Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Program Offering Free STEM Training To Dual Credit Teachers Sees High Demand

Dual credit teachers teaching STEM classes can take free graduate level classes at private universities in the state, thanks to a new grant from the Independent Colleges of Indiana.

Dual credit teachers teaching STEM classes can take free graduate level classes at private universities in the state, thanks to a new grant from the Independent Colleges of Indiana. (photo credit: Elle Moxley / StateImpact Indiana)

Indiana educators teaching classes in science, technology, engineering or math have the opportunity to take free graduate or undergraduate classes through a grant from the Independent Colleges of Indiana.

The ICI grant provides more than $2 million in tuition for teachers to take STEM related undergraduate or graduate courses and workshops at private universities in Indiana.

ICI President Richard Ludwick says the organization wanted to give dual credit teachers a cost effective opportunity to meet new requirements put forth by the Higher Learning Commission.

The Higher Learning Commission, an accreditation group that works with many states, changed requirements for dual credit teachers last year. It now requires these teachers to have a masters degree and at least 18 credit hours in the subject area they teach.

These requirements affect thousands of teachers in Indiana teaching high school classes that double as college credit. Ludwick says his organization wanted to help some of these dual credit teachers because it is a costly requirement change from the HLC.

“We consider it a socially responsible cause,” Ludwick says.

The ICI asked the state legislature to fund the grant, and received the $2 million last year. This funding is expected to last about four semesters, but Ludwick says he is already looking for ways to make it a sustainable program.

“We’re approaching foundations to say this is a real need that our communities have, and we’re providing a cost effective solution,” Ludwick says.

The program started this past semester, and Ludwick says it’s already enrolled more than 300 teachers. There is high demand, with the summer courses already on a wait list, meaning future semesters will likely have an enrollment cap.

Study: LGBT Youth Left Out Of Suspension, Expulsion Reduction Efforts

Students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender are largely left out of efforts to address the overuse of suspension and expulsion for student groups, according to a new report. (flakeparadigm/Flickr)

Students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender are largely left out of efforts to address the overuse of suspension and expulsion for student groups, according to a new report. (flakeparadigm/Flickr)

Students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender are largely left out of efforts to address the overuse of suspension and expulsion for student groups, according to a new report.

The report, released Monday by The Equity Project at Indiana University, says schools suspend or expel LGBT students more often than their heterosexual peers. In order to address the disparity, the report says more data is sorely needed.

“[Data collection] gives us the opportunity to see where the problems are, to act on the problems, and to monitor change over time, in fixing that,” said Russ Skiba, director of the Equity Project. “Because there are no data collected at the individual level on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, we don’t have the same opportunity.”

Federal law requires schools to collect data on suspension and expulsion for students based on race and disability, but not based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

“We have responsibilities as educators to protect students in our schools,” Skiba said. “What this comes down to, is saying, ‘Let’s make sure we have the data we need to identify the extent of the problem.’”

A handful of studies have tracked how school discipline plays out for LGBT youth. The numbers are telling.

A national study found that adolescents reporting same-sex attraction were 1.4 times more likely to be expelled from school than their heterosexual peers. A separate 2010 study found that while LGBT youth don’t display more illegal or dangerous behaviors, they’re at greater risk stopped by police or expelled from school than heterosexual peers. In a county-wide study, LGBT youth were more than twice as likely as heterosexual students to report that they had been suspended from school.

“Kids who are suspended or expelled are more likely to become disengaged from school, have lower achievement or eventually drop out of school,” Skiba said. “And they’re at increased risk for contact with the juvenile justice system.”

The U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights collects school data every other year of every school and district in the nation. Dan Losen, director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at UCLA’s Civil Rights Project, says that he hopes they begin to collect data on student sexual orientation.

“That would require that they actually have some way of students self reporting that information,” Losen said. “That way when those students are suspended or expelled we would know about it.”

There could be other options, too. A new federal education law is set to take effect in September 2017. That law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, moves some of the responsibility for data collection from the federal to the state level.

“We’re hoping that at least some states will start to collect this information, so that way we can see what we hear is happening. We have some hard data to demonstrate this is an issue,” Losen said. “Because demonstrating that there really is a problem, that’s the first step in seeking a remedy.”

California is one state that already uses surveys to monitor the well-being of students. The California Healthy Kids Survey tracks sexual orientation and gender identity, plus experiences with suspension.

Indiana doesn’t collect discipline data along sexual orientation or gender identity lines.

In general, suspensions are high and disproportionate along race lines. While almost one in 10 Indiana students experienced suspension or expulsion in the 2012-13 school year, one in five black students experienced a suspension or expulsion that year, according to the Indiana University Center for Evaluation & Education Policy.

How Do New Teachers Balance School And Personal Life?


First year teacher Gabe Hoffman is working to find balance between his duties as a teacher and coach, as well as making time for himself, his girlfriend and his family. (photo credit: Peter Balonon-Rosen).

It’s been a taxing few weeks for the Gabe Hoffman and his third graders at Nora Elementary School in Indianapolis.

“We just got done with ISTEP, we just got done with IREAD, we have ISTEP one more time,” he says. “So there’s a lot of stress in being a third grade teacher at this time in the year.”

The majority of Gabe’s class have special learning plans or are English Language Learners. At the beginning of the year, he spent 12+ hours at school, and time on the weekends grading and preparing lessons. He says, after a semester of that, he needed a change.

“My New Year’s Resolution was not to stay at school past 5:30.”

He wanted to watch sport again, go to Pacers’ games and make more time to see his girlfriend – who is also a teacher. Chelsea Brothers is an Algebra 1 teacher at Southport High School, also in Indianapolis.

They’ve been together for six and a half years, mostly long distance, but this year, both living in Indianapolis, has been one of the hardest. They’re navigating their first years in the classroom, and often, doing it together.

“We do grading together, planning together,” Brothers says. “If we can do that together it helps us have more time together.”

Then he made his new year’s resolution, became more efficient, and started leaving school earlier. Gabe says this winter they got in a rhythm and were seeing each other more than ever.

“Then I decided to coach a month and a half ago, and now we’re back to never seeing each other again,” he says.

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As Special Education Program Shuts, Eastern Hancock Looks Ahead

(Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

(Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

A special education collaborative between three Indiana counties plans to shut its doors after 43 years.

The Hancock Madison Shelby Educational Services cooperative, which this year served about 2,500 students in five school corporations, will close at the end of the 2016-17 school year. HMSES, a co-op between schools in Hancock, Madison and Shelby Counties, provides special education services across districts.

Each district helps pay for the collaborative and receives services, making it significantly cheaper than having individual programs in each district. But since 2014, two districts have announced plans to pull out, making the co-op less sustainable.

Eastern Hancock Superintendent Vickie McGuire says she was blindsided by the HMSES’s decision to shut down.

“I did not expect it,” McGuire says.

McGuire says the elimination of the co-op means the loss of occupational therapy, physical therapy, visual impaired services, psychiatrists and psychologists for almost 200 Eastern Hancock students each year.

Federal and state law requires schools to provide special education. Without the HMSES, the district will have to bear the cost of those services themselves.

“We just won’t be able to share some of the costly services that are kind of hard to find,” McGuire says.

State law allows for districts to create cooperatives to provide services to Hoosier students with disabilities. McGuire hopes to partner with neighboring schools to continue sharing services – and the costs of hiring new teachers.

“Funds are tight but we will make sure that we hire — we have to it’s a law that we meet their needs,” McGuire says. “So whatever we have to do, that is what we will absolutely do.”

Wawasee School Officials Refuse To Pilot ISTEP+ Test Questions

Wawasee students will not pilot test questions for next year’s ISTEP+ test, school officials announced Tuesday.

Wawasee Community School officials held a special school board meeting to reject administering ISTEP+ pilot questions. The Department of Education ask schools to give students the un-scored questions to help the vendor sharpen the test. Wawasee school officials say they didn’t want to give the students those questions on top of the scored test.

“We need all the class time that we can get at Wawasee to educate our students, not take tests,” says Tom Edington, Wawasee Community Schools superintendent. “When we read the statutes having to do with statewide testing, and found that our pilot was not a statewide assessment, we respectfully declined to administer those to our students.”

Every year, Indiana students take ISTEP+ exams during two spring testing windows. Once at the beginning of March and again at the end of April into May.

Edington says Wawasee uses separate tests to give teachers feedback on student progress. He says that ISTEP+’s only purpose in Wawasee is to allow state officials to rate the school district.

“As I sit here and look across the state, I would hope that no one, none of those one million school students in public schools in the state of Indiana, would spend their time doing test questions for a vendor paid by the state,” Edington says.

The move in Wawasee comes less than a week after the Ft. Wayne Community School board also refused to pilot test questions.

In an email, Indiana Department of Education spokesperson Samantha Hart says the department understands both Wawasee and Ft. Wayne’s concerns.

“This is another reason why Superintendent Ritz believes we need to get away from ISTEP and its expensive, high-stakes pass/fail approach,” Hart says.

Pence Signs Bill Scrapping ISTEP

Gov. Pence signed HEA 1395 at Eagle Elementary School in Zionsville. The law gets rid of ISTEP+ by 2017 and creates a committee that will determine the replacement.

Gov. Pence signed HEA 1395 at Eagle Elementary School in Zionsville. The law gets rid of ISTEP+ by 2017 and creates a committee that will determine the replacement. (photo credit: Governor’s Office)

Gov. Mike Pence signed into law Tuesday a bill that eliminates Indiana’s current student assessment and lays plans for a new one.

The General Assembly passed HB 1395, which scraps the ISTEP+ by July 1, 2017 and replace it with a new assessment that students will take in Spring 2018.

“By signing House Enrolled Act 1395, we’re taking the first step toward eliminating ISTEP and ensuring that multiple perspectives are considered as Indiana develops its next iteration of assessment and accountability of our schools,” Gov. Pence said in a statement after the signing.

The new law also creates a 23-person committee that will decide what this new test looks like. The governor, state superintendent and leaders of the House and Senate each get four appointments, which must mostly be educators. Those appointments need to be made by May 1.

The committee must then submit a report to the Department of Education and legislators by the end of the year. The report will contain recommendations for how the new test should look and operate.

The IDOE will then have a year to contract a vendor to create the test and help schools prepare for the change in assessment.

Ft. Wayne Schools Refuse DOE Request To Pilot ISTEP Questions


Ft. Wayne Community Schools refused a request from the Indiana Department of Education to pilot test questions for next year’s ISTEP+, saying it would add unnecessary testing onto their students.

The Ft. Wayne Community School board voted last week to not help the Indiana Department of Education pilot questions for next year’s ISTEP+, saying they didn’t want to subject their students to additional, unnecessary testing.

Piloting test questions is an important part of developing an assessment, according to the IDOE. A future version of the ISTEP+ may use these questions.  By having real students pilot the questions, which don’t count for anything, the IDOE says they can see if a question effectively gathers the right information and is statistically reliable.

The IDOE asks school districts all over the state to pilot these questions each year, but only need a small portion of Indiana students to participate.

Ft. Wayne school board president Mark GiaQuinta says when the IDOE needed the pilot questions to be completed overlapped with the administration of the IREAD-3 and second window for the ISTEP+. In addition to that, he said if there’s ever an opportunity for the district to opt out of testing, they will do it.

“Our principal goal is to educate all students to a high level, and for that to occur we value classroom time,” GiaQuinta says. “We believe the time spent between a student and his or her teacher is far more valuable than the time taking a standardized test.”

With Ft. Wayne’s refusal to participate, IDOE spokesperson Samantha Hart says the department will have to find other school districts to complete the pilot.

“We understand the concerns coming from Ft. Wayne Community Schools and other school districts,” Hart says. “This is why superintendent Ritz has passionately advocated to get rid of a high stakes, pass-fail assessment.”

But as long as there is standardized testing there will be a need to pilot questions, says Hart. Although the legislature recently voted to get rid of ISTEP+ and create a new test, under federal guidelines it will still have to test a student on their knowledge gained throughout a whole year. And because there will be a test, those questions will have to be piloted to ensure the test’s accuracy.

Laws Limiting Charter ‘Authorizer Shopping’ Could Face First Test

Thea Bowman Leadership Academy's high school campus in Gary. The Drexel Foundation for Educational Excellence faces default on the building if it isn't granted a new charter from the Indiana Charter School Board. Photo: Innovative Modular Solutions

Thea Bowman Leadership Academy\’s high school campus in Gary. The Drexel Foundation for Educational Excellence faces default on the building if it isn\’t granted a new charter from the Indiana Charter School Board. (Photo credit: Innovative Modular Solutions)

Two Indiana laws intended to prevent failing charter schools from escaping closure or accountability through finding another sponsor could face their first test soon.

Thea Bowman Leadership Academy in Gary, one of the state’s oldest charter schools, is set to lose its charter this summer after sponsor Ball State University declined to renew it — citing an ongoing lack of governance and fiscal concerns.

But the foundation managing the two Thea Bowman schools opted to not appeal, instead partnering with Indianapolis-based Phalen Leadership Academy to seek a new charter from the Indiana Charter School Board so it can continue operating — a move they say is not the controversial practice known as “authorizer shopping.”

It’s a complex situation, say those involved, that combines politics, policy interpretations and the first application of two bipartisan laws — including one that gives final approval of a charter sponsor switch to the State Board of Education.

“I think it does put both the charter board and the state board in an interesting position given the politics around it,” James Betley, Indiana Charter School Board executive director said this week. “And it’s not just the politics of people not understanding what the law says but it’s just the politics of authorizer shopping in general.”

In addition to concerns and perceptions over “sponsor shopping,” there are other complicating issues surrounding Thea Bowman’s quest for a new charter, including:

  • Ball State Office of Charter Schools says it’s likely to grant a provisional charter to a group of Thea Bowman parents if they can receive control of the school from the foundation that founded it.
  • M. Karega Rausch, chairman of the Indiana Charter School Board, is a vice president for theNational Association of Charter School Authorizers – a group that recently rated Indiana’s charter accountability policies as top in the nation. Rausch may have to vote on whether to approve Thea Bowman’s request to change its authorizer — a move that could cause a schism over what the definition of “authorizer shopping” is in the state.
  • UMB Bank, the lender that holds the bonds for Thea Bowman high school, issued a letter last month saying the foundation violated terms of its December 2009 loan agreement and the loan will be in default if the charter is lost.

A few years ago a troubled charter school could “shop” for a new authorizer that may be, as lawmakers have said, more lenient in its oversight for how the schools were run or students fared academically.

In 2013 seven chronically failing schools were denied reauthorization from Ball State, yet three of the schools were granted new charters from a different authorizer to remain open.

Later that a year a law was passed requiring the State Board of Education to grant final approval for a school to get a different sponsor if they were at risk of losing its charter or already lost a charter.

So far, no cases have come before the Governor-appointed state education board.

Then in 2015, lawmakers drew praise for passing a law that sought to further clamp down the practice by, in part, requiring a school’s current or past authorizer to communicate with the proposed sponsor about problems facing the school.

As some lawmakers sought to balance charter school expansion and increase accountability, they left a path for a these non-traditional public schools to be granted a new sponsor or second chance.

That’s what Drexel Foundation for Educational Excellence Inc. is attempting to do. They’re the Gary nonprofit who founded the Thea Bowman Leadership Academy in 2003 and holds the charter. Today about 1,300 K-12 students are enrolled in its two schools. Continue Reading

State Supreme Court Hears Arguments On Teacher Pay

The Indiana Supreme Court is hearing a case regarding collective bargaining between teachers and school districts. (Photo Credit: Brian Turner/Flickr)

The Indiana Supreme Court is hearing a case regarding collective bargaining between teachers and school districts. (Photo Credit: Brian Turner/Flickr)

The Indiana Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in a case addressing teacher pay and collective bargaining from Jay County School Corporation in Portland.

That case addresses two issues having to do with collective bargaining of teacher salaries. First, it asks if superintendents should have discretion on setting the salary for a teacher that is hired after the start of the school year. Second, it asks whether a teacher who takes on extra work outside her his/her bargained job duties should get extra pay.

The trial court that first heard the case sided with the school corporation, then the appeals court sided with the teacher’s union. The state Supreme Court will now make a final decision on the issue.

Principal Discretion On Salaries

Eric Hylton argued for the teacher’s union, the Jay Classroom Teacher Association, and started his oral argument addressing the issue of principal discretion with setting teacher salaries. He argued that if a teacher is hired after the start of the school year, the principal should not have complete discretion in setting that teacher’s salary. He said the union should still negotiate that salary with the school district.

The union is arguing that there should be tight parameters for a new teacher, like years of experience, that determine salary. The school corporation and The Indiana Education Employment Relations Board (IEERB) say a superintendent should be able to set the salary as long as it is within an already set range.

The lawyer for IEERB, Sarah Cudahy, said this is already not permitted in law. She says that a school superintendent already determines salaries within a pay scale determined through collective bargaining.

The Appeals Court sided with Hylton, saying it is clear in state law that all salaries need to be collectively bargained. The school corporation is arguing for the Supreme Court to rule the other way.

“It’s important for the court to understand this is a teacher friendly process and it’s in the public’s best interest,” said Marcia Mahoney, a lawyer for the school district.

Additional Pay

The second part of the case looks at additional pay for additional duties and asks if that should be part of collective bargaining agreements.

Hylton, representing the union, gave an example during his oral arguments.

“We had a situation where both parties had a provision in their last best offers that basically said, a teacher goes home sick, another teacher agrees to cover their class during their prep period because we can’t find a substitute, let’s pay that teacher $15 or $20,” Hylton said.

The IEERB found this is double pay and therefore not bargainable. The question here is do extra duties count if they’re completed during the day? The Appeals Court said yes. But that is what the Supreme Court will consider when making their ruling.

The Appeals Court ruled in favor of the union, saying teachers can negotiate extra money for duties they do during the school day outside of their assigned roles, like covering another teacher’s class. IEERB argues getting extra pay for duties completed during the school day is considered double pay.

The Supreme Court did not say when they expect to issue a ruling on the case.

Board Votes To Table Discussion On Diploma Re-Write

State Board of Education members Steve Yager, Vince Bartrum and Cari Whicker voted, along with all other board members, to table the discussion on changing graduation requirements.

State Board of Education members Steve Yager, Vince Bartrum and Cari Whicker voted, along with all other board members, to table the discussion on changing graduation requirements. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting).

The State Board of Education voted Wednesday to indefinitely table the discussion on re-writing the state’s graduation requirements. The board voted after reviewing recommendations from a task force and listening to more than two hours of public testimony.

Every board member (besides state superintendent Glenda Ritz who abstained from the vote) voted to indefinitely put aside the discussion and not schedule a future vote to approve new graduation requirements.

The SBOE took up the issue of developing new graduation requirements in the fall, but a flurry of pushback led the SBOE to prolong the conversation. The public objected to new math credits, fine arts credits and concerns over how special education students will obtain a degree. Many also objected to the sentiment that high school students pick a career path.

The board created a diploma task force, comprised of SBOE and Department of Education members and staff as well as educators of a variety of subjects and parts of the state. The group met four times over the last few months, discussed the different requirement changes and came up with new drafts of the diploma types.

But during the public comment period Wednesday, many of the educators that served on that task force spoke against even making their proposed changes.

Bluffton High School principal and task force member Steve Baker asked the board if it’s necessary to make this re-write.

“Only if somethings not working and if we do it for the right reasons,” said Baker. “What we have now works, it creates balance.”

He went on to say that one reason it might seem helpful to raise the graduation standards would be to reduce the number of students needing remedial math classes once they got to college. But he cited Commission for Higher Education statistics that show students needing remediation in the state is dropping.

Not all testimony opposed change. TJ Rivard, who works in the University Transfer Office at Indiana University, says one of the math tracks in the proposed Core 44 diploma, the Calculus track, would prepare all students for whatever major they choose. His point was that many college students change majors well into their college experience or after they complete credits at a community college or regional campus, and if they have as much math under their belt as possible they’ll be prepared for when they change their major.

One of the contentious changes in the re-write is an additional math credit for students pursuing the diploma that focuses on college prep. Many argued some high schools might not have the staff to meet this mandate.

“Any time you add requirements to graduation, for instance, adding two credits in mathematics will require more math teachers,” says SBOE member Vince Bertram. “Do we have an ample supply of math teachers and how do we solve that problem before we move forward with an expectation that’s going to have a serious implication for schools.”

Superintendent Ritz abstained from the vote because she says she views herself more as a facilitator of this discussion. But she says having more time to study the more contentious points will make any final decision on the matter more thoroughly thought out.

“I think a lot of the conversation revolves around getting information on mathematics,” Ritz says. “And that will start to drive the conversation I think more on the diploma on what we might want to do and how we might want to make that work.”

After hearing all of the testimony, board members said they didn’t want to pursue the issue until they have more research and data.

The 2014 legislation that mandates the SBOE study the new diploma issue does not require it to take action.

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