Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom


Searching for Solutions to Indiana’s Teacher Shortage Problem

By now, you’ve likely heard this headline: Indiana – like many other states all over the country – is facing a teacher shortage.

As we’ve reported, the number of first-year educators granted a Hoosier State license dropped pretty dramatically last year. Across the nation, fewer people are becoming teachers than in past years, too. Enrollment in teacher preparation programs in the U.S. fell by about 30 percent between 2010 and 2014.

For the most part, people agree this drop could represent a troubling trend. Where they tend to disagree is in what’s causing it, and what the appropriate response should be.

Everyone, even the national media, has an opinion. Long story short: officials mulling over what to do about Indiana’s situation usually lie in one of two camps.

Camp No. 1: Provide Incentive

On one side, there are those who see the shortage as a problem that can be addressed most effectively on the front end, when teachers first enter school as students. They see it as a matter of what teaching trainees pay for their education versus the return on that investment once they get a job.

Gordon Hendry listens during a State Board of Education meeting earlier this spring. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Gordon Hendry listens during a State Board of Education meeting earlier this spring. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Indiana State Board of Education member Gordon Hendry sits on this side of the issue. He says he thinks he has a solution that will get more of the state’s best and brightest into Hoosier classrooms: do something about their low salaries.

“There’s been a substantial rise in the cost of getting a higher education in our state. When you weigh that against the teacher salaries, I think the formula is a little out of whack,” Hendry says.

Hendry’s Next Generation Hoosier Educator Scholarship program would afford top Indiana high school students the opportunity to earn a full ride to any accredited in-state school of education.

The catch? Afterward, they’d have to spend at least four years teaching in an Indiana classroom. Hendry calls it “four years for four years,” and says he thinks it’s a fair tradeoff.

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How Student Debt For Millennials Is Changing The Economy

Mallory Rickbeil and her boyfriend Chris Stearly want to buy a home, but Rickbeil's student debt si preventing them from moving forward with that decision.

Mallory Rickbeil and her boyfriend Chris Stearly want to buy a home, but Rickbeil’s student debt is preventing them from moving forward with that decision. (Photo Credit: Claire McInerny/StateImpact Indiana)

The path to a college education has gotten pretty complicated.

The American job force is increasingly demanding a college degree, and at the same time it’s becoming more and more unaffordable to get one. Tuition is increasing and grants and financial assistance aren’t keeping pace. Young people are taking out thousands of dollars to get just a bachelor’s degree, and as we’ve reported, Indiana has one of the highest rates of college graduates defaulting on their student loans.

With the millennial generation carrying more student loan debt than any other, what does this do to the overall economy, as millennials move toward marriage and home buying? How will their habits change the landscape of higher education?

First Comes Love, Then Comes…Debt Payments?

Mallory Rickbeil and Chris Stearly just moved into a new house in Bloomington. This is the second place they’re renting together, and it’s an upgrade from their previous home.

“There’s so much space,” Rickbeil says. “Chris and I were looking around being like, ‘we have too much space.’” 

Roominess aside, the new house has one huge flaw: it’s not theirs.

“Chris and I have the same objective of wanting to have a house that we own, and at this point Chris is much more capable of doing that than I am – in a large part because of my student loans,” Rickbeil says.

Rickbeil owes thousands of dollars in student loan debt for a master’s degree she finished three years ago. She pays around $500 a month, which makes it tricky to make ends meet, let alone save for a house, something she and Chris are ready to do.

“If Chris and I were to buy a house, it would put more of the burden on him for making the down payment,” she says.  Continue Reading

Museums Face Access, Quality Challenges With Educational Programs

The options for Indiana’s youngest learners are expanding every day.

The hunger for preschool across Indiana continues to grow, fueled by initiatives like the state’s On My Way Pre-K pilot program and Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard’s Indy Preschool Scholarship Program, both initiatives targeted toward low-income families.

Momentum is so great that programs are popping up in places you might not otherwise expect them – like the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The IMA has offered summer classes and supplemental educational programming for years, but this is the first time it is hosting a group of young children for a year-long classroom experience. And like many of these other institutions, the IMA has a lot to consider in starting this type of educational program.

‘The arts is a great natural fit’

Children and adults alike have had opportunities to experience the IMA beyond its galleries and exhibits for years. The museum offers an array of courses ranging from creative indoor workshops to interactive adventure sessions at one of its many garden and outdoor facilities.

There is also plenty of programming for school groups, who often schedule their own field trips to the museum. Heidi Davis-Soylu, the IMA’s manager of academic engagement and learning research, noticed that one such local group took frequent advantage of these events, and decided it was worth forging a partnership.

Art supplies line the countertop in a preschool classroom at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Art supplies line the countertop in a preschool classroom at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

A toddler art program came out of that collaboration with St. Mary’s Child Center, which expanded and evolved into what has now become the IMA preschool.

“We learned a lot about working with toddlers in the art galleries – what’s the good ratio? How do we make this a space where they feel like they belong, but they also know how to be quiet in the hallways if we need to?” Davis-Soylu explains. “Bringing in the arts is a great natural fit for early childhood education.”

So beginning this week, just as the museum is opening to the public, a gaggle of three- and four-year-olds is leaving the building at the end of their school day. This group of seven makes up the IMA’s very first preschool class.

“As the largest art institution in the state and as in schools cutbacks are happening for art education are happening, we’re charged with that task to play that role,” Davis-Soylu says.

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Building Funds: How Charter Schools Benefit From The Newest Budget

We’ve been talking a lot about money leading up to, during and now after the conclusion of the 2015 “education session.”

(Photo Credit: Michelle Vinnacombe/Flickr)

(Photo Credit: Michelle Vinnacombe/Flickr)

That’s because lawmakers spent a good deal of time this year reworking the way schools are funded – not just traditional public schools, but charter schools too.

These institutions saw a pretty big swing in their favor in the state’s new biennial budget: they can now receive additional money to pay for things like buildings, technology, and transportation – money they couldn’t previously access.

Not everyone likes charter schools, or believes that they should be handed public funds, but others say the move could serve as a pretty big incentive to not only to draw more charter schools into Indiana, but to keep the schools that are already here – and their traditional counterparts – performing at a high level.

‘Space Available’

Mariama Carson stands in an empty parking lot on Commercial Drive, off of I-465 on the north side of Indianapolis. She looks up at a building that sits on the south end of the lot, among a series of strip malls. This particular space sits between a small Chinese restaurant and an abandoned H.H. Gregg grocery store.

A vacant space at 3695 Commercial Drive that Mariama Carson is considering for her proposed charter school, set to open in 2016. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

A vacant space at 3695 Commercial Drive that Mariama Carson is considering for her proposed charter school, set to open in 2016. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

“A former Hobby Lobby,” Carson explains. “That’s what I know it as. I was a teacher down in this area, and I remember coming here to get crafts and things for the classroom.”

Carson, a former school principal in Pike Township, points to a different sign now atop the building entrance: “For Lease: Space Available, 56,000 square feet.” She says the space might be an option for Global Prep Academy, the proposed charter school she hopes to run.

“I think they’re waiting for it to be revived, and I’m hoping that this kind of space would be great for a school to revive the area,” Carson says.

3695 Commercial Drive has been empty for a long time; the last time Carson says she remembers coming in for craft supplies was maybe 10 years ago. In fact, five or six other retail spaces beside it also boast bold-faced “For Lease” signs.

Despite the vacancies, Carson says this area – dubbed the “International Marketplace” – is exactly the type of environment she’s been looking for to house her proposed K-8 school for dual language learners.

“The International Marketplace collectively is the most diverse pocket in the entire state of Indiana,” Carson recounts. “Wanting to have a school that’s in close proximity to the demographics we’re going after, it’s this place.”

But there is a major factor standing in her way: cost.

“The total for the whole project from the renovation standpoint was like $4.5 million – that’s just renovation, not even for the building,” Carson says. “To buy it is like over a million dollars.”

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Mandatory Kindergarten Falls Off This Year’s Legislative Docket

Legislation before the General Assembly this session sought to make kindergarten mandatory for Hoosier children by lowering the compulsory school age from seven to five.

It’s an issue that has lawmakers and educators split, even as the state focuses on funding early education initiatives.

‘Kindergarten Is The New First Grade’

These are the some of the more than 60 skills five-year-olds are expected to learn now in Indiana’s public kindergartens:

  • Count to 100 by ones,
  • Solve real-world problems that involve addition and subtraction, and
  • Understand how a nonfiction book is organized.

They’re the same skills that could cause a student to struggle during first grade if they haven’t been exposed to them earlier.

Should kindergarten be mandatory for Hoosier kids? (Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks/Flickr)

Should kindergarten be mandatory for Hoosier kids? (Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks/Flickr)

“I am hoping they are going to be able to read and write and do their math and be able to count and recognize numbers,” says Karen Berman, a 24-year kindergarten teacher at Greenbrier Elementary in Washington Township. “We are doing a lot with number sense and it’s unbelievable.”

Students in Berman’s class use interactive technology, shout out fractions during group number games and learn how the government works.

Kindergarten, Berman says, is the new first grade.

“I think you have to mandate kindergarten,” Berman says. “What difference does it make if you put them in pre-k and they don’t go any further? And then go to first grade – they are still going to be behind. Yes, you have to have the pre-k, there is no question about it, but you have to mandate kindergarten.”

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What Happens If Kids Opt Out of ISTEP+?

The road to this year’s ISTEP+ test has been bumpy. Recurring problems with technology and last-minute legislative changes to trim the length of the test have only added to the frustrations many Hoosier parents feel about the stressful effects of standardized testing.

Many parents are deciding to “opt out,” or withdraw their child from this year’s pool of test-takers.

But that decision could have serious repercussions for teachers, schools and even the state.

When Children Worry, Parents Act

Caswell Woodruff was a third grader at Bloomfield Elementary School last year when he began relaying ISTEP+ horror stories to his mother, Resa.

Bloomfield parent Resa Woodruff displays a picture of her son Caswell, 9. (Photo Credit: Barbara Harrington/WTIU News)

Bloomfield parent Resa Woodruff displays a picture of her son Caswell, 9. (Photo Credit: Barbara Harrington/WTIU News)

“He would tell me some of the things the teachers would say about ‘you have to pass this,’” Woodruff says. “He would just tell me some of the kids were worried and concerned and just the stresses of the environment in the classroom because of the testing.”

Worried for her son, Woodruff began researching, finding any information she could about Indiana’s standardized tests – and what she found scared her, too.

“The more research we did on the subject, the more we wanted to opt our child out of the test,” Woodruff says. “They’re not a reliable and accurate assessment of our child’s developmental growth.”

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Can Free Tuition Change Students’ Attitudes About College?

The idea of providing community college for everyone seems a little lofty to some, but advocates say it's a good opportunity for a national conversation.

The idea of providing community college for everyone seems a little lofty to some, but advocates say it’s a good opportunity for a national conversation. (photo credit: Ivy Tech Community College)

Leading up to his State of Union address later this month, President Obama announced last week he wants to make community college tuition free to encourage more people to get education beyond high school.

It’s a goal many people can get behind, but advocates in Indiana are more excited about the national platform for the conversation than the president’s proposal.

High School Education Is ‘Not Enough’

President Obama said his new plan to bring down the cost of community college tuition in America is the most important proposal of his State of the Union address he’ll give Jan. 20.

“I want to bring it down to zero,” he said in his announcement.

The plan says if a student maintains a 2.5 GPA while attending community college at least halftime, they wont pay any tuition.

And while the logistics of how to pay for this plan — and whether Congress will even pass it — are still unknown, higher education advocates are thrilled the White House recognizes something they’ve know for a long time.

“An education that stops at high school is not enough for today’s world,” Ivy Tech Community College President Tom Snyder says. Continue Reading

New Bill Calls For Appointed Superintendent, Beginning 2021

State superintendent Glenda Ritz listens to comments from the public during a hearing at Glenwood Leadership Academy in Evansville. (Photo Credit: Elle Moxley/StateImpact Indiana)

For months, current state superintendent Glenda Ritz has been at the center of controversy involving the State Board of Education, a group she chairs. (Photo Credit: Elle Moxley/StateImpact Indiana)

We’ve been hearing the same story for months: State Superintendent Glenda Ritz and members of the Indiana State Board of Education don’t really get along. People say the drama keeps the group from getting anything accomplished.

We may see a remedy for the problem during the 2015 legislative session.

Could appointing the superintendent, rather than electing someone to the position as is customary in Indiana, force the state’s education leaders to work together?

Old Problems, New Solution

Bickering has become somewhat of a norm at state board meetings. Issues of power and responsibility have made the agenda in addition to – and sometimes, overshadowing – actual education policy matters, and it’s become a major problem. So much so, that Governor Mike Pence made “playing referee” a centerpiece of his 2015 legislative agenda.

“To maintain our momentum and to implement new policies, we’ll also need to fix what’s broken in education in Indiana,” Pence said at a legislative conference late last year. “For education to work in our state, it has to work at the highest levels.”

Pence offered an olive branch of sorts by eliminating his education agency, the Center for Education and Career Innovation, appeasing Ritz. The governor has also called on legislators to allow state board members to elect their own board chair, rather than let the superintendent automatically assume that role.

But neither of those ideas address what many people see as the root of the problem.

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Pre-K: How Does Indiana Compare On The National Scene?

The new year brings a fresh start, and nobody is more aware of impending changes than families in Allen, Lake, Marion and Vanderburgh counties.

Indiana’s first preschool pilot program begins in those four communities in January, when an anticipated 450 low-income four-year-olds will head off to school for the first time.

Forty others, plus the District of Columbia, already have state-funded pre-k. Indiana will become the 41st. President Obama has been pushing for more states to adopt preschool programs, and in doing so he’s been dropping names of states he sees as national examples, including Oklahoma, which was one of the first to offer free voluntary pre-k in 1998.

Approximately 46 percent of children across the country – approximately 3.7 million – attend preschool, according to data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

In the early stages of planning Indiana’s program, Melanie Brizzi of Indiana’s Family and Social Services Administration gave StateImpact a list of states she considered as models for the Hoosier state’s program.

“Minnesota, Florida, Ohio, Illinois – there’s an abundance of research material we can go to,” Brizzi said.

Let’s take a look at some of those states and see how Indiana compares.

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