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Tighter rules could hit high school-college credit classes

September 24, 2015

Some educators are worried that tighter academic requirements for those teaching Indiana high school classes for which students can receive college credit will lead to a drop in such dual-credit offerings.

The accreditation group for Indiana colleges says that by fall 2017 those teachers must have 18 credit hours in master's degree-level courses in the subject they'll be teaching. Ivy Tech Community College says that hundreds of the high school teachers it now works with might fall short of that standard.

The change comes as dual-credit classes have grown across the state — from about 12,000 students taking such courses in 2011 to nearly 30,000 in 2014, according to the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.

John Newby, Ivy Tech's assistant vice president of K-12 initiatives, said the tighter standard could have a big impact on its dual-credit partnerships throughout the state.

"There are going to be a lot of teachers that will be so far away from the benchmark and don't feel they have enough of an incentive to go back to school and do what's necessary. I'm afraid we're going to lose a lot," Newby told The Indianapolis Star.

The Chicago-based Higher Learning Commission, a private group that conducts college accreditation in Indiana and 18 others states, maintains it is implementing what has been a "longstanding expectation."

"An expert faculty member is a critical element in ensuring that dual enrollment students have a college experience that is as rigorous as the college experience they would have had by taking the same class on campus from a college faculty member," the commission said in a statement.

Despite the changes, doing away with dual credit courses isn't an option for Indiana school districts as state law requires high schools to offer at least two dual credit courses. Dual credit courses also play a factor in the state's A-F accountability grades for schools.

Indiana teachers are no longer required to earn a master's degree, so fewer teachers are doing so, said Lou Anne Schwenn, assistant to the superintendent for secondary education for the Warren Township schools in suburban Indianapolis.

"If they do, they get a master's degree in counseling or administration — not in their content area — because they want more options as they increase their careers," Schwenn said.

State Board of Education member Vince Bertram questions whether the tighter standard was based on any evidence showing better student performance from being taught someone with a master's degree and says the policy will have a disproportionate effect on students in low-income areas and rural schools.

"For me, it's just making sure we don't have an arbitrary policy that restricts access to opportunity," he said.

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