon/Denver Post
Brown International Academy teacher Kate Tynan-Ridgeway works with a student.

The consequences of teacher churn were apparent to Esperanza Vazquez, a mother of two from New York City.

I had an experience with my son where he had a new teacher every week in math,” she told Chalkbeat recently. “That doesn’t help students.”

Now new research backs up Vazquez’s experience, documenting for perhaps the first time the steep consequences for students after teachers leave a classroom in middle of the school year.

The finding comes in a trio of new studies focusing on North Carolina. Together, they suggest that ill effects of teacher turnover identified in previous research may be driven largely by midyear departures; that those consequences extend even to students in the same grade whose teachers stay on; and that midyear turnover may be more common than previously thought, especially in schools serving more students of color and those from low-income families.

“While it is possible for turnover to be beneficial for school systems, an extensive body of research points to the ways that teacher turnover disrupts … the continuity of a child’s learning experiences, particularly in underserved schools,” write researchers Gary Henry of Vanderbilt and Christopher Redding of the University of Florida in one of the papers.

Henry and Redding’s three studies — two of which were published earlier this year in peer-reviewed journals, with the other is set to be published in coming weeks — home in on the rarely studied phenomenon of midyear teacher turnover.

Using recent data from North Carolina, two of the papers focus on the prevalence of the phenomenon. Annually 4.6 percent of teachers in the state departed midyear; among teachers in their first three years the rate jumped to 6 percent. The number was higher in schools deemed “underserved,” meaning they had more students of color and students in poverty, as well as lower test scores and fewer resources. Turnover was lower when principals were rated as more effective by teachers. It was higher among teachers who were less effective, those eligible for retirement benefits, and high school and middle school teachers.

Roughly a quarter of all teacher turnover in the state occurred in the middle of the school year.

The third study uses data from 2008 to 2014 to examine the consequences of midyear teacher attrition on elementary and middle school students’ test scores. In both math and English, students saw drops in learning as a result, controlling for a number of other factors. The decline in math scores was nearly as large as the difference in performance between an average teacher and an excellent one — a difference that has motivated dramatic policy changes in many places.

Impacts were smaller in English and in middle school, but also consistently negative. Students in the same grade level, but not class, of teachers were also harmed, but again less so.

The negative results are consistent with research on the effects of hiring teachers after the school year starts, in some ways a mirror image of the phenomenon.

The paper suggests three things that might explain the results: disruption in classrooms where teachers leave, instability in a school where teachers are exiting midyear, and less effective teachers replacing those who depart. The study suggests the first two theories seem to be clearly at play, since it was relatively ineffective teachers who were particularly likely to leave.

“When multiple teachers exit a school during the year, it can become increasingly difficult for teachers to maintain a work environment with a high degree of collaboration,” the researchers say.

The study did reach some surprising results: Students of color, students in poverty and students with lower prior test scores, generally did not suffer more as a result of midyear turnover; if anything, they suffered less in English. It may be that their schools were better prepared for midyear exits since they happen more frequently; it could also be that those students were simply “not well served by the teacher who departed,” the paper hypothesizes.

Another counterintuitive result: Unlike midyear turnover, departure of teachers at the end of the school year did not lead to declines in student learning, and even led to small benefits in some cases. That’s surprising in light of past research — and conventional wisdom — suggesting that teacher turnover harms students. (Prior studies generally have not distinguished between midyear and end-of-year turnover.)

The latest research does come with a key caveat: Test scores might be lower in classes where teachers leave midyear for other reasons — perhaps a particularly disruptive class causes both a teacher to quit and students to learn less in school. The authors attempt to account for this by comparing how the same student did in years when their teacher does not turnover.

The studies also look at just a single state, so it’s unclear whether the results would look similar elsewhere.

The researchers point out that some churn is inevitable, even healthy. “Many of the personal factors driving within-year teacher turnover are unlikely to be amenable to change: a teacher takes time in the middle of the school year for parental leave; a veteran teacher retires midyear; a beginning teacher leaves a few months into the school year after realizing teaching is a poor occupational fit,” write Henry and Redding. Indeed, female teachers between the ages of 26 and 40 years old were particularly likely to exit mid-year, indicating that parental leave plays a significant role in the results.

But the studies collectively conclude that students could benefit from combating midyear departures — although the best way to do that is not clear.

In Detroit, some schools have adopted a crude — and some would say cruel — approach, imposing financial penalties for teachers who left midyear. Studies focusing on turnover in general have found that higher pay, better working conditions, and more effective principals can make a difference.

At the same, time Henry and Redding argue that policymakers ought to make extensive efforts to avoid midyear teacher turnover when possible. For instance, they point out that information from teacher evaluation systems, including “value-added” test scores measures, aren’t always available until after the school year has begun. Finalizing those results before classes are underway could decrease midyear exits, they speculate.

“All measures of teachers’ performance, including their value-added scores, should be provided during the summer to allow teachers and administrators to attend to employment decisions without disrupting classes that have already begun,” the researchers conclude.

First Person

Staying ‘neutral’ after the Jason Van Dyke verdict was a tough ask of Chicago teachers like me

PHOTO: Joshua Lott/Getty Images
A woman holds a sign outside the courthouse after a murder verdict is handed down in the trial of Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke.

At the beginning of every school year, I introduce myself to my students with a very personal presentation.

I show them pictures of where I grew up, my family, and the students I’ve taught at two other Chicago schools. I’m a human, not a robot, I tell them, earning a couple of laughs with my corny robot impression. At the end, I show them a signed copy of John Lewis’s “March,” the graphic novel that illustrates his experiences as a Civil Rights Movement leader. I talk about seeing Lewis speak at a Chicago Public Schools event years ago, and how he inspired me to speak up when I saw injustice.

In return, I ask my students to introduce themselves. They bring pictures of their lives, families, friends, and travels, and they talk about who they want to become. These presentations help to turn the library and writing center I oversee into a community.

The connection I have with my students isn’t out of the ordinary in Chicago. I’d be hard-pressed to find a teacher in the three very different high schools I’ve taught in and in schools all across the city who didn’t have strong ties to the students they teach. That’s why it felt so problematic that my district, CPS, asked its teachers to remain “neutral” about the Van Dyke case — the trial of a Chicago police officer, Jason Van Dyke, who was convicted of second-degree murder for shooting a Chicago teenager.

Two days before the Van Dyke decision came down, amid warnings that riots could follow a “not guilty” decision, the district sent an email advising teachers about how to handle discussions surrounding the verdict. I applaud the email for its initial statement: “It is critical that educators are prepared and provide space for students should they and their students choose to engage in this critical and timely public issue,” it read.

But in the next paragraph, the district said that teachers “must remain neutral.” The email cited a 2007 Indiana circuit court decision, Mayer v. Monroe County Schools, that ruled that “teachers do not have the constitutional right to introduce their own political views to students, ‘but must stick to the prescribed curriculum.’”

That left me with several questions. First, is an opinion on the Van Dyke trial truly a political view? Many of my students, now juniors and seniors, were just becoming teenagers when they watched the dash-cam video where 16 bullets riddle Laquan McDonald’s 17-year-old body.  The opinion CPS is concerned about me sharing, presumably, is that Van Dyke should face consequences.

I have taught many students like Laquan McDonald, students who have grown up in foster homes, who have failed out of the very school I taught in, whose city literally left them behind. When I saw Laquan McDonald in that video, I saw their faces grimacing on the ground, their bodies writhing. To me, his death, the subsequent cover-up, and the verdict, is personal, not political.

Asking me to “stay neutral” as a white teacher in a classroom full of African-American and Latinx students is asking me to send a message that I am indifferent to their experiences and to have them see me as a stereotype of whiteness. I am on their side. I don’t think there is anything wrong with having them know this. But the message I received implies that my district does.

In the court case evidently used as proof for why staying neutral is mandatory, students asked their teacher whether she ever protested. She told them that she honked her car horn at demonstrators calling for peace at an anti-Iraq War demonstration. The teacher believed she was fired because of this discussion. The court ruled in favor of the school district, stating, “the First Amendment does not entitle primary and secondary teachers, when conducting the education of captive audiences, to cover topics, or advocate viewpoints, that depart from the curriculum adopted by the school system.”

How this applies in my situation is confusing, since every year in my career I have either had the freedom to construct or co-construct curriculum for my classroom. It also reminds me of what Holocaust survivor and award-winning author Elie Wiesel said in his speech when winning the Nobel Peace Prize: “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere.”

Asking teachers to remain neutral when discussing Laquan McDonald teaches my students something I don’t want them ever to learn: that my connections with them, and my pursuit of justice for our shared community, are not my highest priority.

Gina Caneva is a 15-year Chicago Public Schools veteran who works as a teacher-librarian and Writing Center Director at Lindblom Math and Science Academy.  She is a National Board Certified teacher and Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellowship alum. Follow her on Twitter @GinaCaneva.