New law trusts charter schools on teacher hiring

Indiana lawmakers intended to clear up confusion about charter-school teacher licensing when they approved House Enrolled Act 1382. They did that, but they also opened the door for charter schools to hire some teachers with no requirements whatsoever.

The new law says 90 percent of the teachers employed by a charter school must have or be in the process of obtaining any Indiana teaching license or permit. That includes a so-called charter school license, a lower bar than the standard license required to teach in a regular public school. It could also include a substitute teaching permit; you can get one if you’re at least 18 and have finished high school.

For up to 10 percent of teachers in a charter school, however, the legislation did away with any requirements at all. They don’t need a teaching license, a college degree or even a high school diploma.

Rep. Robert Behning, author of HEA 1382 and chair of the House Education Committee, said it’s appropriate to give charter schools more hiring flexibility in exchange for being held to higher expectations. He doesn’t think they will hire unqualified teachers.

“The 10 percent of teachers could be qualified professionals who might be considered experts in their field, and who are able to work in a classroom, but who do not currently have a license to teach,” he said in an email response to questions. “Ultimately, staffing decisions fall on the school administrators, who I believe will hire an educator they believe best fits the needs of their students.”

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Confusion over charter school teacher licensing

A disagreement over licensing requirements for teachers in Indiana charter schools is coming to a head with legislation making its way through the General Assembly. It centers on how to interpret language in state law. Depending on how you read the law, it either requires most charter-school teachers to have a standard teaching license — or it doesn’t.

The Indiana Department of Education, which administers teacher licensing requirements, has interpreted the law to say that 90 percent of teachers in a charter school must have a regular teaching license, the kind that would let them teach in a neighborhood public school. The Indiana State Teachers Association agrees; it says licensing requirements should apply to state-funded charter schools just as they apply to public schools.

“We believe the professionals going into the classroom need to be properly trained, not only in content areas but also in pedagogy,” said ISTA Vice President Keith Gambill. “You don’t learn classroom management in a calculus course.”

But some advocates for charter schools, including the Indiana Charter School Board, say the flexibility allowed to charter schools should include more leeway in hiring teachers.

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Glenda Ritz on NCLB waiver, accountability and literacy

Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz spoke recently to the Monroe County Democratic Women’s Caucus. (Men were allowed). Some highlights:

NCLB waiver

Ritz said the U.S. Department insists Indiana must test students on new “college and career ready” standards in 2015 to keep its waiver from the No Child Left Behind law. The new standards were just adopted by the State Board of Education, so teachers will have only about seven months to teach them before students are tested next spring.

Glenda Ritz

Glenda Ritz (Indiana Department of Education photo).

The superintendent said staff at her Department of Education are talking with officials in Gov. Mike Pence’s office about offering more flexibility in test-based school and teacher evaluations until everyone can get up to speed on the new standards.

“I’m concerned about the accountability,” she said. “We want to figure out how to lessen the impact.”

Giving up the NCLB waiver isn’t a good option, she said. Without the waiver, most schools would fail to achieve the 100 percent proficiency for all students required by the law. That means they would lose control of spending decisions for 20 percent of the federal dollars they receive.

School accountability

Ritz said she’s pleased with the work of a state Accountability System Review Panel, which includes 13 educators among its 17 members and was charged with creating new criteria for Indiana’s A-to-F school grading system.

“I’m all about a fair, transparent, strong accountability system,” she said.

Ritz said she doesn’t like using letter grades to label schools, but the grades are now required by state law. She worries, however, that a diploma from a high school that gets an F from the state will be worth less to employers than a degree from an A school.

“Students in these schools are getting less credit, and that’s just not right to me,” she said. Continue reading

State Board of Education member visiting schools

State Board of Education member Gordon Hendry is doing a good thing by traveling around Indiana and meeting with teachers, administrators and school board members. Is he hearing what people say?

Friday he visited Bloomington High School North, from which he graduated in 1988. He met with administrators and a school board member, and talked with social studies teachers. Later, we spoke by phone about three big education issues facing the state.

Teacher evaluations

Hendry said much of the discussion at North involved state-mandated evaluations that require all teachers to be rated highly effective, effective, needs improvement or ineffective. He said the trick will be to craft evaluations that are accurate but don’t discourage teachers from collaborating.

“I don’t think I heard anyone say we don’t believe we should be accountable,” he said. “They want evaluations to be fair and to measure the right things. To me that makes sense.”

The 2011 law that required the evaluations says teachers rated needs improvement or ineffective can’t get a raise. With successive low ratings, they can be fired.

“It’s not only to identify teachers who need help,” Hendry said. “Just as important, it’s to identify teachers who are really doing an outstanding job.” Continue reading

Unlicensed teachers in charter schools? On what ‘BASIS’?

The Indiana Department of Education has generally done a pretty good job of responding to rumors and concerns about legislation it supports. But one recent communication from the department – about a provision to let up to half the teachers in charter schools be unlicensed – raises more questions than it answers.

Dale Chu, the DOE’s assistant superintendent for policy, attempted to explain it last week in a message to educators and others. Oddly, the licensing language is in Senate Bill 1, the teacher performance-pay bill, not in House Bill 1002, the charter-schools expansion bill.

“Some nationally-recognized, high-performing charter sponsors currently operating in other states are interested in sponsoring schools in Indiana,” Chu writes, “but they will not come to our state unless we offer them this flexibility (BASIS is one example, and they have achieved great results …).”

So we’re changing the rules for everyone because a charter sponsor might come to Indiana and it doesn’t like the rules?

It’s true that BASIS, which runs three charter schools in Arizona and plans to open three more, has achieved “great results.” But its story isn’t one of those inspirational tales about turning poor and minority children into high achievers, a la KIPP and Harlem Children’s Zone charters.

The original BASIS school, in Tucson, has been named one of “America’s Best High Schools” by both Newsweek and U.S. News and World Report – designations that rely on test scores and, especially, results from Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate exams.

Its formula is a super-rigorous curriculum and a demanding workload that drives away all but the most motivated students and parents.

“Most of its students are ambitious children of engineers, attorneys and doctors, Continue reading