Teachers Deserve (and Need) Our Support

This column by Indiana Chamber VP of Education and Workforce Development Policy Caryl Auslander originally appeared in Inside INdiana Business.

As we near the beginning of a new school year, what better opportunity is there to celebrate the people who make such a positive impact on so many lives.

I’m talking, of course, about teachers. That makes it all the more troubling to see recent stories about a dramatic decline in education school enrollment, as well as district difficulties in finding qualified teachers for available openings.

The all-too public disputes between the Indiana Department of Education and the State Board of Education are hopefully a thing of the past. There is no worse example, or bigger drain on morale, than adult battles that can – and should – be avoided.

As a wife, daughter and sister of teachers, I see firsthand the passion and commitment they bring to their work. As someone advocating in the areas of education and workforce development, I’m in constant contact with others who share that dedication to seeing all students have the opportunity to succeed.

I’m proud that my employer has a mission that calls for providing “economic opportunity and prosperity for the people of Indiana” and leads an Indiana Vision 2025 plan that boasts Outstanding Talent as its most important economic driver.

I’m pleased that our state has opened new doors for families through the introduction and expansion of charter schools and vouchers. These schools and these programs, like all others in education, however, must continue to demonstrate proven results. There is no room for underperformance in this critical enterprise.

I’m happy that the Indiana Chamber and its allies have helped deliver alternative routes for persons holding professional degrees to share their expertise by becoming teachers. The success stories of these career changers and the lives they impact continue to grow.

I’m encouraged that full-day kindergarten options are in place and that preschool pilot programs are taking off in a few selected counties. The expedient expansion of early education, especially for low-income and other disadvantaged population, is hopefully among the next steps. The results are proven and the need is great.

But what about those teachers? They are the MOST critical factor in each student’s ability to obtain the quality education that allows them to become productive members of society. There is no doubt that more needs to be done to attract, retain and reward the best teachers. “More” includes:

  • Increasing starting pay for teachers to attract the best and brightest to the profession
  • Paying our best teachers more money
  • Directing more than the 57% (as of 2013) of every K-12 dollar that reaches the classroom
  • Providing meaningful feedback and professional development for all educators
  • Celebrating teaching successes and lifting up those who have the greatest classroom impact

While teachers play that crucial role, discussions about public education need to focus on the students. Equal access to quality education and success in school for every child is the most important social justice issue of our time. That quality education is the surest way to break cycles of poverty, transform individual lives, lift up our communities and our state, and attract the best employers and jobs.

Thousands of well-paying jobs are going unfilled today and our future ability to secure the best jobs relies on what we do now to provide educational opportunities for all. Every child, every school and every community benefits when all children are learning and succeeding.

Education is not about public versus private or unions versus politicians. It’s about parents, educators, employers, communities and all others coming together and creating an expectation, opportunity and clear path to success for every child.

A-F School Grades and Accountability Debate Continues

The newly-redesigned Indiana State Board of Education (SBOE) met recently for the second time this year with what seemed to be very little fireworks and drama. However, there was a very serious and important discussion regarding A-F grades and accountability that is important to watch.

As a reminder, an overhauled ISTEP exam was designed last year to align with recently adopted college and career readiness standards in Indiana. Complaints from parents and teachers were significant regarding the length of testing time for the ISTEP exam earlier this year. The redesigned test was expected to take upwards of 12 hours – more than double the time of previous years. Fortunately, the Legislature – with assistance by the Chamber – was successful in passing legislation allowing the test to be significantly shortened by three hours.

Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz stated during the July 1 SBOE meeting that other states, specifically New York and Kentucky, have seen dramatic drops in passing rates of students for the first year a change is made in standards and high-stakes exams. Therefore, Ritz provided a list of options for the State Board to discuss on how to handle this situation and suggested a proposal she called “hold harmless” that would assign the better A-F grades between the 2013-2014 year and the 2014-2015 year.

Her reasoning was that even a small deviation in test scores due to the increased rigor of the test could cause schools to drop two letter grades with the potential of the number of schools that would receive an F to more than double. Ritz fears that would cause many schools in Indiana to be unfairly labeled as failing, as well as public image issues and misunderstanding. This is not the first time Ritz has called for a pause of accountability; she has done so many times previously for various reasons to delay sanctions and consequences of lower test scores for schools (also part of her campaign platform) – only to have the SBOE and Indiana General Assembly quickly dismiss the idea.

This go-round, SBOE members had significant concerns over Ritz’s proposal. Sarah O’Brien, who was elected earlier that morning as the group’s new vice chair, stated that this discussion was extremely premature – as grades had not yet even been assigned. Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) officials stated that they expect ISTEP scores this year to be released in November, with A-F grades to follow in December. SBOE member Gordon Hendry added his concerns regarding transparency, as parents of schools with lower grades would not know that their school’s grades had actually dropped.

There was also significant discussion as to whether the 12 options (including the one that Ritz supported) would even be legal. However, some of the options, including the one supported by IDOE, would not need changes in state law or approval from the U.S. Department of Education. State Board members made a recommendation and voted to have Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller’s office review the 12 options and provide a legal opinion as to which option, if any, would be best for Indiana. Further discussions and a vote of support would be the next step for the SBOE and then a waiver to the U.S. Department of Education would be filed.

The Indiana Chamber fully supports transparency and accountability when it comes to grades for Hoosier students and schools. Creating a strong and dynamic workforce is a key goal of our strategic plan, Indiana Vision 2025. Having accountability measures means that we can accurately predict Hoosier students’ progress in school, rate teacher effectiveness and compare and contrast how schools are performing compared to their peers around the state. It is imperative that ALL children have access to strong schools and an educational foundation in order to become productive members of our future workforce.

Indiana Schools Earn Campus Technology Innovators Awards

Campus Technology, one of the top information sources for higher education news, recently presented its annual Innovators Awards. Four of the 12 national awards presented went to universities in the Hoosier state.

IT Infrastructure and Systems
Indiana University
Project: One.IU (OneCampus)
Project Lead: Eric Westfall, enterprise software architect
Vendors/technologies: Developed in-house, rSmart

Category description: IT Infrastructure and Systems (including, but not limited to): learning management systems; collaboration technologies and environments; learning space design/architecture/smart classrooms; classroom management and control systems; data security and authentication; networking; SaaS and cloud computing; telecommunications; digital repositories/digital libraries; high-performance computing; green technologies; disaster recovery and business continuity; help desk.


Student Systems and Services
Ball State University
Project: Ball State Achievements
Project Lead: Kay Bales, vice president for student affairs and dean of students
Vendors/technologies: Developed in-house

Category description: Student Systems and Services (including, but not limited to): technology for career services; advising/online advising; technology for housing; physical security and emergency planning; eTextbooks/bookstore; instructional resources and library services; recruitment/eRecruitment.


Teaching and Learning
University of Notre Dame
Project: E-Portfolios With Evidenced-Based Badges
Project Lead: G. Alex Ambrose, associate professor of the practice and associate director of e-portfolio assessment
Vendors/technologies: Credly, Digication

Category description: Teaching and Learning (including, but not limited to): learning design/instructional design; immersive technologies; social software, Web 2.0; mobile learning; teaching in the smart classroom; collaboration tools; student assessment; student ePortfolios; lecture capture; eLearning; accessibility.


Education Futurists
Ball State University
Project: The Traveler
Project Lead: Kyle Parker, senior software engineer for developing technologies
Vendors/technologies: Developed in-house

Category description: Education Futurists (including, but not limited to): visionary learning technology development; new program development; institutional reformation; trend spotters: technology and society.

VIDEO: A Look at the Latest Indiana Vision 2025 Report Card

Indiana Chamber President Kevin Brinegar discusses the latest Indiana Vision 2025 Report Card, which was just released this month.

The state’s highlights include improved reading and math test scores for fourth and eighth graders, progress toward a long-term water resources plan and promising research and development rankings. Struggles continue with postsecondary credentials and a dearth of entrepreneurial activity.

See the full report card.

Purdue Charter School to Help Inner-City Students

purdue-black-and-goldPurdue University President Mitch Daniels has called the low number of Indianapolis Public School students who are prepared for success at Purdue “unacceptable.”

In an effort to combat this, Purdue is launching a polytechnic charter school in Indy to create a direct path for these students to ultimately graduate from the university. It’s a bold move, and if it succeeds, there would be an effort to take it statewide.

Inside INdiana Business has more information, and reveals the charter school is expected to be located in downtown Indianapolis and will be a collaboration among Purdue, the city of Indianapolis, its EmployIndy program and Indianapolis-based USA Funds.

“We applaud President Daniels and Purdue University for this opportunity for low-income and minority students to have the opportunity to have a strong foundation in the STEM areas,” explains Caryl Auslander, vice president of education and workforce development for the Indiana Chamber. “This will provide students with incredible opportunities to learn using curriculum produced by Purdue faculty and provides direct admittance to the university after graduation. We are pleased to see community and business partnerships in this endeavor and know that it will provide not only unique experiences for students but also create an even stronger workforce in the future.”

Employer Survey Results: Companies Anticipate Growth, Lack Workforce Needed

An annual Indiana Chamber of Commerce statewide workforce survey reinforces a common theme: Indiana companies are prepared to grow, but nearly three-quarters of the 526 respondents report that filling their workforce is challenging.

Economic prospects are bright. Fifty-eight percent of respondents expect the size of their workforce to increase in the next 12 to 24 months and another 38% anticipate stable employee counts. These mirror 2014 numbers (57% and 39%, respectively) and reinforce a shift from 2013 when just 36% foresaw growth and 59% looked at no changes in employee numbers.

As far as finding those employees, 74% note the challenge – with 24% reporting that “filling our workforce is our biggest challenge.” These results are a slight increase from 2014 findings of 72% indicating a challenge and 19% labeling it their biggest issue. Forty-three percent report they have left jobs unfilled in Indiana due to under-qualified candidates (a 4% increase over 2014).

“The continued positive outlook from Indiana employers is encouraging,” contends Indiana Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kevin Brinegar. “But despite various programs and local examples of strong education-business connections, it’s clear that much more work remains to provide workers with the skills they need for today’s and tomorrow’s jobs.”

The survey, in its eighth year, is provided to Indiana Chamber members and customers throughout the state. The largest respondent groups were organizations with between 50 and 249 employees (40%), 1-49 employees (36%) and manufacturing/advanced manufacturing industries (38%). The 2015 effort was sponsored by WGU Indiana.

“It’s important to hear the voice of Indiana employers – and for educators and workforce development professionals to partner with businesses to help meet their needs,” confirms Dr. Allison Barber, chancellor of WGU Indiana. “Addressing the skills gap and preparing both students and current members of the workforce for the next phase of their careers is an essential role for all involved in this profession.”

Additional key results from the 2015 survey:

  • Critical thinking skills and personal qualities (responsibility, work ethic, willingness to learn) were cited as the most challenging to find among job applicants and new hires at 56% and 55%, respectively.
  • While business-education partnerships have increased, a large gap remains. Of the respondents to a question asking about different types of engagement with local K-12 and postsecondary schools, 99 (28%) organizations indicate they are not involved currently but would like to be.
  • Despite an increasing state and national focus on experiential learning opportunities for students, more than 200 respondents said they do not have an internship program. Lack of time to hire and manage interns (36%) and the need for more information on starting an internship initiative (19%) were the top reasons given.
  • A full 80% (45% definitely and 35% probably) indicated they would value a work ethic certificate issued by high schools that would demonstrate a student’s commitment to attendance, discipline, teamwork and other “soft skills.”
  • More than three-quarters (77%) of those responding say they have no issues with job candidates expressing concerns about Indiana business locations or quality of life issues.

View the survey results at www.indianachamber.com/education.

The Indiana Chamber and its Foundation, focused on providing research and solutions to enhance Indiana’s economic future, have tools to assist employers, job-seekers and students.

IndianaSkills.com provides job supply and demand information both statewide and regionally. It utilizes current labor market data to help companies, prospective workers and students understand Indiana’s workforce landscape. Salary data, required skills and certifications, and creation of effective job descriptions are among the featured tools.

Indiana INTERNnet has been connecting students and employers for internship opportunities for nearly 15 years. The easy-to-use web site, informative Intern Today, Employee Tomorrow guide and regional partnerships will be supplemented by additional outreach programs.

“These resources are available for everyone throughout the state,” Brinegar says. “The importance of enhancing our workforce and allowing companies the opportunity to succeed at the highest levels cannot be overvalued. Outstanding Talent remains the key driver in the Indiana Chamber’s Indiana Vision 2025 economic development plan.”

The Indiana Vision 2025 Report Card update for 2015, measuring Indiana’s progress on metrics related to the 33 goals in the plan, will be released on June 18. Both the Report Card and workforce survey results, along with Outstanding Talent best practices, will be the focus of six regional forums. Five of those sessions take place between June 22 and June 30 with visits to Fort Wayne, Evansville, Indianapolis, Merrillville and Elkhart. The sixth forum will be in July in Sellersburg.

A Look Back at the Legislative Session: Some Major Accomplishments and a Few Missed Opportunities

statehouse-picMeaningful long-sought accomplishments mixed with a few missed opportunities and one highly unfortunate detour quickly tell the tale of the 2015 legislative session.

The Key Victories
The state’s common construction wage statute has unnecessarily cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars on public construction projects over many decades. With the repeal finally in place, there will be open and fair bidding among all contractors for these projects.

Also gone: The hassle of filing personal property tax returns – or paying to have them filed – for what amounted to a very small tax liability for many small businesses. This will positively impact over half of all businesses in the state – some 150,000 in total. The throwback rule – really an unfair and inappropriate tax – is eliminated, too. It allowed for Indiana to tax whatever portion of your business income that wasn’t already taxed in Indiana or elsewhere.

Other Good Outcomes
We have a balanced two-year budget that puts as much emphasis as the revenue forecast would allow in prioritizing K-12 education, higher education and expanding funding for career and technical education – all Indiana Chamber priorities.

Another focal point of ours is water resources. The General Assembly took heed of our study last summer and passed two important next-step pieces of legislation that center on getting better data on what water resources exist throughout the state.

The Governor’s Regional Cities initiative recognizes and puts an appropriate focus on the important concept of quality of place. It acknowledges that population within our state and elsewhere is shifting from rural and less populated areas to urban and suburban areas. Similarly, we are in an era where young adults are increasingly choosing the place where they want to live and then looking for employment instead of letting the job dictate their location.

We were also satisfied that a reasonable conclusion was reached regarding the property assessments of “big box” retail stores. As it was initially introduced, it would have been devastating for many businesses by putting far too much specificity into law.

Missed Opportunities and One Detour
Conversely, there are a few decisions that stand out as particularly unfortunate that more or anything wasn’t done.

A work share program that would benefit employers and their workers as well as repealing the smoker’s bill of rights for new hires are still facing resistance from key individuals, which is preventing the issues from even getting a committee hearing. Likewise, regulating the practice called lawsuit lending, which translates to prolonged litigation and more costs for employers, continues to be stymied by two legislators.

An issue we hoped was going to be properly addressed was the dysfunction between the state superintendent and the State Board of Education. The best solution and one we have advocated for the last 30 years would be to let the Governor appoint the state superintendent like he does all other agency heads. But we ended up with something not even a middle ground. Instead, Senate Bill 1 is a rather convoluted piece of legislation that does nothing in the immediate term to remedy the situation in the least.

And then there was the passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the historical fallout and the “fix”. We were pleased by the legislative response to specify that in no way could that statute be used to discriminate against individuals or different groups of Hoosiers. We anticipate there will be efforts by legislators to further strengthen that stance next year.

Critical Connections: Team Effort a Must for Student Success

batesvilleAndy Allen, Batesville High School principal, slides into a desk in an empty English classroom and tells the story of a top student who learned after two days of a mentorship program at the local hospital that a medical career was not for her.

“She has spent the rest of the year on the health care administration side. What a great experience for her,” Allen reveals. “And all that occurred outside our walls. She has one block of time for us, 90 minutes every other day. We say, ‘Go to the hospital and work with our great partners there.’ ”

Kim Ryan, a senior vice president with Hillenbrand, Inc. and president of the company’s Batesville Casket Company platform, punctuates the beginning and end of her keynote presentation to a group of educators and business leaders with the following: “Small communities will determine our futures based on the workforce we create for ourselves today.”

Read the rest of the story in the latest BizVoice .

VIDEO: A Look at the Promise Indiana Initiative

Clint Kugler of the Wabash County YMCA discusses the Promise Indiana Initiative. The initiative is helping boost college savings accounts and cultivating a fresh approach to education in the state.

Read a feature on the program in the latest edition of BizVoice.

Vincennes University Partners to Help Bridge Skills Gap

vuBusiness is good at Subaru of Indiana Automotive, Inc. (SIA) in Lafayette. The plant is expanding, with production of the Impreza set to begin in late 2016.

But there’s a speed bump fast approaching that could cause SIA and similar companies across the state to tap the brakes, if not come to a devastating halt.

The “middle-skills gap” is troubling some of Indiana’s biggest industries: advanced manufacturing, distribution and logistics, and the skilled trades, to name a few. Middle-skills jobs are those that call for more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree – and there is a critical shortage of workers with these credentials.

Brad Rhorer, manager of associate development at SIA, says highly-technical positions that require a certification or two-year degree are the most difficult for the company to fill.

“The industrial maintenance positions are very in-depth in knowledge and experience, and a lot of people do not have (skills in) those crafts any longer,” he emphasizes. “And we’ve got an aging workforce, so retirements are looming at the same time we’re expanding. It’s the perfect storm.”

A potential solution, some say, is to better coordinate education curriculum and work-based learning with real-world employer needs.

Read the full story in BizVoice.