Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Charter Funding, ISTEP+ On The Docket For State Board

Indiana’s State Board of Education will address two of the most controversial education-related topics during their monthly meeting Wednesday: charter schools and standardized testing.

That’s because the state has continued to see issues related to both of these divisive subjects.

Multiple inquiries about charters’ 2015 Title I allocations during last month’s meeting prompted further examination of the Indiana Department of Education’s Title I funding assignment process in the following weeks. The U.S. Department of Education weighed in, saying the IDOE had been making calculations incorrectly and would likely have to take action to remedy their mistakes.

INSBOE members Byron Ernest (left), a charter school director, and Eddie Melton listen during a board meeting earlier this year. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

INSBOE members Byron Ernest (left) and Eddie Melton listen during a board meeting earlier this year. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

The board will discuss the situation Wednesday, most likely receiving an update from state Superintendent Glenda Ritz, whose staff is working to provide the feds with Title I data dating all the way back to 2010.

The group will also take action on two charter-specific funding programs approved as part of the General Assembly‘s 2015 budget.

Back in August, the board approved eligibility requirements and application processes for the Charter and Innovation Network School grant program – which acts as a sort of property tax replacement for charters, who are not eligible for local tax dollars – and the Charter and Innovation School Advance Program, which allows those schools to apply for a loan from the state’s Common School Fund.

Read more specifics about the grant and loan programs here

On Wednesday the board will decide whether to approve specific recommendations for schools that have applied for grants. They will also decide how much money to set aside for new charters applying for loans during the 2016-17 school year – board staff recommend that amount be set at $10 million.

The ever-evolving statewide ISTEP+ test will also demand much of the board’s attention this month.

The process of releasing 2015 ISTEP+ scores has been delayed following an announcement from outgoing test vendor CTB that graders had encountered technological problems. CTB President Ellen Haley relayed this news in August, informing the board that meant they would not receive individual student scores until October.

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Purdue Ensures Tenured Faculty Will Mentor Undergraduate Students

Provost of Academic Affairs at Purdue University, Deba Dutta, speaks in favor of the policy at the Board of Trustees meeting Oct. 8.

Deba Dutta, Purdue University’s Provost of Academic Affairs, speaks in favor of the new tenure policy at a Board of Trustees meeting Oct. 8. (Photo Credit: Drew Daudelin/WTIU News)

For instructors working in the world of higher education, tenure is the ultimate goal.

It’s a prestigious level of job security because to qualify, professors have to meet criteria that often take years to reach.

The Purdue University Board of Trustees Friday approved updates to its promotion and tenure policy that would require tenured professors to spend more time mentoring students. The Trustees view the updates as huge strides, even though most Purdue faculty think they’re unnecessary.

The Road To a New Policy

The process of updating Purdue’s tenure policy started a few years ago when a number of graduates expressed through a survey that they wanted more of a connection with their teachers.

That sentiment was so overwhelming that it compelled the Board of Trustees to bring it to the Provost of Academic Affairs, Deba Dutta.

“One of the things that they wanted is to make sure faculty understand mentoring of students is very important that they must do so,” Dutta says. “They wanted me to look at the faculty involvement and encouragement of undergraduate research to give them opportunities to do research guided by faculty.”

The board also wanted to encourage tenured professors to find innovative ways to teach and create new practices for instruction.

They were able to address all of these concerns in an updated policy that they passed Friday – but not without some faculty pushback first.

How Do You Enforce Mentorship?

Biological Sciences professor David Sanders says he felt insulted by the language requiring professors to mentor students, because it implies faculty are currently not doing so.

“I fully believe in mentorship,” Sanders says. “I mentor undergraduate researchers all the time. It’s very competitive in fact to get into my lab to become mentored by me, and I’m very proud about what I’m able to achieve with them.”

But Dutta says the language wasn’t intended to necessarily fix a problem. He believes most Purdue faculty already prioritize mentoring their undergraduate students – he just wanted the words put to paper. Continue Reading

Pence Funnels Money Back Into School Safety Grant Program

Gov. Mike Pence is increasing school safety grant funding by more than $3 million in the wake of a shooting at an Oregon community college that left ten people dead, including the shooter.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (Photo Credit: Kyle Stokes/StateImpact Indiana)

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (Photo Credit: Kyle Stokes/StateImpact Indiana)

But it also comes after the new state budget cut that funding by more than half.

The legislature created the School Safety Grant Fund in 2013 in response to the Newtown, Conn. school shooting. Lawmakers appropriated $10 million per year for schools to hire resource officers and make safety improvements.

But the budget approved earlier this year cut that to $3.5 million a year.

Gov. Pence is now helping restore that cut, funneling $3.5 million for school safety. There’s also unspent money from previous years still in the fund. Pence says the state has no higher priority than the safety of students and faculty at its schools.

Democrats counter that if that were true, the governor and lawmakers wouldn’t have made cuts in the first place.

The new money flowing into the program is excess Department of Homeland Security dollars – essentially, unused funding that carried over from previous years.

More Staff, Peer Mentoring Program Coming To Arlington High School

After three years under management of a private company, Arlington Community High School has returned to Indianapolis Public Schools. It’s the first school under state takeover to transition back to its home district and school leaders are under pressure from the community and state to make it work. In the series A New Day, WFYI education reporter Eric Weddle is spending a year reporting from inside the school on its successes and challenges.

During a meeting last week, Arlington Community High School teachers took part in an ice breaker game where one jokingly asked, “who’s had an issue with a student this year?”

Amidst the roar of laughter emerged one sarcastic voice: “This year, how about today?”

The gallows humor was a signal to the two members of the Peace Learning Center holding the meeting that teachers at Arlington are frustrated.

And that’s not just because some students act out with foul language, violence or an indifference to their education, but that the teachers aren’t quite sure how to help these students learn and shape up.

Iesha Billups, an instructional coach, says she and others have a “save everyone”-outlook but it’s nearly impossible to carry out at the school as staff and the students are still in the early stages of building relationships.

“We kind of just stepped into it,” she says of the new school year.

Getting students to have empathy is vital, she says.

“’So if you wouldn’t want me to do this or say this to you, why would you want to say it to me or do it to someone else?,’” she says, as an example of the barriers staff have with students.

A sign hangs above exceptional assignments by students in Arlington teacher Kevin Sandorf's English classroom.  (Photo Credit: Eric Weddle/WFYI Public Media)

A sign hangs above exceptional assignments by students in Arlington teacher Kevin Sandorf’s English classroom. (Photo Credit: Eric Weddle/WFYI Public Media)

‘Now it’s the restart’

Arlington faces a rocky start since it opened August 3 under the control of Indianapolis Public Schools. Three years earlier the state hired a charter company to run the school after years of chronic failure. But that company backed out over a funding dispute with state officials.

Now with 611 students and a nearly full staff roster, school leaders are looking to “restart” the school culture when classes resume after fall break and set a new tone at the Northeast side school.

So, the Peace Learning Center is coming to Arlington to teach students how to control their emotions and resolve conflict through a peer mediation program. Since 1997, the center has worked with schools, juvenile correctional facilities and community groups to teach peaceful resolution of conflicts.

James Taylor, better known as JT, and fellow Peace Learning Center coworkers will soon become familiar faces at Arlington.  The center is already at IPS Schools 15, 39, 51, and 58 as part of the OneIndy Program focus on the six high crime areas identified by city officials. Arlington is not located in one of those zones.

The biggest challenge for teachers to promote a new culture, Taylor says, is having the time and freedom to learn it and put it in practice.

“That’s is what all of the teachers I have worked with have said. It is just difficult to impose one more thing on their time,” says Taylor, a youth development facilitator. “They’ve got so much that is not directly related to teaching, in my point of view, but they have to do it.”

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Why Not All Schools Offer Parent-Teacher Conferences

All week, we’ve brought you tips from both sides of the desk to show how mom and dad and school professionals can benefit from parent-teacher conferences.

But what if your district doesn’t officially coordinate these types of meetings?

Some Indiana school corporations require all teachers to hold semi-regular conferences, but some don’t. For example, Fort Wayne Community Schools organizes a district-wide system where all schools close to students for two days in the fall when parents can sign up to drop in and speak with their instructors.

The Monroe County Community School Corporation used to do things this way, but because of a change in state statute they shifted their model.

(Photo Credit: Alex McCall/WFIU News)

(Photo Credit: Alex McCall/WFIU News)

Before 2008, schools were allowed to “bank” time – in other words, they gave students two days off in the fall so teachers could spend that time meeting with parents and made up the instructional time by tacking it onto other days in the annual calendar.  When that rule changed, districts like MCCSC moved to offering conferences after school in the evenings.

But Tim Pritchett, MCCSC’s information officer, says that didn’t work so well for teachers’ schedules, so the district has switched to scheduling parent-teacher conferences on a school-by-school basis. All elementary teachers and required to offer conferences sometime in the fall, but it’s up to them to decide on specific dates and times and notify families.

Pritchett says this allows for more flexibility for both parties. If need be, educators can set up a time to meet working parents in the early morning or even on a Saturday.

“It ensures that the parent has that buy-in to show up to the meeting,” Pritchett says. “If it’s open drop-in, you could end up with a teacher sitting there and nobody ever showing up, or you could end up with a bunch of people showing up at the same time, which is not really productive either.”

Pritchett says district officials thought this method might be more helpful for families – but MCCSC parent Allison Rink says in some ways it makes things more difficult.

“As a parent, I would prefer to see them set on the calendar because you can plan ahead,” Rink says. “I feel like it’s an injustice for the teachers as well, with the length of the school day being as long as it is and then asking them to either stay after school and on weekends. Taking a half day is the traditional way to do it, and one that I think works,”

Rink, a former educator, regularly volunteers in her children’s classrooms (fifth grade at Binford Elementary and kindergarten at Rogers Elementary), so she says she feels like she already has a good idea of what’s going on and doesn’t needs the opportunity for additional meeting like other parents might.

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Parents: How To Prepare For & Excel In A Parent-Teacher Conference

In some ways, educating a child is like working on a puzzle – and it’s up to policymakers at the federal and state level, along with principals, teachers and parents, to piece it all together. This month, two of those stakeholders will talk strategy during parent-teacher conferences.

Continuing our dive into how to make the most out of these meetings, today StateImpact shares some tips on how parents can get the most out of their time meeting with teachers.

Why Are Parents Nervous About These Conferences?

Amber Kent's twin sons are in third grade in the Monroe County Community School Corporation. Kent gets nervous every year for parent teacher conferences because of past experiences where she was surprised by what the teacher brought up.

Amber Kent’s twin sons are in third grade in the Monroe County Community School Corporation. Kent gets nervous every year for parent teacher conferences because of past experiences where she was surprised by what the teacher brought up. (Photo Credit: Claire McInerny/StateImpact Indiana)

The stress around parent-teacher conferences started for Amber Kent when her now third grade twin sons were in kindergarten.

“One of my son’s teachers told us that she thought that maybe he was too immature for school and he’d probably have to repeat kindergarten, at the end of the first nine weeks,” Kent says.

Kent and her husband felt blindsided by the conversation. They wished they’d known sooner.

“We just kind of looked at each other and were thinking to ourselves, that seems kind of premature,” she recalls.

Fast forward to the next school year and the same thing happened again. So now, whenever parent-teacher conferences approach, she feels dread.

“We have our parent-teacher conferences next week, and I’m like, ‘ugh what’s going to come up this time? What’s going to happen?’” Kent says. “I get kind of upset in my stomach.”

Of all people, Kent would be one of the last you’d expect to be nervous. She’s a former educator and her husband teaches in the Monroe County Community School Corporation, where their sons attend school – but still, the idea of sitting down with the boys’ teachers makes her anxious.

We talked with Kathy Nimmer, the 2015 Indiana Teacher of the Year, to share some tips for parents that will lead to less anxiety and more productive conferences. Nimmer taught high school English in West Lafayette for 23 before taking this year off to travel the state.

Tip #1: Expect The Good

“Parents need to be expecting the good when they are entering a conference with a teacher,” Nimmer says.

She assures parents like Kent that whatever the teacher says comes from a place of wanting to help, which she says might make an unexpected conversation seem less like an ambush.

“The teacher is not an enemy, the teacher is part of a team,” Nimmer says. “This is all about celebrating the child and helping the child the conference will always go better.”

Tip #2: Take Some Notes

Nimmer says whether you’re talking about your child’s strengths or areas for improvement, the conference can go by so fast you might forget what you talked about, so write it down. Also, you might feel defensive about things the teacher said in the moment, but if you can review it later, you might see it differently.

“It’s important because the teacher has things to share but it’s also important for future interactions,” Nimmer says. “If there have to be more individual meetings or any other actions taken in the future, the framework has already been established in the conference. So knowing the specifics, tuning into them and taking notes is very helpful for that future interaction.”

Tip #3: Be Honest

“Not that the teacher needs to know every in and out of the home life, and the complications of family situations,” Nimmer says. “But if there are things going on at home that may be influencing things that are happening at school, then [be] honest that there is some trouble.”

Nimmer recalls a time she had a student who seemed disengaged and uninterested. During conferences that year, her parents disclosed that she’d been struggling with the upcoming anniversary of a family member’s death. Having that information helped Nimmer, who gave the student leeway with deadlines as the anniversary approached.

In the case of Kent and the teacher who thought her son was too immature for kindergarten, an honest conversation about how her son stayed home with her husband up until kindergarten might have helped the teacher understand why he was struggling to adjust to the routines and expectations of school. Continue Reading

How A Policy Change Could Impact Dual Credit Offerings

A panel of educators, lawmakers and higher education officials met Tuesday to discuss how to deal with an impending policy change that one K-12 leader said will “decimate” the dual credit options for high school students.

The panel is trying to find solutions and calculate the impact of the new rules, such as how many teachers would be required to hold a master’s degree and acquire additional training just to continue teaching the courses for college credit. The increased requirements were approved by the Higher Learning Commission, the regional accreditor for Indiana’s colleges and universities, and expected to go into effect fall 2017.

Indiana Higher Education Commissioner Teresa Lubbers says the state may have to deal with increased requirements for educators who teach dual credit courses. (Photo Credit: The Statehouse File)

Indiana Higher Education Commissioner Teresa Lubbers says the state may have to deal with increased requirements for educators who teach dual credit courses. (Photo Credit: The Statehouse File)

Despite the impact on Indiana’s popular dual credit program — more than 3,400 courses are offered statewide — it’s unclear what power the state has, if any, to influence the Higher Learning Commission to rethink the change.

That was the general sentiment of those leading Indiana’s Dual Credit Advisory Council meeting Tuesday. The Higher Learning Commission accredits colleges in 18 other states and only a few of those states are questioning the new guidelines for faculty and those who teach dual credit.

“I am not certain at this point how open (Higher Learning Commission) is to additional contact from the state but I think we need to try,” said Teresa Lubbers, the state higher education commissioner and council co-chair. “This doesn’t come into effect until September of 2017 so we have some time. I think we need to figure out the best information we can and share that information with HLC.”

Lubbers said there are likely strategies that state colleges, legislators and K-12 leaders can take to ensure teachers remain eligible to teach college-level courses uner the new rules.

The Higher Learning Commission now requires dual credit teachers to have a masters degree and at least 18 credit hours in the subject area they teach dual credit. There are some exceptions for teachers in the technical subjects, such as construction or welding.

Currently, Indiana policy requires teachers to have the same credentials for on-campus faculty or a teaching plan approved by the college granting the credit.

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Educators: Balancing Give and Gain in Parent-Teacher Conferences

Fall is in full swing – that means midterms for college kids and fall break for most K-12 students. This time of year brings some homework for parents, too.

Many schools offer mom and dad the chance to meet with their child’s instructors around the midpoint of first semester. Every district handles parent-teacher conferences differently, as do families. But the research is clear: parents show up. According to the most recent available data from nonprofit data bank Child Trends, nearly 9 in 10 parents attend parent-teacher conferences each year.

Brittany McKee helps her sons Gage and Jayce Meza complete the craft that's part of the parent engagement night at Edgewood Primary School in Ellettesville.

Nearly 9 in 10 parents attend conferences with their children’s teachers each year, according to Child Trends. (Photo Credit: Bill Shaw/WTIU News)

And often, if its a couple’s first child – or a teacher’s first year at the school – the whole encounter can be pretty nerve-wracking.

All this week, StateImpact will take a closer look at parent-teacher conferences and talking to experts about how to make them less stressful and more impactful.

First up, how can teachers maximize their interactions for parents, as well as for their own purposes in the classroom?

For advice, we turned to Kathy Nimmer, Indiana’s 2015 Teacher of the Year. She has a few simple tips for teachers:

1. Do your homework

For the most part, parents only hear what their child remembers – or decides – to tell them about their day at school. As the teacher, Nimmer says, you should come to the discussion armed with a full picture of what you see coming from the student.

“When I began conferences I took a whole Saturday afternoon to go through all of my students, look over their grades and make some notes on each individual,” Nimmer says.

That includes academic performance as well as pertinent social information, Nimmer adds. She says teachers’ should also take note of any grade patterns or inconsistencies, and any trouble spots they may have noticed the student might need extra help with.

2. Start with the positive

Before diving into any gray area, it’s always good to reassure parents that their child is progressing. Nimmer says offering honest, candid feedback on the things their child has done well so far is a great way to start.

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Program Helping IPS Students Attend Purdue Renamed, Refocused


A group of Indianapolis Public Schools students takes part in one of the first Science Bound activities in 2005 on the Purdue University campus. (photo credit: Purdue University Archive Photo)

For 13 years Purdue University, Indianapolis Public Schools and the Indianapolis business community have provided a pathway for low income and first-generation college-bound students at IPS to graduate and attend Purdue. But the program – Science Bound – has remained largely under the radar.

Now, a new name and alignment with a future school could change that, say its organizers.

Last week at Arsenal Tech High, a couple dozen juniors and seniors are tearing into bags of chips and working on resumes and financial aid forms after school in the classroom of Elvia Solis, a teacher and program mentor.

A student is telling Solis how he wants to find an internship in the motorsports industry. Others are asking which of their school activities and achievements should end up on their resume.

This is Science Bound — a hands-on, multi-year program to prepare students for college and a career in math and technology.

But something else also attracts them.

“Definitely the money,” says Dominic Bennett, who’s been in Science Bound since 9th grade. “But actually, the studying part is really helpful too.” Continue Reading

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