Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Diverse Teachers Critical For Indiana’s Ever-Evolving Population

Think about your favorite teachers. What drew you to them?

Maybe they helped you enjoy a subject you didn’t particularly like, or made you feel comfortable in a new classroom setting. In short, you most likely felt like they could relate to you.

Having teachers who can work with a wide range of student experiences is especially crucial to ensure success for children who come from diverse backgrounds. But it can also be difficult to find those teachers – especially in Indiana’s current educational environment.

Here’s something we all know by know: Indiana is experiencing a teacher shortage. In considering solutions for recruiting new folks and retaining existing personnel, state education leaders have said that attracting diverse teachers has to be part of the conversation.

Building Relationships With Instruction

Many of the students Sarah Laptiste meets as kindergarteners at Clinton Young Elementary School will stay in her classroom until they go on to middle school around age eleven.

A map of all the home countries of students and their families graces the bulletin board outside Clinton Young Elementary School ELL teacher Sarah Laptiste's classroom. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

A map of all the home countries of students and their families graces the bulletin board outside Clinton Young Elementary School ELL teacher Sarah Laptiste’s classroom. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

“Some of the kids, I remember when they were born – I’ve had all their brothers and sisters,” Laptiste says with a smile, reflecting on her 11 years at the school. “Fifth graders I have in here, I remember when they were in kindergarten. There’s a lot of history between us and I know their parents very well. We’ve been together a long time.”

This relationship and the continuity it provides makes Laptiste different from all the other “regular” teachers her students encounter. It also makes her well-suited to deliver the kind of instruction these specific students need: learning the English language.

Laptiste is one of two certified English Language Learning, or ELL, instructors at her school – along with an ELL facilitator, two ELL aides, and a translator. Of the approximately 700 K-5 students attending Clinton Young, about 30 percent are classified as English learners. In total, nearly one-third of the 15,000 kids Perry Township serves district-wide are ELL students. For the most part, these students’ primary languages include Spanish and Burmese, or Chin, a language spoken in southern Asia.

Clinton Young is part of the Metropolitan School District of Perry Township, a corporation on the south side of Indianapolis that’s home to a large concentration of Chin people. As a state, Indiana lays claim to one of the largest populations of people from Burma, also known as Myanmar, outside of the country itself.

Other cities and towns are in similar situations. The Hoosier state houses emigrants from Mexico, India, China and the Philippines, just to name a few.

According to the national Center for Immigration Studies, one in five Americans speaks a language other than English as home – that’s 63.2 million people, and growing. That applies to 22 percent of school-age children.

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Ferebee Faces Skeptical Audience At Forum On IPS Autonomy Plan

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee answers questions during an NAACP forum Monday Nov. 23, 2015 at the Julia Carson Government Center. (Photo credit: Eric Weddle / WFYI Public Media)

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee answers questions during an NAACP forum Monday Nov. 23, 2015 at the Julia Carson Government Center. (Photo credit: Eric Weddle / WFYI Public Media)

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee faced a skeptical and sometimes adverse audience Monday evening during a forum hosted by the Greater Indianapolis NAACP on school management changes within the district.

Those who spoke, including a Democratic state lawmaker, criticized district leadership for a lack of transparency and warned of impending privatization in the district because of a state law championed by Ferebee and Indianapolis Mayor’s Office.

Many said they felt like IPS leaders were charging ahead with a plan, without first seeking community support, to place mostly minority children in schools with academic models lacking a long record of success.

More: Explaining Indianapolis Public Schools’ Plan For School Autonomy

Ferebee, at times seeming frustrated with the tone of questions, pushed back on the accusation of privatization and other claims, even going as far to declare: “I have no other mission, no other agenda than to give our children a better education… Nobody has given me any money, nobody has planted me here.”

The forum at the Julia M. Carson Government Center, attend by dozens of parents and community members, showed the steep challenge Ferebee and district leaders face in just explaining the complex nature of their school autonomy plan, let alone changing minds about the reasoning for it.

The superintendent, now in his third year at the helm, has repeatedly said the “status quo” of IPS has failed students. Two years ago 42 of IPS’ 69 schools were rated in the D or F category by the state because of low test scores. Eighteen schools were graded as A or B.

Today the district is rated a D on the state accountability scale.

“We can not stand by the wayside as our children go to failing schools, are not prepared to leave us and be prepared to take care of themselves and their families,” Ferebee said. “I make no apologies for those strategies and efforts to improve those outcomes because our children deserve those same opportunities as everyone else.”

When audience members mentioned examples of failed charter schools, Ferebee told them not to waste time debating whether traditional or charter schools were superior.

“Charter schools are here to stay,” he said, later adding, “parents want good schools.”

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Congress Is Finally Changing No Child Left Behind, But How?

No Child Left Behind, the federal law that created the current testing climate and accountability systems in schools, looks like it will finally get the overhaul federal lawmakers have been discussing for years.

Right now, the new version of the law, called the Every Student Succeeds Act, easily survived a conference committee this month and is expected on the House floor next week.

Education Week reports the bill is expected to do well in the Senate but will likely hit snags once House Republicans get a hold of it. Here is how reporter Alyson Klein explains some of the proposed changes:

The bipartisan agreement seeks to give states miles of new running room on accountability, school turnarounds, teacher evaluation, and more, while maintaining No Child Left Behind’s signature transparency provisions, such as annual testing in reading and math in grades 3-8 and once in high school.

And it calls for states to incorporate new measures into their accountability systems that get at students’ opportunity to learn and postsecondary readiness. States could choose to include school climate, student engagement, and teacher engagement, for example.

“This agreement, in my opinion, is the most significant step towards local control in 25 years,” Sen. Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican who chairs the Senate education committee, told House and Senate conferees.

The Senate panel’s top Democrat, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, said that the framework includes “strong federal guardrails … so that students don’t get left behind.”

(Check out Education Week’s extensive breakdown of the changes that affect everything from testing to school choice to funding.)

A major takeaway of the bill is that states would have control over most parts of education, including how standardized assessments fit into accountability and how to help low-performing schools.

And this flexibility for how states keep their schools accountable is what is raising concerns from Democrats in Congress, according to NPR:

Under NCLB, the federal government has had a big role in all of that, and some lawmakers and advocates worry that this overhaul could move too far in the opposite direction, dramatically weakening the law’s protection of poor and minority students. At a recent meeting with civil rights groups on Capitol Hill, Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts sounded anxious.

“The idea that we would pass a major piece of legislation about education and, in effect, shovel money into states and say, ‘Do with it what you want’, and not have some accountability for how that money is spent, I think, is appalling,” Warren said.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Republican from Tennessee and one of the architects of the law’s rewrite, has dismissed this concern. He declined to be interviewed for this story but sent NPR a statement saying he disagrees with groups “who believe that the path to higher standards, better teaching and real accountability is through Washington instead of states.”

But Daria Hall, with the advocacy group The Education Trust, says that, historically, “states have not made decisions with the best interest of vulnerable kids in mind.”

Hall says, when given the opportunity, states still find ways to camouflage the fact that most of their low-income, black and Latino students don’t get a quality education. As evidence, she points to the most recent reading and math scores from the so-called “Nation’s Report Card.”

“Those kids are losing ground,” Hall says. “And yet, we’re telling parents and the public this is an A school when the reality is it’s doing C work or maybe D work. That’s why we need a continued federal role in education.”

Lawmakers will have the final draft of the bill by Nov. 30, and the House is expected to vote that week, meaning we could see progress on this update by the new year.

2,000 Teachers Need More College Credit To Teach Dual Credit

Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers led a meeting Monday discussing how Indiana educators can get more college education to teach dual credit courses.

Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers led a meeting Monday discussing how Indiana educators can get more college education to teach dual credit courses. (photo credit: Gretchen Frazee / WTIU News)

Indiana will request a five year extension for when high school teachers are required to hold a master’s degree and additional college credits so they can teach dual credit courses.

But now state education officials and lawmakers have to figure a way for nearly 2,000 teachers to earn and pay for these additional graduate-level courses, Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers told members of the Dual Credit Advisory Council on Monday.

It is estimated that 71 percent of instructors teaching nearly 45,000 students in dual credit courses in liberal arts do not meet the new requirements that also include 18-credit hours in the subject area they teach.

The Higher Learning Commission, the federally backed regional accreditor for Indiana’s colleges and universities, approved the increased requirements that go into effect fall 2017. But after pushback by some states, including Indiana, the commission is allowing higher education institutions to request a deadline extension to 2022.

Lubbers said it’s now vital for Indiana’s colleges, lawmakers and other officials to work together to offer rigorous and expedited ways for high school teachers to earn additional credentials.

But she and Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz warned that teachers need a reason to spend the extra time to return to graduate school.

It is estimated that 71 percent of instructors teaching nearly 45,000 students in dual credit courses in liberal arts do not meet the new requirements that also include 18-credit hours in the subject area they teach.

“There has to be some financial benefit to doing that,” Lubbers said. “It is back to all of the discussions about: how do you pay a master teacher?”

Changes in 2011 to the collective bargaining law reduced the amount of additional pay a teacher can earn based on their level of education. Though a corporation can chose to incentivize teachers for holding or seeking additional degrees. Continue Reading

State Board Allocates Funds To Charter Schools

The State Board of Education announced Friday that 33 charter schools in the state will split almost $40 million from the Common School Fund as part of a new initiative laid out in the state budget.

The biennial budget passed during the 2015 legislative session earmarked money for charter schools that can be used for anything including technology, transportation, capital or any other needs.

Charter schools don’t receive property tax money like traditional public schools, which is why the legislature added this line item to the budget.

The money is an advance, so as a way to “repay” it, the state will automatically withhold funds from the schools from their state allocations.

“The State is steadfast in the belief that students attending public charter schools deserve equal access to quality facilities and technology. Since public charter schools receive zero property tax revenue for facilities, transportation and technology, this program helps to offset those funding disparities,” said Sarah O’Brien, Vice Chair of the Indiana State Board of Education, in a statement. “The Board’s decision to place a per-pupil cap on the advance amount also helps to protect taxpayers by limiting a school’s ability to borrow more than it can afford to repay.”

The budget allows for the INSBOE to allocate $50 million over two years, so there will be $10 million left to award next year. Schools receiving an A, B or C on the state’s accountability system were eligible to apply for the grant. Charter schools receiving a D or F could apply if this grade was on par with or better than their closest traditional public school.

Schools could not receive more than $5 million. The most awarded in this round of advances was $1 million.

View the entire list of schools receiving money and the per pupil amount here.


Explaining Indianapolis Public Schools’ Plan For School Autonomy

The Indianapolis Public Schools Board has approved a plan that will completely reshape how schools are run starting next year. IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee has characterized it as “reinventing” the district as means to improve schools.

“The status quo has not worked,” he said.

So, what does it all mean?

Simply put — all IPS schools will eventually will be managed by principals, nonprofit organizations or charter operators instead of the traditional top-down control of a district’s central office. Some call this method a “portfolio district.” District leaders call it an “innovation and autonomy framework” but it’s really just a method to decentralize power across the district.

The framework defines the three type of schools:

Traditional schools

Traditional schools follow a unified approach to teaching, staffing and classroom structure.

The district makes most of the decisions, such as the instructional materials and how many math, special education — or any type of teacher — the principal can hire.

Principals do have a little flexibility, such as they can choose from district approved student behavior models, how to spend their Title I funds and pick technology (give kids iPads or put desktops in each classroom).

Staff at these schools are IPS employees whose wages and expectations — such as length of their work day — are detailed in the district collective bargaining agreement.

Today, 58 traditional schools make up the bulk of the district but all will eventually transform into “autonomous” or another new model of school starting in 2016-17.

Autonomous schools

Next school year up to eight IPS schools will shift to the “autonomous” model.

That means the principal is empowered to choose the instructional method and how the school day is divided. Staffing needs will be set at the school level too.

The principal will be given a pot of money — a new concept for IPS called student-based budgeting – to run the school based on the needs of students in the building. So, if third graders are struggling with reading, the principal can manage their own budget to hire additional reading coaches or English teachers.

Staff at these schools would be IPS employees and teachers would contracted by the district’s collective bargaining agreement.

The autonomous model is new to IPS though magnet programs like Center For Inquiry – at Schools Nos. 2, 27, and 84 — and Project: Restore — at Schools No. 88, 93 and 99 — are similar to the concept.

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First Year Teacher Milestone: Parent-Teacher Conferences

This is part of a StateImpact series following three first year teachers through their experiences during the first year in the classroom. To learn more about the teachers and see all of the stories, visit the series website here.

Parent-teacher conferences are one of the biggest milestones a new teacher experiences. Not only does it take a lot of time and work to prepare for them (getting all of a student’s data assembled, writing notes about behavior and social updates, etc.), it’s intimidating.

What if a parent is displeased with how you run the classroom? What if one asks a question you don’t know the answer to? And what if your inexperience comes through in a concern they have about their child?

Gabe, Sara and Chris had all of the anxieties most new teachers have about conferences, and to capture this experience they all recorded an audio diary before their conferences, explaining their mindset about the meetings, and after, explaining how they went.

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Indiana Students Join National Conversation About Race On Campus

Students at Indiana universities are joining the national conversation about race relations on college campuses.

At Indiana University, Dean of Students Pete Goldsmith organized a ‘town hall’ forum to discuss race issues on Tuesday in light of a racist threat made anonymously last week on the social media site Yik Yak. Although the meeting was public, IU did not advertise it to the student body.

At the meeting, Provost Lauren Robel said the preference of university administration is to work with representatives of student groups and organizations rather than individual students.

IU Provost Lauren Robel addresses students at a meeting on campus Tuesday. (Photo Credit: Harrison Wagner/WTIU News)

IU Provost Lauren Robel addresses students at a meeting on campus Tuesday. (Photo Credit: Harrison Wagner/WTIU News)

Representatives from the Black Graduate Student Association and the IU Student Association were present at the meeting, as well as roughly 100 students, faculty and staff members. It was standing-room only.

Concerns from students include:

  • Inconsistent use of the IU Alert system, specifically they say, excluding crimes against minority students. They cited:
  • Lack of mandatory and ongoing cultural competency training for students, faculty, and staff.
  • Disparity of scholarships awarded to minority students.
  • Climate of racism on campus, including use of racial slurs.

Provost Robel expressed sympathy for the students at the meeting. “I feel so strongly that what you’re having to deal with right now, and especially at this time of the semester, on top of everything else that you deal with every day, is unacceptable and painful, painful, painful,” Robel said.

Administrative officials and students agreed the conversation needs to continue. We reached out to IU today but officials declined to further comment at this time.

There was also a conversation about race Tuesday at Purdue University. It was a closed-door meeting between President Mitch Daniels and representatives of two student organizations.

The students outlined problems they’ve identified with the racial climate on campus and laid out 13 demands ranging from minority student and faculty recruitment goals, to provisions in Purdue speech policy to deal with what they consider hate speech.

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Will New Diploma Types Leave Behind Special Ed Students?

Indiana policymakers are focusing a lot of their attention lately on the different diploma options offered to Hoosier high school students. After the original draft for new choices came down from a committee of educators and business leaders, members of the public had a lot to say about the proposed changes – so much so that the State Board of Education decided to send them back to the drawing board. Over the last two weeks, we’ve taken a deep dive into some of the ideas that have been brought forth, why they are so controversial and what they mean for preparing Indiana’s students to be college- and career-ready. Check out our previous stories on arts and math requirements and whether we’re putting kids on academic tracks too early.

Nash Huffman, a freshman at Noblesville High School, is working toward the current General Diploma. His intellectual disabilities force him to work harder to meet certain graduate guidelines.

Nash Huffman, a freshman at Noblesville High School, is working toward the current General Diploma. His intellectual disabilities force him to work harder to meet certain graduate guidelines. (photo credit: Claire McInerny / StateImpact Indiana)

The rewrite of the state’s graduation requirements is making the path to getting a diploma more rigorous. These changes include more math credits, different elective requirements and a push to get kids considering jobs or academic interests they’re drawn to. The diplomas will apply to all students, but open up the possibility that as we raise the bar we could leave behind some of Indiana’s learners. 

Take for example, Nash Huffman, a freshman at Noblesville High School. Nash has Down syndrome, and therefore an individualized education plan since he’s entered school. This means splitting his time between a general education classroom and working individually with a special education teacher. It also means his coursework could look different from other students’. But according to his mom, Jan, that’s different now that he’s a freshman.

“Once we get to high school you can’t modify the work,” she says. “You can accommodate the work, which is very different.”

This new challenge is manifesting itself in his math and science classes, where he’s struggling the most. After school one day, Nash and his parents meet me at the public library to talk. He’s already had a full day and is pretty tired, and has to go home to a math tutor after our meeting. It takes a little prodding from Jan and I to get him to talk about what he’s struggling with at school.

“Earth space science is driving me crazy,” Nash finally says.

“Why is it driving you crazy?” I ask.

“Because it’s real,” Nash says.

“What do you mean by it’s real?”

“I don’t know, it’s kind of complicated I think.”

When It Comes To a Diploma, Special Education Students Have The Same Rules

In Indiana, Nash must meet the same state standards as other students, and more importantly, must meet the same graduation requirements if he wants a diploma. He’s currently working toward earning the General Diploma, which requires four math credits, including Algebra 1.

Nash’s dad, Jeff, says his son isn’t ready to take that class so he’s in another, remedial math class to help prepare him for Algebra.

“He’s got a math test tomorrow, pre-algebra, and he’s working hard on it, but he doesn’t get any credit for it,” Jeff says.

He doesn’t get credit because it’s not an approved math course to graduate. The Huffmans are a little concerned about whether Nash can complete the four math credits he needs over four years. But if Nash were trying to get a diploma in a few years, when new diploma requirements go into affect, that could require three to four years of math. Jeff knows it would likely prevent his son from graduating. Continue Reading

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