Indiana

Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Holcomb Unveils Education Plan, Proposes More Funding For Special Ed, Language Learners

The Indiana GOP’s gubernatorial ticket -- Eric Holcomb and running mate State Auditor Suzanne Crouch at an Indianapolis news conference on Aug. 1, 2016. - Brandon J. Smith / Indiana Public Broadcasting

The Indiana GOP’s gubernatorial ticket — Eric Holcomb and running mate State Auditor Suzanne Crouch at an Indianapolis news conference on Aug. 1, 2016. – Brandon J. Smith / Indiana Public Broadcasting” credit=”

Republican gubernatorial candidate Eric Holcomb unveiled his education plan this morning during an annual meeting of Indiana school boards and local superintendents.

Hundreds of educators listened quietly to the lieutenant governor just minutes after they’d given a standing ovation to his Democratic challenger John Gregg who pledged to “end the war” on public eduction.

Gregg has made education and his relationship with Superintendent Glenda Ritz a centerpiece of his campaign.

But so far, education has been a low-profile issue for Republicans ahead of the November election. Just last week the GOP candidate for state schools chief released a detailed plan.

Holcomb proposed boosting funda for special education and English language learners during a short speech at the Indianapolis Convention Center.  Deciding how to pay for any new programs would be hashed out in the upcoming legislative session when the next two-year budget is set, he said later.

Holcomb also pledged to find solutions to some of the issues that plunged the state’s education oversight into political fights and caused unease and anger from classroom teachers.

“Anyone can come up with a plan, but the difference is how you execute it,” he said during the Indiana School Board Association/Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents 67th annual conference. “So please know this plan is much more than words on a paper but a to do list.”

He described his approach as layered — from building on Pre-k to collaborations with state colleges and businesses to boost high school STEM learning and retrain out of work adults for new jobs.

Holcomb become lieutenant governor in March after Sue Ellspermann stepped down to be the president of Ivy Tech Community College. He was a top aide to former Gov. Mitch Daniels.

Here’s a look at some of his “Excellence in Education & Workforce Development Plan“: Continue Reading

For New Education Board Member, ‘Steep Learning Curve’ Lies Ahead

Members of the State Board of Education will decide whether or not to earmark funds to support some of Indiana’s formerly failing public schools. (Alexander McCall/WFIU News)

The Indiana State Board of Education will have a new member soon. (Alexander McCall/WFIU News)

When Maryanne McMahon began teaching in 1985, she loved it. When someone recommended she consider administrative roles, she balked.

“I looked them square in the face and said ‘I am never leaving the classroom,’” McMahon recalls. “But never say never, I guess.”

Now, she is the newest member of the Indiana State Board of Education. Gov. Mike Pence appointed McMahon to the position last week. She brings nine years experience as a classroom teacher and over 20 years experience in administrative roles in MSD Decatur Township and Avon Community School Corporation.

Maryanne McMahon. (courtesy)

Maryanne McMahon. (courtesy)

Her biggest priority on the board, she says, is making sure the board follows the rules.

“Just staying focused on what the law requires the board to do, is of importance,” McMahon says.

Beyond that McMahon is less specific about what vision or priorities she will bring to the board.

“I have a steep learning curve ahead of me,” McMahon says. “My mode of operating is to get informed.”

The state board will be in charge of implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the nation’s new federal education law. The law transfers much power in creating, implementing and enforcing education policy from the federal government to state government. In Indiana’s case, that’s the State Board of Education.

“I need to get perspective on where the board is with that right now,” says McMahon, referring to ESSA.

Indiana policymakers and educators are currently developing a new standardized test to replace Indiana’s ISTEP+ exam. ESSA gives state education agencies more power to change the nature of their standardized test.

“I do believe that the assessment and testing piece — I see the ramifications of the decisions on our students locally,” McMahon says. “I just want to make sure that it’s a fair process for all and it’s giving us the information that we need to know.”

Most of McMahon’s professional career has taken place in Avon Community School Corporation. For 17 years McMahon has served in various administrative roles, currently as an assistant superintendent.

“Throughout her career as an educator, Maryanne McMahon has distinguished herself as an innovative leader who works hard advancing the best interests of students, families and teachers,” said Gov. Mike Pence, in a statement.

Pence credits her work as superintendent, where she secured math and science partnership grants worth more than $500,000 and led an efficiency task force that saved the district $350,000, as assets to the board.

McMahon says there are other subjects the board oversees that she’s looking forward to learning about.

The state board of education annually approves school letter grades, the state’s method of ranking schools. The system has come under controversy in recent years. Tests that inform those letter grades were deemed inaccurate, prompting the state to allow schools and school districts to retain former rankings, if their rating fell.

“I know that there are schools that are in different places with levels of accountability,” McMahon says. “I know that the ramifications of what the board decides and how they move forward has impact way beyond my current experience. So I want to understand that more deeply.”

McMahon replaces former state board of education member Sarah O’Brien. O’Brien, a first grade teacher, also works for Avon Community School Corporation.

McMahon will begin serving on the board at October’s State Board of Education meeting.

Science Program Teaches Middle Schoolers Computing, Fitness Skills

A seventh grader works on a laptop owned by her school in the classroom.

A seventh grader works on a laptop owned by her school in the classroom. (photo credit: Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana)

What do engineering and fitness have to do with each other? Sometimes, a lot. And a middle school program that brings those two topics together, created by researchers at Purdue University, just got a boost.

Alka Harriger, a researcher at Purdue University, received $2.5 million from the National Science Foundation to introduce a simple concept in schools: get young people, especially young women, to see possibilities in computing and engineering jobs.

She also wants them thinking about exercise. So she’s trying a fun approach.

“Building fitness games that are supported with technology,” Harriger says. 

That means teaching middle schoolers how to build and wire sensors for games that see how far someone jumps. Or how fast someone runs. It teaches them the science and skills behind technology, but also gives the middle school students a fun reason to get active.

“[It's] computing and automation done within the context of fitness,” Harringer says.

In select Indiana schools, middle school students could see these concepts seep into elective classes, existing curricula and after school programs.

Using funds from the NSF grant, Harriger and fellow researchers hope to expand and build off an existing afterschool program. Students in that program learn engineering skills, create games and participate in fitness activities.

Harriger says the concepts students learn can actually introduce them to a new style of thought: computational thinking.

“The whole idea with computational thinking is to really get people to focus on how they go about solving problems,” Harriger says.

And, according to leading school technology and computer science organizations, computational thinking gets kids’ brains working in unique ways, including:

  • Formulating problems in a way that enables us to use a computer and other tools to help solve them.
  • Logically organizing and analyzing data
  • Representing data through abstractions such as models and simulations
  • Identifying, analyzing, and implementing possible solutions with the goal of achieving the most efficient and effective combination of steps and resources
  • Generalizing and transferring this problem solving process to a wide variety of problems

Over the next school year, Harriger and fellow researcher Brad Harriger, will train middle school teachers to teach classes that focus on these skills. It will introduce computer science to students early so they don’t rule it out as a career choice, Harriger says.

“We wanted to get to as young of an age group as we could,” Harriger says. “The reason that it’s not younger than middle school is that we actually have kids working with power, electricty, wiring and so on.”

A total of 165 teachers and around 2,800 students in grades six through eight will be involved. Two schools have already agreed to partner on the effort: Lafayette Sunnyside Intermediate School and Winamac Middle School in Winamac. The researchers are currently searching for middle schools to be involved.

Classes and curricula based on the concepts are expected to reach middle school students during the 2017-18 school year. The afterschool program will continue this year.

McCormick Lays Out Plan For Indiana Education

Yorktown Superintendent Jennifer McCormick and GOP state superintendent candidate talks on Sept. 21, 2016 at the Old National Building in Indianapolis. (photo credit: Eric Weddle / WFYI Public Media)

Yorktown Superintendent Jennifer McCormick and GOP state superintendent candidate talks on Sept. 21, 2016 at the Old National Building in Indianapolis. (photo credit: Eric Weddle / WFYI Public Media)

Jennifer McCormick, the GOP candidate for state superintendent of public instruction, released a detailed plan Wednesday on how she would manage education and attempt to influence state policy if she ousts incumbent Glenda Ritz in November.

McCormick echoed similar policy shifts championed by Ritz — like a more robust grading system for schools instead of the current A-to-F rating — but also offered starkly different approaches, such as opposition to universal state-funded preschool and support for some school choice policies during a press conference.

While the Yorktown superintendent said she agreed with some legislation passed during the past eight years, such as the focus on teacher evaluations, she also explained that rhetoric “from several areas” painted teachers as unprepared and unworthy of pay raises.

“Teachers want to feel like there is a purpose. As a state, we done a pretty good job on beating up on the profession,” McCormick said. “That needs to stop. We need to make sure that we are holding our educators to the highest esteem.”

Part of making that stop, McCormick said, is by the the state superintendent working with both political parties to pass policies that benefit educator and schools and communicating better with school leaders.

McCormick claims that Ritz’s adversarial relationship with the Republican governor’s office and Statehouse majority has caused prevented all sides from hammering out policy details.

“For one, you have to have a state superintendent who will verbally commit to working with the governor and working with those lawmakers. That has to happen,” she said. “For us to be known across the nation as that is a state with a relational problem — that is unacceptable.”

Continue Reading

New Indiana College Value Index Intends To Help Students, Families

lubbers

Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers (photo credit: Gretchen Frazee/WTIU News)

The state’s Commission for Higher Education and polling organization Gallup released a new website Wednesday that tries to explain the value of attending an Indiana college.

The Indiana College Value Index doesn’t rank the 16 state-funded college and university campuses. Instead, it’s suppose to help students and their families answer questions about choosing a college, says higher education commissioner Teresa Lubbers.

“We know there are other rankings out there, U.S. News and World Report and Princeton Review, but we think for Hoosier students this provides much more information,” Lubbers says.

Information includes how long it takes to graduate at each school and survey results from students and alumni about their degree and overall experience.

Indiana’s private and non-public schools are not included yet but could change by next year.

E. Chicago School, Families Face Challenges After Lead Discovery

Latasha Marshall and her three daughters Deanna, Ashley and Janae are planning on moving from East Chicago after finding out their apartment is in the most lead-contaminated part of the city. The three girls will have to transfer schools mid school year.

Latasha Marshall and her three daughters Deanna, Ashley and Janae are planning on moving from East Chicago after finding out their apartment is in the most lead-contaminated part of the city. The three girls will have to transfer schools mid school year. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting).

Latasha Marshall waits for a cab. She sits in the lobby of a Hilton Garden Inn, which serves as her living room this week. The Environmental Protection Agency put her up for the week so the agency can deep clean her home; it tested for high levels of lead.

“The other night when we first got here, I went to sleep and I woke up and I was at ease,” Marshall says. “I haven’t been sleeping like that at home.”

Once it’s clean, she can return with her daughters, ages 11, 16 and 17, but not to stay. Her housing complex sits on a superfund site, where the soil contains lead levels over 100 times higher than what the EPA says is safe. This is especially hard for Marshall, because this home was the first she could afford in several years. She moved here after living with relatives in Chicago, Illinois.

“It’s hurtful,” she says. “I wake up sometimes and am just like ‘man, what’s the next step, what are we going to do?’”

The cab arrives at the hotel to get Marshall, who doesn’t have a car. Her youngest daughter used to walk to Carrie Gosch Elementary School, which was right next to her apartment. The school the taxi takes her to is the new Carrie Gosh. It was an empty, former middle school a few months ago.

The old Carrie Gosch Elementary School building sits right next to the West Calumet housing complex, so it’s also on the Superfund site.

The Decision To Move Hundreds Of Students

One section of soil at the old building tested at dangerous lead levels. So superintendent Paige McNulty decided to move the hundreds of students to a former middle school located across town.

(Read more about how West Calumet residents must leave their homes by November.)

McNulty says she made this decision quickly, just nine days before school started, when she found out about the contamination.

“We made the decision on a Saturday and school started the following Monday,” McNulty says. “So we literally had about five days to move the school.”

And McNulty faced a bigger problem:

“It was a middle school, and the school we were moving was a pre-K through sixth grade so I had little, little-bittys moving to a middle school arena,” McNulty says.

In less than a week, contractors worked 18-hour days to lower water fountains and toilets, put the IT infrastructure back in the school and get the kitchen up to code. The district received a $3 million loan from the state this month to pay for these costs plus future construction to make the building an elementary school.

When Carrie Gosch Elementary decided to move into an old middle school, the district had to make adjustment to accommodate the younger students. Toilets, counters, and other structures within the school had to be lowered.

When Carrie Gosch Elementary decided to move into an old middle school, the district had to make adjustment to accommodate the younger students. Toilets, counters, and other structures within the school had to be lowered, but the district didn’t have enough time and money to get all of the work done before school started. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting).

McNulty is also trying to make the students feel safe at school. For example, Marshall’s sixth grade daughter, Ashley, had no idea what lead was until she heard it was under her home.

“I’m kind of like ‘what is that?’,” Ashley says. “Then they mentioned it was poison and of the ground and it’s been in there for over 40 years and they didn’t tell us.”

To help kids like Ashley, McNulty says they’re bringing the discussion into the classrooms.

“So the teachers got together and wrote lesson plans on water, air, lead, soil so that the kids feel like they’re getting some sort of education in their lives so it’s not a scary unknown thing,” McNulty says.

With Lead Contamination Comes A Logistical Nightmare

Now that students are settling in, and the district received the loan to address construction costs – McNulty is struggling with other logistical problems that come with moving the school to a new building.

“One of our biggest challenges is we were not anticipating busing all those students because those students had been walkers,” McNulty says. “Now we had to bus 450 kids to a school that we had not anticipated. We did not have enough bus drivers or buses, and we still don’t. We’re having to double and triple up routes.”

She’s also concerned about how fast her enrollment is dropping. So far this year, 200 students switched schools because of the lead, whether it was to attend another East Chicago school or because their family left the town because of the lead. This is harmful to the district as a whole, because the way school funding works in Indiana, the money follows the student. When students leave, the district loses money, and McNulty is watching her state funding dwindle.

“We get $7,200 person student so we’ve already lost about $1.5 million,” McNulty says.

Latasha Marshall and her daughter Janae get into a cab, paid for by the EPA, to pick up her other daughters from school. She doesn't have a car, and her kids used to walk to school, so when the EPA put them up in a hotel so the agency could clean their home, a cab was the only way to get the girls.

Latasha Marshall and her daughter Janae get into a cab, paid for by the EPA, to pick up her other daughters from school. She doesn’t have a car, and her kids used to walk to school, so when the EPA put them up in a hotel, a cab was the only way to get the girls to and from school. ( photo credit: Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting.)

To try and combat this, the district is offering to bus any kid who leaves East Chicago to attend school in neighboring towns back to their East Chicago school.

But leaving East Chicago and the school district – is exactly what Marshall is thinking about doing. She moved to East Chicago from inner city Chicago, Ill.

“I wanted to leave Chicago,” Marshall says. “I didn’t want to be there with all the violence and everything going on– kids are not safe. And that was my big issue so I wanted to bring them to a better environment, and apparently not.”

So now, Marshall is hoping her voucher from the The U.S. Housing and Urban Development agency to move covers the cost of moving back to Chicago, but to the suburbs this time.

Lawmakers Propose Measures To Reduce Teacher Sexual Misconduct

The Indiana Statehouse. (Photo Credit: Jimmy Emerson/Flickr)

The Indiana Statehouse. (Photo Credit: Jimmy Emerson/Flickr)

After a number of high profile teacher sexual misconduct cases and a low ranking on a national “teacher conduct” scorecard, state lawmakers formed a committee to recommend a plan to protect Indiana’s children from sexual predators.

The committee established a set of recommendations this Tuesday that it hopes will become law.

Lawmakers say tougher measures could protect the state’s children from predatory school employees. Under new recommendations, educators convicted of certain felonies would automatically lose their licenses. The department of child services would be required to notify a school if any employee is involved in an active case. And every district would need to background check every employee every 5 years.

Republican representative Bob Behning says continued checks on the same people are necessary.

“Sometimes a lot of these offenses don’t get reported back to districts,” Behning says. “The district may not be aware.”

Current law only requires background checks for fully licensed staff, like teachers and principals, once, when they’re hired.

Lawmakers will present these recommendations during the 2017 General Assembly, which begins in January.

With Over 200 Ways To Measure Teachers, Indiana’s Evaluation System Can Get Messy

When it comes to measuring and rating teachers, Indiana school districts vary widely in their practices. Yet, for the past three years almost all Indiana educators have been rated effective. (Alex McCall/WFIU News)

When it comes to measuring and rating teachers, Indiana school districts vary widely in their practices. Yet, for the past three years almost all Indiana educators have been rated effective. (Alex McCall/WFIU News)

What makes a good teacher? Indiana schools have over 200 different answers.

Indiana school districts, in fact, use 242 separate methods to evaluate their teachers, according to a StateImpact Indiana analysis of state data. It’s a messy process that’s led to concerns about erratic practices, inconsistent implementations and incomparable results.

“Teacher evaluation is the very core of improving student outcomes,” says Sandi Cole, co-director of Indiana Teacher Appraisal and Support System (INTASS), a research group studying Indiana’s teacher evaluation systems. “When it’s done well, that’s how teachers improve, how instruction improves and, ultimately, how students improve.”

Data show that almost all Indiana teachers consistently score highly on evaluations year after year after year. But INTASS directors have concerns.

Many districts can demonstrate effective structures. But, on a statewide basis, districts have wide-ranging interpretations of law, varied evaluation models and a monitoring system that experts say gives districts little incentive to improve evaluation. Continue Reading

Members Of ISTEP Panel Feel It’s Not Accomplishing Task

Gov. Mike Pence and House Speaker Brian Bosma separately announced appointments to the panel that will recommend a replacement for Indiana’s current standardized test, the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress-Plus or ISTEP. (David Hartman /Flickr)

The panel that is re-writing the ISTEP+ met for the fifth time Tuesday, and many members are frustrated at its progress. (photo credit: David Hartman /Flickr)

After Tuesday’s ISTEP+ panel meeting produced few concrete ideas for re-writing the new test, many committee members left feeling frustrated at the panel’s progress.

This is the fifth of seven opportunities the panel has to draft the plan for a new state assessment.

The 2016 General Assembly passed a law that gets ride of the ISTEP+ in its current format, after its 2017 administration. It also created a panel of educators, lawmakers and state agency employees to draft a more desirable test. The legislation, authored by Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, gave the panel a Dec. 1 deadline to make its recommendation to the legislature.

As that deadline approaches, members are reflecting on the progress made so far, and many are disappointed. After Tuesday’s meeting, morale on the panel dipped.

State superintendent Glenda Ritz, a member of the panel, sent out a statement earlier this week addressing that.

“I am frustrated by the lack of progress being made by the ISTEP Replacement Panel,” Ritz’s statement said.  “Families and educators have made it clear that they want to get rid of the punitive, pass/fail ISTEP test.”

Her statement continued to say she will provide a plan for a new test for the panel to consider.

The Disappointment Of Educators

But the biggest disappointment in the group’s work has been expressed by its members who are educators. They constitute more than 50 percent of the panel.  The 2016 General Assembly planned this composition to give them their long requested voice in the debate over standardized testing.

Many legislators applauded the panel as the opportunity for teachers, parents and school administrators to take seats at the table and decide the future of ISTEP+.

“We’re at the table but that’s about it,” says Callie Marksbary, a panel member and third grade teacher in the Lafayette School Corporation.

Marksbary says she was very excited when appointed to the panel because she felt the group of educators, alongside policy makers, would finally create a testing system teachers would like. Continue Reading

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