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Tindley Accelerated Schools plans to take over a vacant Indianapolis Public Schools building in the fall.

Tindley Accelerated Schools plans to take over a vacant Indianapolis Public Schools building in the fall.

Alan Petersime

Plans to solve Indiana’s dual credit problem still coming into focus

Indiana educators and policymakers are still looking for a way to save thousands of popular courses that allow students to earn college credits while still in high school.

Indiana high schools are required by law to offer dual-credit courses, but the classes have been endangered by new rules mandating their teachers to have advanced degrees in the subjects they teach.

The state’s dual credit advisory council met today to figure out how they might quickly shore up the education of thousands of high school teachers to keep the college-level classes going, but the council is still looking for guidance from the national organization that accredits Indiana colleges and universities for these programs.

At first, the new rules from the Higher Learning Commission that required dual-credit teachers to have a master’s degree or 18 credit hours in their subject area were set to take effect in 2017, but the commission in November told states they could apply to extend the deadline to 2022.

Since then, the commission has been pretty quiet on letting schools know what their next steps should be, said Teresa Lubbers, who heads Indiana’s Commission for Higher Education.

“I was very hopeful today that we’d be able to give more information,” Lubbers said. “We have not heard back from HLC again, and what we’re waiting for is on what basis do we send them this application for this extension that we want for 2022.”

Today, the state advisory council discussed proposed solutions, including cooperating with state universities to pay teachers’ tuition and develop plans to accelerate teacher education. There are also a few bills moving through the legislature that could help restore incentives for teachers who pursue graduate courses.

The rule change is intended to make sure teachers of college classes are uniformly and highly qualified, but for Indiana and other states across the country, it brings with it some serious consequences.

Almost 75 percent of Indiana’s existing 2,531 dual credit teachers don’t completely meet the new requirements, Lubbers said. About 26 percent of dual credit teachers have both master’s degrees and the subject-specific credits, and 75 percent already have a master’s degree in general. But many of those teachers might have a master’s in education, which doesn’t include the subject-area classes the commission is looking for.

Among the legislative measures under way to address the issue is a bill from Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Mount Vernon, that would allow teachers with master’s degrees already teaching dual credit classes to get free or reduced tuition for college credits, up to 18 credit hours per person. The bill, House Bill 1370, passed the House Education Committee on Tuesday.

“I think the biggest challenge with this piece is one, we’re just trying to … maintain or keep what we have, but the other piece is the incentive to go back to school,” McNamara said.

The decision to raise the bar for dual-credit teachers comes at a time when Indiana has veered away from pushing teachers to earn master’s degrees — and when some districts say they are having trouble finding enough teachers at all.

That could be even more motivation for lawmakers to put incentives for extra education back on the books, said Janet Boyle, the executive director of the Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning at the University of Indianapolis. Many of those incentives were removed in 2011 as part of a broader overhaul of how Indiana teachers are paid.

Senate Bill 10 would allow schools to pay teachers extra for getting master’s degrees or graduate credits, and up to half of that extra pay could be added outside of union negotiations to the teachers’ base salaries. The other bill, Senate Bill 382, proposes a mentoring and residency program to give teachers time to earn a master’s degree, but bill author Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, said last week that the bill likely would go up for a summer study committee.

The legislation is geared mostly toward teachers who are already on their way to credentials, and it doesn’t necessarily take into account teachers who are starting at square one without any advanced education, said Todd Bess, executive director of the Indiana Association of School Principals. The state also needs to consider that some currently qualified teachers could retire, he said, reducing the pool of available teachers further.

“If (25 percent) exist, and (25 percent) aren’t incentivized, we’ve lost 50 percent of our dual credit teachers, and that’s going to be another huge step back,” Bess said.

Support from Indiana colleges and universities is essential as the state tries to find ways to make sure all dual credit teachers have the required education to teach their classes.

Mike Beam, director of pre-college programs at Indiana University, said his department is starting a pilot where a college faculty member would partner with a dual credit teacher to structure and deliver course content. The partnership could be years-long, allowing the teacher to take more time to earn a degree while still working full-time.

“We think the plan will allow (teachers) to earn those graduate credit hours in a much more humane timeframe,” Beam said.

Indiana law requires high schools to offer dual-credit courses as a way to ensure that graduates are prepared for college, and high schools partner with local colleges to design the courses and decide who can teach them.

Because of the looming deadline, there’s some urgency around finding ways to get by until teachers can be properly trained. Until then, schools could look into bringing back qualified retired teachers and identify fully qualified teachers who aren’t currently teaching dual credit.

But long-term, the council will also address how Indiana could again support a pay system that rewards teachers for extra education and encourages them to go back to school. For now, Lubbers said, the council plans to survey teachers and universities and calculate how much some of the proposed solutions might cost.

“I think we need to be very thoughtful on this,” Lubbers said. “We need to consider not only the impact of what it would (cost) for us to provide incentives for tuition, but then, (how) to incentivize teachers teaching dual credit classes on an ongoing basis.”