In the Classroom

Bills aimed at teacher hiring take a back seat to ISTEP, for now

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

As Gov. Mike Pence, state Superintendent Glenda Ritz and legislative leaders are rushing a bill to ease the pain of last year’s ISTEP scores, another seemingly bipartisan education issue has, at least temporarily, moved to the sidelines.

That’s a bit of a surprise.

At the legislature’s ceremonial Organization Day in November, House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, touted House Bill 1002, intended to help ease teacher shortages in Indiana, to be a top priority.

It may still prove to be, but for now the issue of teacher hiring seems to lost some of its urgency, and fewer solutions with broad bipartisan support have come forward.

While there was considerable debate in 2015 about whether the state actually was facing a crisis of having too few teachers, the state has clearly faced shortages in some areas. For example, rural schools, high-poverty urban schools and schools with open jobs in hard-to-fill subjects like math, science and special education typically have the hardest time recruiting and retaining teachers.

There are still many ideas on the table about what the state might do to curb those difficulties. Legislators have offered a few bills that could alleviate the pressure, mostly focusing on teacher pay and opportunities for additional education. But it’s not yet clear what direction lawmakers will take.

Bosma’s House Bill 1002, which would reward aspiring teachers with four years of free college tuition if they commit to teaching for four years in Indiana. His plan is similar to one proposed by Indiana State Board of Education member Gordon Hendry as a way to encourage more students to go into teaching. Bosma said the bill is in its final draft form, and he anticipates support from other lawmakers.

“It’s generally been really well-received among educators, administrators and university presidents we’ve talked to,” Bosma said.

Hendry estimated that his plan would cost about $4.5 million. Bosma has not yet put a price tag on his plan but said he didn’t think funding would be a barrier, even though 2016 is not a budget year.

“We’re looking for available funds to fund those programs now,” Bosma told Chalkbeat in November. “And if we can’t, we put the girders in place and add the walls next year.”

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz led a teacher panel this summer focused on the need for support for new teachers and higher overall pay to help stave off shortages. House Bill 1101, authored by Rep. Donna Schaibley, R-Carmel, would take some pressure off new teachers and allow them to still earn pay raises or bonuses even if they get a rating of “needs improvement” or “ineffective” in their first two years. Right now, teacher can be blocked from earning raises if they fall in those bottom two categories on a four-point scale.

Sen. Dennie Kruse, R-Auburn, said he plans to file a bill that would establish a “residency program” for new teachers, enabling them to earn a master’s degree more quickly and receive mentoring from veteran teachers along the way.

Additional education is especially important in Indiana this year after the Higher Learning Commission, an organization that accredits state universities, changed its policies to require any teachers teaching dual credit courses in high schools have either a master’s degree or 18 credit hours in the subject they teach.

Currently, 1,200 teachers in the state would be ineligible to teach dual credit courses if the policy went into effect as planned in 2017. Indiana has applied for a extension from the commission so that the law wouldn’t go into effect until 2022.

Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Mount Vernon, is expected to file a bill that would make it easier for teachers to meet the new dual credit requirements.

Under McNamara’s bill, any teacher already teaching dual credit classes could get college credits in exchange for the number of classes they teach. For example, a teacher who teaches one dual credit course in U.S. History would be able to take one free class, or three credit hours, towards a master’s degree in that subject.

“So theoretically, if you teach one class per year until 2022, you would get your 18 hours in the content area,” McNamara said.

Some of those 1,200 teachers might already have some graduate school classes, she said, but the cost of such a program would still be fairly high, and the majority of it would fall on universities to fund. McNamara said that she doesn’t think universities should have to foot the entire bill, but some schools, such as the University of Southern Indiana, has already looked into such an exchange.

McNamara said the new dual credit policies aren’t necessarily based on substantive data that says teachers must have the extra credential to effectively teach kids. And there hasn’t been public outcry in Indiana over how teachers are prepared for dual credit classes — the change is coming solely from the commission, she said.

“In essence,” she said. “It’s harming us as a state.”

In the Classroom

How Memphis students came face to face with the painful history in their school’s backyard

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat
Students at Memphis Grizzlies Preparatory Charter School examine a historical marker meant to share a more complete story of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general, slave trader, and early leader of the Ku Klux Klan.

A few yards across from the parking lot of an all-boys Memphis school lies a small, tree-lined courtyard, where a class of eighth-graders studies a large historical marker.

The new marker tells them that children were sold as slaves in this spot. An older, nearby marker had failed to tell the whole story — Nathan Bedford Forrest, the subject of the marker, made Memphis a hub of the slave trade near that busy downtown corner.

The boys at Memphis Grizzlies Preparatory Charter School, who are nearly all black, earlier learned about the painful legacy while watching an episode of “America Divided,” a documentary series featuring celebrities exploring inequality across the nation. The episode featured the Memphis campaign that eventually removed a nearby statue of Forrest, a Confederate general, slave trader, and early leader of the Ku Klux Klan.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat
Memphis Grizzlies Preparatory Charter School students visit county commissioners Tami Sawyer and Van Turner (back row), who were key in the city’s campaign to remove Confederate statues.

Being so close to such upsetting history that only recently has bubbled to the surface of public display was a lot for eighth-grader Joseph Jones to take in.

“I can’t believe that this history is right outside our school,” he said. “I think I barely know what happened in Memphis. So many things that I don’t know, that I need to know, and that I want to know, happened in this very city.”

Lately, Memphis — along with several other cities in the South — has been grappling with how tell the complete stories of historical figures who many felt were war heroes, but who also contributed to the enslavement of black Americans.

The new and larger historical marker about Forrest was erected on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. He was killed two miles from the all-boys charter school. City leaders vowed and succeeded in taking down Forrest’s statue, which had loomed downtown for more than 100 years, before honoring King’s legacy.

From the archives: Meet the Memphis educator leading the charge to take down her city’s Confederate monuments

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat
Teacher Tim Green travels to several schools to teach students how to express their emotions in a healthy way.

Tim Green, a teacher at Grizzlies Prep, prompted discussion among students about how to use their newfound knowledge about history in positive ways to improve their city. It’s part of Green’s larger effort to teach students how to express their feelings on difficult topics.

Recently, that has meant delving into the city’s racial history, which is fraught with tragedy that has not been fully reckoned with in public discourse.

“Me forming this class was a way to talk about some of things we deal with and one of those things is our past,” he recently told students. “As African-American men — and African-Americans in general — we don’t have a clear understanding of where we came from.”

Students said their initial feelings after watching the documentary included anger, sadness, and fear.

“It kind of makes me feel scared because you know your parents and your teachers say history repeats itself,” said student Sean Crump. “So, we never know if it’s going to happen again because some things that people said are going to stop have came back. … That makes me feel scared of when I grow up.”

Watching the documentary was the first part of the class’ history exploration before meeting with two key people who organized the removal of Forrest’s statue at the county government building about two blocks from the school.

The documentary shows actor Jussie Smollett interviewing the younger brother of Jesse Lee Bond, a 20-year-old black sharecropper. He was killed in a Memphis suburb in 1939 after asking for a receipt at a store owned by a prominent white family that depended on the credit balances of its black customers.

The brother, Charlie Morris, said he was ready to go on a revengeful rampage after learning his brother had been shot, castrated, dragged by a tractor, and staked to the bottom of a nearby river. He said he still carried the trauma, but doesn’t carry the hate he felt nearly 80 years ago.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat
Students watch as Charlie Morris, the brother of lynching victim Jesse Lee Bond, explains the racism that led to his brother’s murder in an episode of “America Divided.”

“The first step to equal justice is love. Where there’s no love, you can forget the rest,” he said in the documentary. Morris died in June at the age of 98.

After the episode ended, the class was silent for a moment. The first question from a student: Were the people who lynched Jesse Lee Bond ever convicted?

The answer made one student gasp in shock, but was predictable for anyone familiar with the history of lynching in America during the Jim Crow era that legalized racial segregation. Two men were charged and tried for Bonds’ murder, but were quickly acquitted.

Students seamlessly tied the past to racism and violence they see in their city today.

“I feel sad because there’s lynchings and people — mostly white Americans — they know there’s lynchings and they know what the Confederacy did to cause those,” said student Tristan Ficklen.

“I would have felt the same too because all he asked for was a receipt,” student Jireh Joyner said of Morris’ initial reaction to Bond’s death. “And now these days there’s still police brutality and it’s hurtful.”

In the Classroom

How an Indianapolis district became a national model for teacher leadership

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Amy Peddie, a teacher at Southport High School, helps a student on an assignment in her class.

Kelly Wilber had been teaching in Perry Township for about seven years when the school district rolled out a new approach to teacher evaluation, mentorship, and coaching — and she felt the change almost immediately.

“I felt like I was a good teacher before,” Wilber recalled. “I mean, I studied all the things in the books, and we had professional development.”

But when the district started using the new approach, the TAP System, “we found the answer of what we needed to do to help our students grow,” said Wilber, who teaches fifth grade at Southport Elementary School.

The TAP System was developed as a strategy for improving instruction, and it is popular in Indiana, where state policymakers have encouraged schools to adopt the system. Perry Township has used it for seven years, and the district has become something of a poster child for the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, the group behind TAP. On Thursday, the nonprofit recognized Perry Township schools with the organization’s first National Award of Excellence for Educator Effectiveness, which came with a $50,000 prize.

TAP relies on mentors and teacher leaders who are paid stipends to coach their colleagues — a tactic that’s becoming popular among schools as a way to allow experienced teachers to take on more responsibility without entirely leaving the classroom. Each week, groups of teachers meet with master teachers who work with them on strategies they can use in the classroom, like how to tackle word problems or use manipulatives in math.

The model also has guidance on common problems teachers encounter. In the first year of TAP, for example, Wilber had a student who said he wasn’t interested in school or homework and told her, “I’m only here because my brother came here, and I like to do what my brother does,” she recalled.

Wilber began trying techniques that TAP recommended, like using his name during model lessons and having him read the learning objectives. Soon, he was raising his hand in class.

“I felt like I knew what I needed to do because we had so much training and support,” Wilber said.

Perry Township has an unusual set of challenges. Nearly three-quarters of students are poor enough to get subsidized meals. About 25 percent of students are English language learners, and many of them are refugees fleeing religious persecution in Burma.

There is not much outside research on whether TAP improves student test scores. A 2012 study of the results in Chicago found that the program did not raise test scores, but it increased teacher retention. TAP’s developer has disputed the validity of the study, saying the TAP program was not properly implemented in Chicago schools.

But in Perry Township, educators say the approach is helping improve student results.

“If you want to make a difference with kids who are in poverty as well as have a lot of cultural differences, this format and this foundation is the best thing that you can utilize,” Superintendent Patrick Mapes said.

Joe Horvath, a master teacher at Southport High School, said his role is the same as coaches in other districts. Instead of having his own classroom, he is in charge of training 28 other teachers. One day a week, he meets with those teachers in groups. The rest of the week, he observes teachers in their classes, gives feedback, and models lessons.

“We are all on the same level,” Horvath said. “It’s not like I am their boss in any way shape or form. This is just something that allows us to continue to give a peer-to-peer feedback thing that I think is kind of missing sometimes.”