Illinois relaxes rules on out-of-state licenses as part of efforts to address teacher shortage
With the passage of a new law, Illinois has made it easier for educators with an out-of-state license to teach in the state. Legislators hope this change will get more teachers in classrooms and address a shortage in this profession. More »
Leading region in suspended students, Michigan looks to ease schools’ zero-tolerance policies
Starting with the next school year, K-12 officials in Michigan will be required to consider certain factors before suspending or expelling students, under a set of new laws that aim to reduce the number of students who are removed from school. More »
The Every Student Succeeds Act: An Update on the Midwestern States
Signed into law in 2015, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) replaced the No Child Left Behind Act. It emphasizes college and career readiness, accountability, scaling back assessments, increasing access to preschool, and the important role that state and local communities play in making their schools successful. Federal funding through ESSA acts as an incentives package for innovation in America’s school systems. The following is a summary of publicly available information from Midwestern state education agencies on current activities related to ESSA and state implementation of the new federal law. More »
Illinois now requiring some schools to have water tested for lead
Some schools and day care facilities in Illinois must have their water tested for lead under a bill passed and signed into law in January.
The new requirements apply to buildings constructed before 2000 where pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade classes are held.
According to the Illinois attorney general’s office, the lead tests will average $15 per drinking-water sample. If samples exceed 5 parts per billion of lead, the families of students must be notified. SB 550 authorizes community water suppliers to impose a “lead hazard cost recovery fee.” But minus such a fee, the tests will likely be paid by school districts, which can tap into existing funds set aside for safety or legal issues, the Chicago Tribune notes. As part of the new law, too, community water supplies will provide Illinois officials with an inventory of their lead service lines.
Other Midwestern states have also passed new laws in the aftermath of the drinking water crisis in Flint, Mich. Ohio’s HB 512 (enacted in 2016) requires water suppliers to test for lead and copper and to map areas being served by lead service lines. It also mandates training on how to identify lead in drinking water and control corrosion. And Michigan‘s HB 5120, signed into law in December, calls on water suppliers to alert the public within 72 hours after they learn that lead levels exceed prescribed “action levels.”
More money, more evidence being used to revamp school aid
K-12 education consistently makes up the largest share of state general fund spending each year, hovering between 34 percent and 36 percent since 1996, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers.
And although no two states distribute education dollars exactly the same way, the vast majority of funding formulas are built around a “foundation” or “base” amount of funding that is the minimum each student receives.
State formulas then further adjust per-pupil funding depending on the type of student (for example, special needs, English-language learner, low-income) and the wealth of the school district. The systems that work best are based on research — specifically, tying the amount that flows to each school to the cost of providing an education that meets the state’s academic standards, says Michael Griffith of the Education Commission of the States. More »
Iowa’s new Teacher Leadership program showing good results
Iowa’s Teacher Leadership and Compensation System is having a positive impact on classroom instruction and educators’ professional climate, but it’s still too soon to discern the program’s effects on student achievement, a new interim report says.
The result of legislation (HF 215) passed and signed into law in 2013, the system provides extra pay to teachers who accept leadership roles such as peer mentoring and curriculum development. The law also raised starting salaries for new teachers.
Each school district establishes a plan for implementing the system — for example, the process for putting teachers into leadership roles and providing help to new teachers. The state’s goal is to attract new teachers, retain effective ones, promote collaboration, and reward professional growth and collaboration.
The new system has been implemented over the last three school years. Teachers in the early-implementation schools reported more collaboration among colleagues and greater availability, frequency and quality of leadership roles.
The interim report was commissioned by the Iowa Department of Education and done by the American Institutes of Research.
In Kansas, special fund delivers millions of dollars to children’s programs
Lost in the din of Kansas’ recent budget woes, an innovative mechanism is quietly funding dozens of early-childhood education and wellness programs across the state. The Children’s Initiatives Fund, Kansas Endowment for Youth and the state’s Children’s Cabinet were created in 1999 to support programs promoting the health and welfare of Kansas children using the state’s share of the national tobacco Master Settlement Fund. More »
Through new statewide goals and policies, lawmakers look to boost education levels of workforce
Two years ago, Gov. Terry Branstad announced that he wants 70 percent of Iowa’s workforce to have education or training beyond high school by 2025. Since then, he and state legislators have taken a series of steps to meet that goal. Most recently, an alliance of government, business and industry leaders was formed (via a Branstad executive order in August) and charged with developing a statewide plan to meet the state’s new objective. And as part of that plan, which is due next fall, Iowa’s new Future Ready Alliance must develop new metrics to track the state’s progress. More »
Goal of Michigan law is to improve reading in early grades
by Tim Anderson ~ November 2016 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Struggling young readers in Michigan will get more instructional help to reach levels of proficiency under a new law that also could keep some of them from entering fourth grade.
Signed this fall by Gov. Rick Snyder, HB 4822 requires students to perform well enough on a standardized reading test in order to be promoted to fourth grade. However, the law does provide for some “good cause exemptions,” including if parents and school officials agree it is in the child’s best interests not to be held back.
The Michigan Department of Education will develop a way to screen and assess students in kindergarten through third grade. School districts must then develop individual reading improvement plans for every student who is falling behind. As part of those plans, local schools must bring in an early-literacy coach to provide training to teachers and instruction to students. (Michigan’s intermediate school districts will provide the coaches.)
Iowa, Ohio and Wisconsin are among the other Midwestern states where new reading laws have been passed in recent years. In Iowa, for example, struggling third-grade readers will have to take summer school in order to move on to fourth grade. (That state, too, offers some “good cause” exemptions.)
Stay in school: Under Illinois law, districts must first consider
This school year, officials of K-12 public schools in Illinois are revisiting their student-discipline policies in accordance with a new law that aims to reduce the number of students who receive out-of-school suspensions and expulsions. “The goal is to ensure that this only happens when absolutely necessary,” says Illinois Sen. Kimberly Lightford, the sponsor of SB 100. More »
South Dakota districts sharing teachers with new grants from state
Some school districts in South Dakota are using new state incentives that allow them to share teachers and, in the process, expand learning opportunities for their students.
As part of a package of bills passed by the Legislature to address a shortage of teachers (HB 1182 and SBs 131 and 133), the state created the Employee Shared Service Grant program. The grants last for three years, with aid to the participating districts gradually dropping over that time period. With these grants, districts are hiring and sharing Spanish, arts, and English-language-learner teachers.
South Dakota’s new law also invests in local projects to expand online learning opportunities, so that qualified instructors can reach students remotely.
The state is facing teacher shortages in various areas. And while part of the legislative response was to boost teacher salaries (via a sales tax increase that will raise average pay from $40,000 to $48,500), lawmakers tried to address the teacher-workforce problem in other ways — for example, funding programs that match new and veteran teachers, as well as professional-development opportunities for new instructors in the summers between their first and second years in the profession.
Big prekindergarten expansion begins across Minnesota
by Tim Anderson ~ September 2016 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Thousands of 4-year-olds in Minnesota are attending prekindergarten classes this fall as the result of a $25 million investment made by the Legislature. With this money, the state targets aid for school districts and charter schools that serve high numbers of low-income students as well as areas with limited access to high-quality prekindergarten programs.
These districts and schools then provide free, voluntary prekindergarten to 4-year-olds. Through another program, Minnesota also offers Early Learning Scholarships for low-income families (either directly to families or through grants to highly rated early-childhood programs in the state). Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton has said he wants to provide all of the state’s 4-year-olds with access to free, voluntary prekindergarten. A little more than 3,300 students will attend prekindergarten programs as a result of the $25 million legislative investment. However, 60 percent of the requests for state aid from districts and charter schools were denied due to a lack of available funding.
In the Midwest, Wisconsin leads the way in providing learning opportunities to 4-year-olds; more than 95 percent of that state’s school districts offer a “4K” kindergarten program.
With Every Student Succeeds Act, states must prepare to take on more responsibility for turning around struggling schools
by Tim Anderson ~ August 2016 ~ Stateline Midwest »
When the Every Student Succeeds Act got signed into law late last year with bipartisan congressional support, many state education leaders were quick to laud its passage and what it would mean for local control over schools. As the new law begins to be implemented, the federal government will take a step back in some key areas of education policy and rely on states to step up. “That means finding ways to strengthen schools that really need our help,” says Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers. More »
Minnesota now requires sexual-assault training for college students
by Tim Anderson ~ August 2016 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Starting this fall in Minnesota, college students will be required to complete training on preventing and reducing the prevalence of sexual assault. The mandate is part of a comprehensive law on sexual-assault prevention (SF 5) passed by legislators last year.
In addition to requiring students to complete training within 10 business days of their first semester, the law expands the rights of victims, creates a new option to report cases online, and ensures that each school has a walk-in location staffed with trained advocates.
According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, each campus must now collect data on sexual-assault cases, as well as report how many incidents were investigated and the number that resulted in disciplinary proceedings.
In a national survey done in 2015 by the Kaiser Family Foundation and The Washington Post, 1 in 5 women who had attended college within the last four years reported being the victim of a sexual assault.
Two-thirds of all victims (men and women) say they had been drinking alcohol just before the incidents. Under the Minnesota law, the victims and witnesses to a sexual-assault incident receive amnesty for violations of a school’s policies on drug or alcohol use.
Nebraska becomes first Midwest state to offer ‘school readiness’ tax credits to child care providers, workers
Starting in 2017, the state of Nebraska will begin offering up to $5 million in tiered tax credits annually to early-childhood programs and their employees — the first Midwestern state, and just the second U.S. state, to do so.
Under the School Readiness Tax Credit Act (LB 889, passed earlier this year), which is linked to a quality rating and improvement system created three years ago by the Unicameral Legislature, providers receive incentives based on their quality rating, while eligible employees can claim credits based on education levels, training
and work history. More »
New Iowa law will hold local career and technical education programs to a higher standard
Career and technical education programs in Iowa schools will be held to a higher set of standards under legislation passed this spring.
CTE programs use work-based learning to prepare students for life after high school, whether that is entering the workforce or attending college. Iowa’s standards hadn’t undergone a major revision since 1989, allowing each school district to evolve CTE programs at its own pace. More »
A life-changing policy opportunity:
At MLC meeting, Nobel Prize-winning economist explains why investing in children, families can pay off for states
University of Chicago economist James Heckman made at data-driven case for state legislators to invest public dollars in programs that intervene in the earliest years of a child's life. But he also warned that these investments only should go to evidence-based approaches proven to make a positive difference in young people's lives. More »
Legislators get ideas on how to address rise in teacher shortages
For several years in her home state of South Dakota, Rep. Jacqueline Sly was part of discussions inside and outside the Legislature about addressing the state’s shortage of teachers.
Those talks turned into significant legislative action this year, and all of that legwork leading up to the bills’ passage taught Sly, a former educator herself, a lesson about boosting the supply of qualified teachers. “There isn’t a silver bullet,” Sly, co-chair of the Midwestern Legislative Conference Education Committee, said at the start of a July 19 session at the MLC Annual Meeting. But as legislators learned from the session’s three expert speakers, implementing a mix of strategies holds the promise of lessening these shortages. More »
States partner to ease soldiers’ move to civilian life by granting
education credit for military work
The switch from military to civilian life holds many challenges, but a partnership of Midwestern states is hoping to ease this transition by using a service member’s military experience to increase postsecondary degree completion and streamline pathways for earning professional certification. More »
All Nebraska students will take college exam under new law
Starting in 2017, all of Nebraska’s high school juniors will take a college admissions exam such as the ACT or SAT. Under the recently enacted LB 930, the state Department of Education can use lottery proceeds to pay for administration of the test.
Lawmakers cited several reasons for making the change. First, students may be more motivated to do well because SAT and ACT results can help them get into college or secure a scholarship. (Students have instead been taking the Nebraska State Accountability assessments.) Second, all 11th-graders, regardless of income, will now have access to a college admission test. Third, the change will provide a clearer picture of whether young Nebraskans are prepared for postsecondary success.
According to Education Week, Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin are among the U.S. states where either the ACT is administered to all 11th-graders or where all students are given free access to the test. Illinois and Michigan recently switched from the ACT to the SAT.
Under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, states can measure high school achievement with college entrance exams instead of standards-based assessments.
Indiana initiative looks to
attract adults back to college to finish earning their degree
A new initiative in Indiana is looking beyond the state’s K-12 population as a means to increase the percentage of Hoosiers with education beyond high school.
The goal of the “You Can. Go Back.” program is to encourage the 750,000 Indiana adults who completed some college, but left before earning a degree, to come back and finish what they started. More »
First in the Midwest: Almost 180 years ago, Ohio opened the door to bilingual education
Few issues related to American education policy have consistently stirred more controversy over as many years as has the question of how best to teach students whose first language is something other than English. In a nation whose history is marked by waves of newcomers arriving from countries around the world, the appropriate language of public education has been debated since the first European settlers arrived in the 17th century, and the pendulum of public opinion on the subject has swung many times. The debate over bilingual education and competing models for the instruction of non-English speaking students may be rooted in our colonial past, but it wasn’t until 1839 that Ohio became the nation’s first state to formally authorize bilingual teaching in
schools. More »
Indiana sets up new scholarship for state’s future teachers
Indiana legislators want more of their state’s “best and brightest” to enter the teaching profession, and they plan to spend $10 million on a plan to steer young people in that career direction.
HB 1002, signed into law in March, establishes a Next Generation Hoosiers Education Scholarship.
Recipients will be eligible to receive up to $30,000 in tuition assistance; in turn, they must agree to teach in an Indiana school for five years. To be eligible for a scholarship, a student must graduate in the top 20 percent of his or her high school class and score well on an ACT or SAT exam. Over the past five years, the number of initial teacher licenses issued in Indiana has fallen by 30 percent. In response, Indiana education leaders formed a commission last year to develop strategies that address the state’s shortage of teachers.
One commission idea was to create additional scholarship opportunities.
Another idea was to develop new career pathways and leadership opportunities, and with this year’s passage of HB 1005, Indiana school districts can establish programs that reward teachers who take on extra roles and responsibilities.
Ohio seeing some progress on remediation rates with new statewide college placement standards
In 2012, concerned about the high rate of students who had to take remedial-level math and English classes during their first year of college, Ohio legislators decided to intervene.
And the early results under HB 153 are promising. With this law in place, Ohio now sets college readiness indicators across all of its public colleges and universities. These statewide standards are then used to determine which students are placed into remedial-level versus college-level classes during their freshman year. More »
Incarcerated youths often denied access to educational opportunities, study finds
Each year, tens of thousands of incarcerated youths rely on state residential facilities to provide them with essential services during their time of commitment, including education.
But according to a 2015 study by The Council of State Governments Justice Center and the Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators, most of these youths lack access to many of the same educational opportunities as their peers in the community — such as credit recovery programs, GED preparation, and career and technical education courses. More »
Minnesota launches refinancing program to relieve student debt
Minnesotans struggling with high student debt and monthly payments can now get some assistance from their state government.
Launched in January, the Self Refi program is the result of legislation (HF 3172) passed in 2014. That law gave Minnesota’s Office of Higher Education the authority to refinance student loans through the sale of revenue bonds.
Five-, 10- and 15-year loans will be available, with current interest rates ranging from 3 percent for a 5-year variable to 6.95 percent for a 15-year fixed rate. According to the Minnesota governor’s office, a graduate with $40,000 in student loans at an 8 percent interest rate could save as much as $200 per month. To be eligible for the program, the borrower must be a state resident and meet certain credit criteria (or have a credit-worthy co-signer). In a 2015 study of student-loan refinancing, the Minnesota Office of Higher Education listed Iowa and North Dakota as other states with similar programs in place.
In every Midwestern state, most students graduate from college with debt. Their average debt load ranges from $25,521 in Kansas to $31,579 in Minnesota, the Institute for College Access and Success reports. Between 2004 and 2014, the average debt for U.S. students rose at more than twice the rate of inflation.
Do any states have programs in place to provide free tuition to students attending community college?
by Tim Anderson ~ January 2016 ~ Question of the Month »
The idea of providing tuition-free community college got a major boost in early 2015, when President Barack Obama included it in his State of the Union speech.
The America’s College Promise Act was subsequently introduced this past summer in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate. If signed into law, the act would create a new state-federal partnership to waive student tuition and fees at community colleges, with the federal government providing $3 for every $1 invested by a state. As of late 2015, the legislation had not passed out of any congressional committees. A handful of U.S. states, meanwhile, moved ahead with tuition-free plans of their own in 2015, including Minnesota. More »
In Iowa, more K-12 students being exposed to work-based learning
Over the past two years, Iowa legislators have deepened the state's commitment to work-based learning, and thousands of young people are taking advantage of the opportunity.
Through a bill passed in 2013 (HF 604), lawmakers laid the groundwork for the creation of 15 regional intermediary networks. The goal of these networks is to increase K-12 students' access to career fairs, internships and job-shadowing opportunities in their communities.
With participation from a local community college, each network is responsible for developing a stronger connection between businesses and K-12 schools. The state provides 75 percent of the costs associated with expanding work-based learning opportunities; the rest of the money must be generated from local sources.
According to a study released in December by the Iowa Department of Education, 15,000 students took part in hands-on, work-based learning opportunities in 2014-15. Touring a work site was the most common experience.
With a grant from the National Governors Association, Iowa plans to focus more on work-based learning in careers related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Graduation rates improving, but gaps in attainment remain
For the fourth year in a row, U.S. high school graduation rates increased, and many states in the Midwest helped lead the way.
Iowa (90.5 percent) and Nebraska (89.7 percent) have the highest rates in the nation, new federal data show. With the exception of Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio, states in this region had higher graduation rates than the national average of 82.3 percent. States have been using a common metric to measure graduation rates since 2010.
Despite the progress nationwide, large gaps in educational attainment remain among different groups of students. For example, graduation rates for black and Hispanic students are 72.5 percent and 76.3 percent, respectively. That compares to 87.2 percent for white students. The graduation rate for students with disabilities is 63.1 percent.
To reduce these gaps and improve overall graduation rates, the GradNation campaign (a consortium of education policy and research groups) recommends: the eradication of zero-tolerance discipline policies; an expanded use of early-warning indicators; more equity in school funding; and limits on “exit options” that prematurely take students with disabilities off track from graduating on time with a standard diploma.
Legislative proposals seek to fix problem of teacher shortages
According to the U.S. Department of Education, a teacher shortage of some kind is happening in each of the 11 Midwestern states.
These shortages can take different forms — an inadequate supply of teachers by subject area or grade level, or in a certain geographic area — but they all can adversely impact student learning. More »
Proposal seeks $8,000 raise for teachers in South Dakota
by Tim Anderson ~ December 2015 ~ Stateline Midwest »
The state with the lowest average teacher pay in the nation has a new plan to boost yearly salaries by $8,000.
South Dakota’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on Teachers and Students released its final recommendations in November. Led by legislators, the task force included participation by teachers, school administrators, and state fiscal and education leaders.
According to the National Education Association, the average U.S. teacher salary in 2013 was $56,000. The average teacher salary in South Dakota is $40,000.
The relatively low wage paid to South Dakota teachers is contributing to teacher shortages and turnover in the state, the task force says.
To boost average pay to $48,000 a year, the Legislature and governor would need to find an additional $75 million in state funding. If existing state funds are not enough to reach this target, the task force recommends increasing the sales tax.
During the 2012-13 school year, teacher salaries were higher than the national average in four Midwestern states: Michigan (11th in the nation), Illinois (13th), Ohio (16th) and Minnesota (17th).
Do local school districts charge participation fees for students to participate in extracurricular activities, and do any states ban such fees?
According to a 2013 survey by the National Federation of High School Associations, school districts in 21 states — including Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin — reported having participation fees in excess of $100 per student, per sport. More »
Ohio law strengthens state oversight of
Ohio lawmakers approved legislation this fall that will require more accountability and transparency in charter schools, which now educate one of every 10 students in the Buckeye State.
Between 2003 and 2013, federal data show, enrollment in these alternative public schools jumped from 3.4 percent to 10.0 percent in Ohio. This increase in their use, along with reports of poor academic performance and fiscal mismanagement in some charters, led to the bipartisan passage of HB 2. Under the bill:
• The state will annually rate the sponsors of charter schools based on several factors, including the performance of students. Ratings of “poor” will result in the revocation of sponsorship authority.
• Low-performing charter schools cannot switch to a new sponsor, unless that sponsor has been deemed “effective” by the Ohio Department of Education.
• Agreements between a sponsor and its governing authority must contain certain standards related to academic performance and fiscal management.
Charter schools operate in all but three Midwestern states: Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.
Math scores fall in Midwest as part of national trend
In Minnesota, Kansas and North Dakota, fourth-graders’ performance on the math portion of “the nation’s report card” fell. The scores of eighth-graders dropped in four Midwestern states: Kansas, North Dakota, Ohio and South Dakota. However, students in most Midwestern states continue to outperform their peers on this national measure of math achievement. Here are some of the results.
• Minnesota fourth- and eighth-graders have the nation’s second-highest proficiency rates (behind only Massachusetts): the percentage of students with scores considered proficient or advanced.
• At both grade levels, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska and Wisconsin students have math proficiency rates higher than the national average. Ohio’s fourth-graders outperformed their U.S. peers as well.
• Michigan is the only Midwestern state where students’ math proficiency rates fall below the U.S. average.
Iowa offering teachers new career pathways and higher pay
K-12 instructors in about one-third of Iowa’s school districts now have the opportunity to further their professional development, take on leadership roles and gain higher-paying positions, under a new system of teacher pay established by state legislators two years ago. More »
Minnesota leads way on measure of college, career readiness
On an important measure of college and career readiness, high school students in most Midwestern states continue to outperform their peers from across the country.
For the 10th year in a row, Minnesota had the highest average score in the nation, 22.7 for the graduating class of 2015, among states where at least 50 percent of high school juniors took the test.
The national average ACT score was 21.0. Only three states in the Midwest — Illinois (20.7), Michigan (20.1) and North Dakota (20.6) — fell below this mark. They are among the 13 U.S. states where all high school juniors take the ACT. Minnesota and Wisconsin recently joined this group under graduation requirements established by their legislatures. As a result, these two states’ average ACT scores for the graduating class of 2016 will likely drop due to the participation of all students.
Other scores for the 2015 graduating class were as follows: Indiana, 22.1; Iowa, 22.2; Kansas, 21.9; Nebraska, 21.5; Ohio, 22.0; South Dakota, 21.9; and Wisconsin, 22.2.
Makers of the ACT say the average national score is too low and indicates that many students are not prepared for postsecondary success.
What laws and regulations do states have in place regarding schools’ use of restrictive procedures such as “seclusion” and “restraint”?
Over the past decade and a half, via legislation and/or administrative rules, many states in the Midwest have established new standards, training requirements and limits on the use of these procedures, which are typically used in response to serious behavioral problems exhibited by students. More »
Most states in Midwest now part of interstate pact on online higher education
Over the past year and a half, nearly every state in the Midwest has joined an interstate reciprocity agreement that holds the promise of improving college students’ access to online degree programs while also simplifying the regulatory environment for participating institutions. More »
New Illinois law ensures
students earn college credit for high scores on AP exams
This summer, Illinois lawmakers approved a measure that ensures the state’s high-performing AP students will get a head start on their college careers. HB 3428, signed into law in August, requires all public colleges and universities in the state to award course credit for AP exam scores of 3 or higher. More »
In response to teacher shortage, North Dakota offers hardship waivers
With school districts in North Dakota scrambling late into the summer to fill open teaching positions, the state has stepped in to help.
As of early August, emergency administrative rules were being developed for districts to apply for hardship waivers. These waivers would allow districts to bring on individuals without education degrees to be teachers. The new hires would instead be “community experts” — for example, an experienced farmer in the community teaching vocational agriculture. According to The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, neighboring Minnesota already has a community-expert program in place.
North Dakota established a task force earlier in the year to address the state’s teacher shortage. A local state superintendent told Education Week that three factors are contributing to the problem: more K-12 students because of the state’s population growth, fewer in-state residents entering the profession due to relatively low wages, and difficulty in attracting out-of-state college graduates.
The North Dakota task force plans to work on finding longer-term solutions. Teacher shortages were also being reported this summer in Indiana, Kansas and South Dakota.
Indiana looking to revise high-school diploma system, explore possible career/technical option
In response to a greater demand for high-school degrees that emphasize skills and include a more rigorous curriculum, Indiana high schools can expect to see a revised diploma system within the next few years. More »
State strategies expand student access to Advanced Placement courses
Since its inception in 1955, the Advanced Placement program has been used by millions of high school students who want to experience the rigor of college-level courses before graduation. The long-running program continues to gain popularity. In fact, participation in AP classes by high school graduates in the United States nearly doubled over the past decade.
While AP courses are available in many high schools across the country, some states, like Indiana, require every high school to provide students with access to the classes. More »
In Wisconsin, new programs aim to help students with disabilities transition out of high school
A year after they have left high school, 58 percent of Wisconsin students with disabilities report that they have not yet worked, participated in a job-training program or taken a postsecondary course.
Rep. Robert Brooks, a first-year legislator in the state Assembly, believes the state and its schools can do better for this population. His plan, introduced at least initially as a budget resolution, calls for new pay-for-performance incentives for school districts to improve their career- and college-readiness programs for students with disabilities. More »
North Dakota, South Dakota OK new policies on civics education
How many amendments does the U.S. Constitution have? How old do citizens have to be to vote for presidents? How many U.S. senators are there? Those are among the 100 questions that new immigrants study and learn before taking the test to become a U.S. citizen.
Now, some state legislatures are considering proposals to require students to pass the citizenship test in order to graduate from high school. More »
A pioneer in dual enrollment, Minnesota now considering plan to deepen investment in program that brings college courses to high school
In 1985, Minnesota became the first U.S. state to allow and provide funding for high school juniors and seniors to take college-level courses.
Thirty years later, the program has evolved and grown, and it may expand once again this year under a plan to improve affordability and accessibility to “concurrent enrollment”: students taking college-level courses at their own high schools. More »
States taking a closer look at standardized tests given to students
In response to growing concerns about the standardized tests that students must take, legislative proposals have been introduced this year in a handful of Midwestern states.
In February, The Indianapolis Star reports, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed a bill (SB 62) to shorten the ISTEP test. Given to third- to eighth-graders, the ISTEP measures student learning in core subject areas. The new law gives the state Department of Education the legal authority to reduce the test by three hours and five minutes. Without any changes, testing times were scheduled to increase from six to 12 hours.
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton has proposed eliminating one-third of the 21 standardized tests now given to students in his state. He previously had formed a Testing Reduction Advisory Group, which recommended that the state stop administering four assessments.
In Illinois and Ohio, opposition to the PARCC exam has intensified. PARCC assesses college and career readiness and is aligned with Common Core standards. New opt-out legislation for parents has been introduced in Illinois (HB 306), and the Ohio Senate has formed an advisory committee of education experts to make recommendations on state-required assessments.
Nebraska bill would help schools deliver more-rigorous curriculum to high school juniors, seniors
New legislation in Nebraska would get the state more involved in delivering a better curriculum to students in the final years of their K-12 careers. LB 343 would reimburse school districts with successful existing programs and offer grants to schools that need help in implementing new ones. More »
Ohio initiative seeks to match adult high school dropouts with
training in high-demand careers
In Ohio, more than 1 million adults do not have a high school diploma, and they’re twice as likely to be living in poverty. “We need to find a way to raise them up,” says Steve Gratz, a senior executive director at the Ohio Department of Education. “It’s simple economics; it’s good for the whole state.” IIn order to get these undereducated, often underskilled workers on the path to a sustainable career, state policymakers are charting a new course of their own. They have launched a pilot program that links the earning of a high school diploma to job training in high-demand careers. More »
Indiana teachers get $30 million for student performance, gains
Teachers across Indiana were in line for some bonuses this holiday season as the result of a performance-based grant program included in the state’s budget.
According to the Lafayette Journal & Courier, more than $30 million went to 1,300 schools across Indiana.
Schools were eligible for the grants if they met certain requirements: 1) Students scored well on statewide tests or showed signs of improvement, or 2) Graduation rates were high or had improved over the last year (growth of at least 5 percent). These schools, in turn, distribute the money to teachers who have been rated effective or highly effective under Indiana’s teacher-evaluation system.
“Pay for performance” models are spreading to more and more states, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality. In its latest “State Teacher Policy Yearbook,” the council lists 25 U.S. states as having policies in place to support performance pay. Those states include Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska and Ohio. Indiana is singled out as one of two “best practice” states. Under a state law that took effect in 2011, a school district’s salary increases for teachers must be based in part on evaluations of their effectiveness. Conversely, years of experience and content-area degrees cannot account for more than 33 percent of the pay calculation.
First in the Midwest: Historic 'firsts' in the development of the nation's unique land-grant universities
Some of the earliest land-grant colleges were established in the Midwest. In fact, at least three Midwestern states (Iowa, Kansas and Michigan) claimed historic “firsts” as the land-grant era began. These schools have been lauded as an important innovation in U.S. higher education — one that has helped the nation grow economically while also opening up new opportunities to generations of young people. More »
Iowa giving teachers more leadership roles, and higher pay
Teachers in Iowa are getting a chance at more leadership positions and higher pay under a new system that began to be implemented this year.
State legislators established the Teacher Leadership and Compensation system in 2013. When fully in place (in 2016), the system will cost the state $150 million a year. Close to 40 Iowa school districts were selected to participate in 2014.
For newer teachers, minimum salaries are being raised (to $33,500 per year) and more on-the-job support is being offered — for example, additional time set aside to observe other instructors or to take part in peer mentoring. Veteran teachers, meanwhile, have a greater chance to take on leadership roles. Those roles may include serving as an “instructional coach” for other teachers or as a leader in developing the school’s curriculum. Higher pay for these teachers comes with these additional responsibilities.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average U.S. teacher salary in 2012-13 was $56,383. In the Midwest, the average ranges from a low of $39,580 in South Dakota to a high of $61,560 in Michigan. Along with Michigan, teacher salaries were higher than the U.S. average in two other Midwestern states: Illinois and Ohio.
Minnesota making strides in closing achievement gap
Compare the overall test scores or graduation rates of students in the Midwest to the rest of the nation’s, and most states in this region fare quite well — sometimes even at or near the top of U.S. rankings.
That certainly is the case for Minnesota, a high-performing state on traditional measures of student achievement. But as Greg Keith, director of school support for the Minnesota Department of Education, notes, that level of achievement is far from uniform among different groups of students. And closing the achievement gap — between white and minority students or low-income and higher-income students, for example — is a top priority right now of Minnesota legislators and school administrators alike. More »
Minnesota begins funding ‘all-day K’ across the state
This year’s school year in Minnesota was marked by at least one big change for some families in the state — access to full-day kindergarten.
The Legislature is spending about $134 million to provide a full day of programming. Prior to this year, the state only funded a half day, which meant student access to “all-day K” depended on the ability or willingness of local school districts or parents themselves to pay for it.
The statewide program, proponents say, will help close achievement gaps and improve educational outcomes among all students. Indiana, North Dakota and Michigan are among the other U.S. states where all-day kindergarten is widely available.
According to the Education Commission of the States, no state in the Midwest requires school districts to offer a full day of kindergarten. Only a half day must be offered, and parents in every Midwestern state except Ohio and South Dakota have the choice of not sending their child to kindergarten. Every state in the region requires that students begin attending school at age 6 (Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin) or age 7 (Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota and North Dakota), the commission reports.
Illinois, Minnesota expand the scope of anti-bullying laws, seek to crack down on ‘cyberbullying’
Over the past seven years, every state in the Midwest has established policies that aim to prevent bullying in the schools.
But how detailed and far-reaching should these policies be?
On that question, there is considerable variation among the states, especially in light of new laws now in place in Minnesota and Illinois. In both of those states, the legislatures chose this year to significantly expand the role of states — and their local school districts — in bullying prevention and intervention. More »
Closing skills gaps, opening career options:
State laws, programs aim to expand availability and use of career and technical education
Across the Midwest, new state laws on career and technical education are being passed, new programs are being launched, and new investments are being made. It is a policy area that enjoys bipartisan support and that touches on many of today’s top legislative priorities — closing skills gaps, expanding economic opportunities and improving student outcomes. More »
In Wisconsin and Ohio, new calls and bills to repeal Common Core
Earlier this year, Indiana became the first U.S. state to opt out of Common Core education standards, and the repeal movement continues to attract interest in other Midwestern states as well.
In July, Gov. Scott Walker called on legislator to replace Common Core “with standards set by people in Wisconsin.” In Ohio, meanwhile, hearings began being held on HB 597, a measure that would block the use of Common Core. In its place would be K-12 standards in English, language arts and math that are “not dependent” or “related to federal control,” according to the bill. Walker’s statement and Ohio’s HB 597 reflect one of the concerns raised over Common Core — that it cedes local control to a set of standards pushed by the federal government. Voluntary acceptance of Common Core, for example, has been one way for states to secure U.S. Department of Education waivers and grants.
Supporters of Common Core, however, note that it has been a state-driven initiative, one based on model state standards and led by two multi-state organizations. Its goal is to establish “clear and consistent learning goals” in kindergarten through the 12th grade. Most states in the Midwest have adopted Common Core, with the exceptions being Indiana, Minnesota and Nebraska. (Minnesota has adopted the standards for English/language arts, but not for math.)
More states in Midwest requiring teachers, school staff to be trained in prevention of youth suicide
Two hours, once every two years. Could that small commitment of time that North Dakota teachers are now being asked to make be the difference between the life and death of a young person? The state’s lawmakers believe
so, which is why SB 2306 passed the House and Senate during their last legislative session without a single “no” vote. More »
What laws or licensing requirements do states have in place to ensure new teachers are prepared to be effective in the classroom?
From the standards they set for becoming a teacher to how they oversee the programs that train the future education workforce, state policymakers can play an important role in teacher preparation. And strengthening that oversight role has been the focus of measures passed in several states — including Indiana and Wisconsin — in recent years. More »
Low-performing schools getting more scrutiny, assistance in Nebraska
The state of Nebraska is planning to take a more active role in turning around its lowest-performing schools. Under LB 438, the state will designate three “priority schools” based on poor performance in areas such as student graduation rates and test scores. Nebraska’s education commissioner will then establish five-member intervention teams for each of these schools. Each team will submit plans to the Nebraska Board of Education on how to improve performance and to measure progress. A local school district must follow these plans or risk losing accreditation.
According to Students First (the group led by Michelle Rhee, former head of Washington, D.C.’s school system), Nebraska had been one of four Midwestern states without laws allowing for intervention in low-performing schools.
On the flip side, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan are listed as having some of the broadest intervention authority in the nation. Illinois and Indiana, for example, have given the mayors of Chicago and Indianapolis control of their local schools. Independent authorities or special management teams (appointed or assigned by the state) can also take over operations of low-achieving schools. Michigan legislators, meanwhile, have created a state-run school district to operate struggling schools in Detroit.
With full-day kindergarten
becoming norm, states start to
consider full funding as well
Four decades ago, only about one-quarter of the U.S. students attending kindergarten went for the full day. Today, the numbers are essentially reversed — only one-quarter of kindergartners attend a half day, according to Child Trends, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center. And another change is beginning to occur as well — how states fund kindergarten. More »
Full court pressure: Recent Supreme Court ruling in Kansas serves as a reminder of the judiciary's power to shape state school funding
In the decades-long legal battles over school funding, different states have taken turns in the national spotlight. All eyes were on Ohio in the late 1990s, for example, after its state Supreme Court ruled on multiple occasions that the K-12 funding system was unconstitutional. This year was Kansas’ turn to grab headlines. A state Supreme Court ruling in March not only forced Kansas lawmakers to scramble for a fix by the end of this year’s session, it also could have ramifications in other states. More »
What laws have states passed regarding sports-related concussion prevention and treatment?
In the span of just two years (during the 2011 and 2012 legislative sessions), every Midwestern state adopted laws to better protect young people from concussion-related injuries. These so-called “return-to-play” laws had three key components. More »
States study new
tuition model — no up-front payments
Two years ago, a class of college students at Portland State University in Oregon came up with an alternative way of paying for college — an idea they called “Pay it Forward.” It has quickly attracted nationwide attention, including in some of the Midwest’s state legislatures.
Under this model, students do not make up-front tuition payments. They instead agree to pay a portion of earnings after entering the workforce. The payments are made over a designated period of time.
The Illinois House unanimously passed HB 5323 in early March. It calls on the Illinois Student Assistance Commission to issue a report by Dec. 1 on the feasibility of implementing a pay-it-forward model.
Michigan’s HB 5315 would establish a pilot program of at least five years involving 200 college students. Initial funding would come from the state as well as private and other public sources. Once they enter the workforce, participating students would begin to pay their tuition through a portion of their gross adjusted income (2 percent for community-college students, 4 percent for university students). For individuals who attended school tuition-free for four academic years, these payments would be made over a 20-year period.
State programs in region aim to get entire family involved in early-childhood education
State-funded programs in states such as North Dakota and Minnesota are focusing on the importance of early learning for the whole family — a goal that goes hand-in-hand with the current push among policymakers to ensure that more students are ready for school and don’t fall behind. More »
In Wisconsin, availability of ‘4K’ — kindergarten for 4-year-olds — now close to statewide
When it comes to offering 4-year-olds the chance to take part in early-childhood education, few states can boast a program as far-reaching as Wisconsin’s.
And the state’s 4K program keeps on growing, according to new Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction data. This year, 93 percent of the state’s public school districts that provide elementary education extended instruction to 4-year-olds. Since 2003, the number of districts taking part in the 4K program has more than doubled. More »
North Dakota, South Dakota join forces to help disabled children
by Tim Anderson ~ February 2014 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Through a partnership with the federal government, and with each other in some cases, three states in the Midwest have launched initiatives to improve the educational and employment outcomes of young people with disabilities.
These programs will establish new interventions for youths receiving Supplemental Security Income, or SSI.
North Dakota and South Dakota are part of a six-state consortium that received a U.S. Department of Education grant of $32.5 million. Those six states will enroll 2,000 low-
income individuals between the ages of 14 and 16. Recruitment efforts will focus in part on rural and tribal areas. Enrollees will receive benefits counseling, financial training, work-based learning experiences and other intervention services. Wisconsin has received a stand-alone federal grant of $32.5 million.
One goal of these new programs is to reduce recipients’ long-term reliance on SSI. In the Midwest, SSI beneficiaries with disabilities account for between 2.5 percent of the state population (in Michigan, highest rate in the region) and 1.1 percent (North Dakota, lowest rate in the Midwest). The U.S. average is 2.2 percent, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. With the exception of Michigan and Ohio, states in the region fall below the U.S. rate.
Revamped Iowa homeschooling law gives families more options
Iowa families who homeschool their children have some new options as the result of legislative actions this
year that remove reporting requirements and allow parents to teach unrelated students.
Included as part of
the state’s major education-reform package (HF 215), the new provisions also allow for parent-taught driver’s
education. More »
Too small to let fail: State support for preschool on the rise as a range of educational, economic benefits come into focus
When Indiana Rep. Robert Behning was recently visiting a preschool, one of the instructors cited some alarming statistics. The teacher pointed to three young African-American students. “She told me, ‘One of the three — if they don’t have the opportunity for a high-quality education in early childhood — [is likely to] end up in the criminal-justice system. Which one are you going to pick?’” More »
North Dakota bucks school finance trends, and reshapes how its K-12 schools are funded
Over the past six years, most U.S. states have cut per-pupil funding for education, with double-digit reductions not uncommon. And then there is the case of North Dakota. Lawmakers there have taken advantage of the state’s remarkable economic ascent to completely remake how K-12 education is funded. In doing so, the legislature has accomplished what policymakers in many other states have tried but failed to do — take the burden of paying for schools off the backs of local property taxpayers. More »
Reading instruction continues to be focus of states’ K-12 reforms
by Tim Anderson ~ October 2013 ~ Stateline Midwest »
This fall, Iowa schools rolled out the state’s new plan to get more of its third-graders reading at grade level.
The Response to Intervention program, which has been launched in 10 percent of Iowa schools, assesses students on literacy skills as they enter kindergarten and then adapts instructional interventions based on the students’ individual needs.
Launch of the program came a year and a half after Iowa lawmakers passed SF 2284, which calls for children in kindergarten through third grade to be tested at the beginning of each school year and, when needed, be offered intensive remedial reading instruction.
Other states in the Midwest have also made early literacy a focus of recent K-12 education reforms. Wisconsin is funding a universal reading screener for kindergarten students and requiring prospective teachers to pass a new licensure test on reading instruction (SB 461, passed in 2012). Ohio’s new Third Grade Reading Guarantee program (SB 316, passed in 2012) requires school districts to develop an individualized reading-improvement plan for students identified as reading below grade level. In Ohio and Iowa, too, the 2012 laws call on school districts to “retain” some third-graders reading below grade level.
Minnesota enters new era of K-12 testing, without graduation exam
To graduate, Minnesota high school students have had to do more than complete the necessary coursework. They’ve also had to pass a statewide exit exam, one that assessed their skills in certain core subject areas. But that high-stakes test, known as GRAD (Graduation Required Assessment for Diploma), was shelved this year by the Legislature amid concerns that it was focusing students and schools on the wrong objective — passing a test rather than preparing for college and careers — and keeping some students from getting a diploma. More »
First in the Midwest: Two decades ago, the Minnesota Legislature took a step soon followed by many other states — opening the door for charter schools
With the passage of a groundbreaking statute in 1991, Minnesota legislators paved the way for a national charter school movement and triggered a flurry of action in legislatures across the country. More »
Consolidation only one of many school-efficiency strategies being explored in Illinois
Few entities matter more to a community — big or small — than its schools. So mention the word “consolidation,” Illinois Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon says, and local public reaction is understandably going to be negative. But at the same time, state leaders and local school officials are facing some new fiscal and educational realities: State budget cutbacks mean fewer resources for local schools, which more than ever before are being told they must offer a rigorous curriculum. More »
New Kansas initiative kick-starts students’ work in high-need jobs
This year, some local school districts in Kansas received hand-delivered checks from the governor, while their high school students received a tuition-free education at a technical college.
The reason? A 2012 law (SB 155) that The Topeka Capital-Journal says “may be Gov. Sam Brownback’s most popular education initiative.”
To bolster college and career readiness, Kansas is now taking on the costs for students to take part in college-level technical education courses. School districts also receive a $1,000 bonus for each student who earns an industry-recognized certificate in “high-need” occupations identified by the state. During the program’s first year, high school students’ enrollment in college-level technical courses rose 50 percent. The number of students earning industry-recognized certificates increased 28 percent.
According to the Education Commission of the States, legislatures across the country are placing a greater emphasis on high school career and technical education. In Minnesota, high school juniors and seniors already could take tuition-free courses on a college campus. Last year, lawmakers extended this option to 10th-graders (HF 2949). And since 2009, North Dakota has funded career and technical education scholarships of up to $6,000.
States experimenting with competency-based education model to individualize learning experience
Picture a school system with no credits, no grades and no educational units.
And rather than graduating from high school after passing a certain number of courses over a set period of time, a student instead demonstrates proficiency in an agreed-upon set of skills and academic content.
Sandra Dop of the Iowa Department of Education calls this vision a “CBE utopia.” “CBE” stands for competency-based education, and while states may never reach or even want to reach this “utopia,” the idea of providing more pathways and individualized instruction to students is gaining more interest among state leaders. More »
North Dakota joins states with performance-based model for funding higher education
Ever since he joined the legislature more than a decade ago, North Dakota Sen. Tim Flakoll says, lawmakers have been looking to change how the state funds its higher-education system. This year, he says, “We were finally able to crack the code.” The result: Two-year colleges, regional campuses and research universities will no longer receive dollars based on enrollment or historical funding levels, but instead on the credit hours earned by students. More »
Indiana lawmakers expand reach of school vouchers after court rules that Choice Scholarship Fund is constitutional
One of the nation’s most extensive state school-voucher initiatives has withstood a constitutional challenge and will be expanded even further as the result of 2013 legislation. More »
South Dakota gives communities option to arm school personnel
Under a first-of-its-kind measure signed into law in March, local school districts in South Dakota will have the authority to allow armed personnel in their school buildings.
HB 1087 will take effect in July.
It opens the possibility of school employees, hired security personnel or volunteers carrying a weapon on school grounds.
These school sentinels would have to complete training overseen or approved by the state’s Law Enforcement Officers Standards Commission. A school board’s decision on whether to arm personnel could be referred to a vote of local residents, the Rapid City Journal reports.
According to The Indianapolis Star, Indiana lawmakers are considering a measure that would require every public or charter school to have one employee who carries a loaded gun during school hours. This designated “school protection officer” could be a teacher, principal or hired security guard or police officer.
Another policy option, approved by the Indiana Senate in February (SB 1), would provide matching funds for school districts that choose to employ fully trained police officers. These officers could be armed and would help schools conduct threat assessments and implement emergency preparedness plans.
Proposals across region aim to expand access to early learning
Over the past decade, advocates of early-
childhood education and lawmakers such as Rep. Bob Behning worked to secure state funding of all-day kindergarten throughout Indiana. That task is done, and now Behning says it is time to take another step — albeit a baby step — in the push to improve student access to high-quality early-learning programs. More »
Use of charter schools rising, state laws changing: Enhanced oversight and accountability goal of recent measures
In several Midwestern states, more and more students are attending charter schools, a trend that has placed more scrutiny on both the schools and the state laws that govern them. Legislatures have responded in recent years by passing new laws to improve accountability. More »
Minnesota, Indiana eighth-graders outperform most international peers on math, science tests
In the most recent international assessment of students from 53 countries and other education jurisdictions, Minnesota and Indiana eighth-graders posted scores above most of their peers.
The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study was released in December. Minnesota and Indiana are the only two Midwestern states that participated.
The science scores of Minnesota eighth-graders were third-highest in the world. Similarly, only five countries (all East Asian nations) posted higher eighth-grade math scores than Minnesota. Indiana’s scores were lower than Minnesota’s, but still well above the international average.
In both states, the study’s findings also highlighted significant gaps in student achievement. For example:
Male students in the two states outperformed female students (except for Minnesota’s eighth-grade math scores, where there was no gender gap);
Black students in Indiana and Minnesota scored below the international average in the two subject areas and grades tested; and
Students from schools with a high percentage of low-income families scored below the international average.
Aiming higher: States look for ways to produce more-educated populations to feed economic demand for skills
Under a new set of recommendations in Ohio, half of the state’s funding for higher-education institutions would be based on how well they contribute to a key economic goal: boosting the number of college graduates in the workforce. In late November, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and a state panel released a higher-education finance framework designed to give greater weight to degree completion in determining funding for the state’s public colleges and universities. More »
What Midwestern states require exit exams for high school students?
According to the Center on Education Policy, Indiana, Minnesota and Ohio are among the 26 U.S. states that require students to pass an exit exam before they are awarded a high school diploma. More »
Which states in the Midwest require school board members to receive training, and what does the training entail?
Illinois, Minnesota and North Dakota are among the 21 U.S. states that require some type of training for individuals elected to school boards, according to a recent survey by the National School Boards
Association. More »
Iowa, Ohio and Wisconsin among states reshaping K-12 reading laws
by Tim Anderson ~ September 2012 ~ Stateline
The data alone on fourth-graders’ literacy skills could have prompted this year’s surge in new laws that require early identification of struggling readers and intensive interventions.
In every Midwestern state, about one in three students performs below a level considered “basic.” More »
Big changes coming to teacher retirement system in Michigan
Under a restructuring of the state’s retirement system for public school employees, Michigan teachers will be paying more for their benefits.
SB 1040 was signed into law in August. Proponents of the measure hailed it as a necessary cost-saving move, noting that the rate that school districts pay toward employee retirement benefits has doubled since 2002. Opponents said the measure takes away an earned benefit and will dissuade young people from entering the teaching profession.
According to the Detroit Free Press, SB 1040 will require school employees to either make larger pension contributions or receive reduced pensions. It also calls for a cost-benefit analysis of moving new hires into a 401(k)-style defined-contribution plan.
Michigan is changing the retiree health care system for teachers as well. Most current retirees will have to pay more (20 percent of their premiums rather than 10 percent), and retiree health care was eliminated for new hires. Instead, employees will have to save for the costs of health care through a 401(k)-style plan. Over the past decade, Indiana and Minnesota are among the other states that have set up tax-free accounts for public employees to save for post-retirement health care.
Wisconsin officials say new flexible degree will transform higher ed
Starting as soon as this fall, the University of Wisconsin plans to begin offering courses through a new model of higher education that leaders say will transform the state’s postsecondary system.
Students will be able to take online classes anytime and learn at their own pace — with credits earned based on competency rather than seat time. The new competency-based model, state educators say, will allow students to move more quickly toward degree completion, saving them both time and money.
In announcing the UW Flexible Degree program, Gov. Scott Walker said new delivery models in higher education are needed to close Wisconsin’s skills gap: Individuals are having a hard time finding work, while employers are struggling to find qualified workers. More than 20 percent of Wisconsin’s adult population has some higher education credits, but no degree, the governor’s office notes.
According to Insider Higher Ed, a handful of other states, including Indiana, have been offering competency-based programs through a partnership with Western Governors University. In contrast, the Wisconsin program will be overseen by UW and employ university faculty and staff.
Indiana targets end to ‘credit creep,’ start of new transfer system
by Tim Anderson ~ March 2012 ~ Stateline
Indiana college students are expected to save time and money under a pair of bills passed by the legislature in February.
The first of those measures, SB 182, aims to make it easier to transfer college credits between schools. The bill requires all state-funded institutions to have at least 30 general-education credit hours that are compatible with one another. In addition, a new common-course numbering system will be created by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education and used by the state’s post-secondary schools. As result, students will have a better idea of which courses transfer across institutions and which do not. According to The Indianapolis Star, about 80 courses will be covered under the new uniform system. HB 1220, meanwhile, addresses concerns about “credit creep”: college-degree programs increasing the number of credit hours that students must take. The bill requires state approval of any program requiring more than 60 hours for an associate’s degree and 120 hours for a bachelor’s.
Two decades ago, the University of Wisconsin System set out to tackle the same problem, and has since seen a drop in the average number of credit hours taken by its graduates. This trend has reduced college costs for individual students while opening up classroom space for others.
Putting teachers to test: Minnesota now requires passage of skills exam
by Tim Anderson ~ March 2012 ~ Stateline
A new law in Minnesota will require individuals to pass a basic-skills test before teaching in a public school classroom.
HF 1770 received bipartisan support and was signed into law in February. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, previous state policy had allowed an individual who failed the test to still teach for up to three years while he or she tried to pass it. About 30 percent of prospective teachers have failed the college-level test, which measures reading, math and writing skills.
Minnesota is not the only state in the region looking to strengthen its rules for prospective teachers. In Iowa, for example, HSB 517 would require any individual seeking a teacher license to score in the top 75 percent nationally on tests of professional skills and content knowledge. Under a bill being considered in Wisconsin (AB 558), elementary school teachers would need to pass a more rigorous licensure exam that tests their knowledge of reading instruction. In addition, teacher-preparation programs would be measured based on the effectiveness of their graduates.
In its most recent evaluation of state education policies, the National Council of Teacher Quality gave every Midwestern state a grade of C or D on measures of “delivering well-prepared teachers” to schools and students.
What requirements do Midwestern states have for health education in K-12 public schools?
by Laura A. Tomaka ~ March 2012 ~ Question of the Month »
A. Over the last few years, the number of Midwestern states including health education as a requirement for high school graduation has increased — a policy move that reflects growing recognition of the link between healthy kids and academic achievement, and between public health and safer, healthier communities. More »
Push for school reform spreads in Midwest:
Iowa, South Dakota and Wisconsin among states with new plans after ‘sea change’ year of 2011
by Tim Anderson ~ February 2012 ~ PDF of Stateline Midwest article »
After a year of sweeping changes in education policy in the Midwest, a handful of state legislatures in the region are once again considering major reforms that would have a lasting impact on how students are taught, and how teachers are paid and evaluated. More »
With financial incentives and waivers, federal government pushing state reforms »
Michigan plots new course on charter schools by removing caps
In one of their final actions of the 2011 legislative session, Michigan lawmakers voted to remove a cap on the state’s number of charter schools.
SB 618 was signed into law in early January by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder.
Michigan authorizes four different groups to operate charter schools: local and intermediate school boards, community colleges and universities. Prior to the change in law, the number of university-authorized schools was limited to 150. However, the cap will be raised to 300 in 2012 and completely removed after 2014. The 150-school limit was reached in 1999, the Detroit Free Press reports.
According to the Center for Education Reform, eight Midwestern states have charter school laws (all but North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska). In a 2011 review of those laws, the center rated Minnesota’s statute as the second-strongest in the country. It also found that Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio all had charter school caps in place.
The center, a proponent of charter schools, uses several factors to rate state laws: the types of groups authorized to run charters; the number of schools allowed; state funding equity; and operational autonomy.
What standards do states set for the minimum amount of instructional time that
schools must provide for students?
According to data collected in April by the National Center on Time and
Learning, every U.S. state except Minnesota sets a numeric standard for
either minimum instructional days per year or total instructional hours per
year. More »
State policies on teachers get major overhaul in Midwest: Changes in tenure, along with new evaluation and pay systems that emphasize performance, mark new era
Tenure and single salary schedules have been a part of the teaching profession for decades, dating back to a turn-of-the-20th-century push for due-process protections and standardized pay for this group of public employees.
There is another reform movement afoot at the beginning of the 21st century — one that could be remembered for dramatically changing how teachers are evaluated and compensated, hired and fired, and retained or laid off.
The Midwest has been at the epicenter of this shake-up in 2011. More »
Kansas invests in new plans to boost number of engineering graduates
One of the first sentences in a recently enacted Kansas law explains the rationale for the state’s new, targeted investment in higher education: “Engineering intensive industries represent approximately one-third of the statewide payroll and tax base.”
Kansas wants more engineering graduates, and the increased economic activity that it believes will come with them.
To that end, SB 127 and SB 154 were passed by the Legislature and signed into law in May. The first measure sets aside $10.5 million annually over the next 10 years. That money will be split evenly among three public universities, which will work with the Board of Regents and Kansas Department of Commerce to increase the number of engineering graduates.
The state’s goal is to have 1,365 graduates by 2021, a 56 percent increase over current figures, according to the Lawrence Journal-World. SB 154 will allow the University of Kansas School of Engineering to issue $65 million in bonds for an expansion project.
Between 1986 and 2006, Kansas was one of 30 states where the number of students earning a bachelor’s degree in engineering declined, according to a 2008 American Association of Engineering Societies study. Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska were the only three Midwestern states not to experience a drop over this time period.
Indiana chooses to implement broadest voucher plan in nation
The Midwest, home to the first school voucher program in the nation, now has the most far-reaching U.S. voucher law as the result of actions taken this year in Indiana. HB 1003 was passed by the legislature in April.
It makes families of four earning up to $60,000 eligible for a state voucher, or scholarship, to send their students to a private school, The Indianapolis Star reports. The amount of the scholarship will be based on family income, with the state paying up to 90 percent of the tuition for low-income households. HB 1003 also includes a tax deduction of $1,000 for children who are home-schooled or attend a private school.
According to The Foundation for Educational Choice, state voucher programs have traditionally been limited to one of three groups: low-income households, pupils in failing schools, or special-needs students. Ohio, for example, has scholarship programs for students who attend chronically failing schools, who reside in Cleveland or who have been diagnosed with autism. The state of Wisconsin’s Milwaukee Parental Choice Program was the first school voucher initiative in the nation. Also in the Midwest, Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota provide tax credits covering the educational expenses for students in any private or public school.
Minnesota opening up more paths for people to become teachers
Individuals interested in entering the teaching profession in Minnesota will be offered alternative pathways to certification under a bill that has received the backing of Republican legislative leaders and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.
Policymakers believe SF 40 will help the state reach several of its educational goals: addressing the projected shortfall of teachers, bringing more people with strong content expertise into the classroom; and increasing teacher diversity.
According to the St. Cloud Times, higher education institutions in the state will have a limited role in overseeing the alternative-certification programs. Instead, the state’s Board of Teaching will approve the programs. Education Minnesota, a state teachers union, has expressed concern that SF 40 will lower standards for entering the teaching profession.
According to the National Center for Alternative Certification, in 2008-09, eight states in the Midwest issued 2,374 certificates to individuals entering teaching through alternative routes (up from the 133 certificates issued in 1998-99): Illinois, 672; Indiana, 690; Kansas; 382; Michigan, 116; Minnesota, 84; Nebraska, 92; South Dakota, 26; and Wisconsin, 312.
Illinois becomes first state to require English learner services in preschool
In Illinois, the number of students who do not speak English as their first language has increased by nearly one third over 10 years.
These students, dubbed “limited English proficient” or “English language learners,” made up 8 percent of the state’s total K-12 student enrollment in the 2007-2008 school year — more than 175,000 students. The vast majority of those students speak Spanish.
Under various federal laws, states are required to provide a suitable education to these students and track their progress. And while these services are federally mandated beginning in kindergarten, some policymakers believe assistance should begin even earlier: in preschool. More »