Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom


Claire McInerny

Claire McInerny is a reporter/producer for WFIU/WTIU news. She comes to WFIU/WTIU from KCUR in Kansas City. She graduated with a journalism degree from the University of Kansas where she discovered her passion for public media and the stories it tells. You can follow her on Twitter @ClaireMcInerny.

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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 First Year Teachers Find Their Rhythm In The Classroom

Second grade teacher Sara Draper teaches her students at Helmsburg Elementary a math lesson. This is Draper's first year in the classroom.

Second grade teacher Sara Draper teaches her students at Helmsburg Elementary a math lesson. This is Draper’s first year in the classroom. (photo credit: Alexander McCall/WFIU News)

This story is part of The First Year series, which follows three new teachers as they navigate the ups and downs of the first year in the classroom. See the full series and listen to and read more content here.

When you’re new to something, it takes a lot of trial and error to figure out a rhythm. For first-time teachers, this process happens with dozens of students acting as their guinea pigs.

The three first-year teachers spent years in their undergraduate classes learning teaching tactics and classroom management skills and practicing them during their time as student teachers. But now that they have a class of their own with no other teachers to help, they have to figure out what works and what doesn’t for their students.

“You have to really find what fits your kids’ needs”

Gabe Hoffman’s third grade class at Nora Elementary has a math test coming up, so he’s leading them in a review game. He writes an addition or subtraction problem on the board and they solve it on their own. If a student gets it wrong, he or she is out. But right now, the group is talking too much when they should be working.

“I’m going to sit here, you have 30 seconds to get it together or we are not playing,” Hoffman calls out over the noise.

He’s frustrated because he wants to play games with his students and make the test review fun. But six weeks into the school year, he’s getting a handle on what types of games work – and don’t work – with his kids.

“It just depends, you have to really find what fits your kids’ needs,” he says.

For Hoffman, he’s learned his students can’t focus when they play games in teams, and he has to give them more structure when doing group work.

“I know other teachers can do whatever they want and their kids are fine getting right back together,” Hoffman says. “But I have a group where I have a couple in the room that are particularly able to amp up everybody else, so it just depends on who’s in the room at what time.”

Which has caused some growing pains for Hoffman. Today’s review game is a good example. Since the kids came back from recess they’ve had trouble calming down and focusing on their work. He tried playing a two-minute educational video to calm them down. He read aloud from a novel they’re reading as a class and had them work in small groups using class computers. But they keep getting rowdy. So Hoffman starts walking around the room collecting the white boards they were using to show their answers and hands them a worksheet to complete silently instead. Continue Reading

“Which Education Programs Would Be Hit by a Government Shutdown?”

If the federal government does shut down, lack of funding to Head Start programs around the country would affect low-income preschool students.

The federal government is careening toward a shutdown at the end of the month, thanks in part to an impasse in Congress over whether to fund Planned Parnethood. But most school districts, and many federal education programs, wouldn’t feel an immediate pinch if the U.S. Department of Education and other agencies temporarily shut their doors.

Read more at:

Senate Dems: We Need In-State Tuition For Undocumented Students

Sen. Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) with members of the Latino community at a press conference Monday outlining an education initiative that would allow in state tuition for undocumented students.

Sen. Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) with members of the Latino community at a press conference Monday outlining an education initiative that would allow in state tuition for undocumented students. (photo credit: Senate Democrats)

Senate Democrats outlined initiatives for the upcoming legislative session aimed at improving the quality of life for Latino people Indiana, including a proposed bill that would give undocumented students who have graduated from an Indiana high school in state tuition at Indiana universities.

This initiative is a continuation on a Senate bill from last session that did not pass. The proposed bill granted in-state tuition for any undocumented student that graduated from an Indiana high school after attending the school for three years.

This updated version of the bill would also grant in-state tuition according to these guidelines.

Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, explained the proposals and said the bill from last year had bipartisan support with Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, authoring the bill, giving Lanane hope the bill could become law this year.

“There are many students, many individuals that we know, who because they could not afford the in state tuition rates have had to defer their dreams,” Lanane said. “The time is now to end that. Let’s open up our schools to these wonderful young people, allow them to get the education they need, and allow them to contribute to the state of Indiana.”

To illustrate the need for this bill, Lanane invited Beatriz Preciado, a graduate of Arsenal Technical High School in Indianapolis and an undocumented student, to speak about her experience trying to afford college since graduating in 2012.

“Being able to pay the in-state tuition rate would help me finish what I started majoring in, which was physics and mechanical engineering. I really want to finish that off and contribute to the economy here in the state of Indiana because this has been home for so long,” Preciado said.

Lanane says from a fiscal standpoint this bill would help the economy by not only adding more able people to the workforce, but by bringing in a crop of students to the state’s universities who are not currently paying tuition.


When Will The 2016 GOP Candidates Discuss Education?

As the large group of Republican presidential hopefuls fight for the White House, the topic of education is rarely coming up during the debates.

As the large group of Republican presidential hopefuls fight for the White House, the topic of education rarely comes up during their debates. (Photo Credit: Stephen Mellentine/Flickr)

The 2016 Republican presidential candidates squared off in another debate this week, with attacks on one another and more back and forth on issues of foreign policy and diplomacy dominating the conversation.

As with the first debate last month, little of the discussion circled back to education, despite many of the candidates’ extensive experience with school policy in their home states.

The moderators didn’t ask the candidates any direct questions regarding education, but there were a few occasions when the presidential hopefuls mentioned, only briefly, some education policy issues.

Education Week highlights all of these occurrences, some of which are listed below:

• Front-runner Donald Trump was the only candidate to directly bring up the Common Core State Standards, which was the K-12 policy star of the GOP debate last month. But Trump only touched on it in passing—in an exchange with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Trump mentioned Bush’s support for the common core, and added, “which is also a disaster.” (That’s a reprise of a previous Trump attack on Bush from June.) Bush did not respond, however.

• Bush did bring up one of his signature accomplishments while running Florida: his approval of a major school choice program. He highlighted the state’s tax-credit scholarship program as “the largest voucher program in the country.” (The scholarships in the program Bush referred to aren’t strictly vouchers.)

• Discussing a question about the minimum wage, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker argued that creating a good education system was a superior approach to helping the economy than raising the minimum wage. For a picture of Walker’s K-12 record, and how he talks about it, click here. Walker also mentioned the “big government union bosses” who opposed him in Wisconsin, a reference in part to teachers’ unions who opposed his successful push to effectively end collective bargaining for most public employees.

In terms of big issues, the candidates mostly focused on foreign policy and economic issues, which might be the norm for this election. These issues currently dominate the agenda in Washington, and according to a Gallup poll conducted before the 2014 midterm election, these are the issues voters find most important.

But if education ever does take center stage, the likely hot topics will be federally mandated standards, the rising cost of college and support for school vouchers.

The cost of college is something the Obama administration has addressed, especially in Indiana. President Obama visited Ivy Tech Community College in Indianapolis earlier this year to discuss his plan for making community college free and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan discussed the cost of college and barriers to graduating this week at Purdue.

With the conversation started by the current administration it might only be a matter of time before the Republicans share their views.

State Board Discusses New Diploma Types For Indiana Students

Indiana high school graduates will face a new crop of diploma choices in the 2018-19 school year, but details of those diplomas are still being discussed.

The Indiana Career Council recently submitted their recommendation for three new diploma types, a reduction from the four currently offered by the state.

During the public comment period at Wednesday’s State Board of Education meeting, many audience members appealed to the board, saying the new diploma requirements will make it harder for students with special needs to graduate.

The four current options include a General diploma, Core 40 diploma, Core 40 with academic honors or Core 40 with technical honors. Not every school offers all four, but many of the parents who testified said having access to a diploma like the general one – which requires fewer credits in core areas like math, science and English – would help their special education students complete a degree.

The three diplomas the Career Council recommends are called the College and Career Ready diploma, the Workforce Ready diploma and an honors diploma. All of these require more credits than current diplomas in core subjects.

This is where the opposition comes from: some say the increased credit requirements don’t allow special education students access to a high school diploma.

Currently, a special education student can receive a certificate at the end of their high school career, but many of the parents and special education advocates who testified at the meeting said this is not fair to these students.

The new diplomas must be approved by Dec. 1, so the State Board of Education plans to take action on the subject during their November meeting. Since the matter must be decided by the end of the year, Ritz suggested the INSBOE hold a special meeting in October to discuss the diploma options at length and to hear from the public.

Schools Should Receive Delayed A-F Grades By January

State Board of Education members discuss the updated timeline for schools to receive this year's A-F grades.

State Board of Education members discuss the updated timeline for schools to receive this year’s A-F grades. (Photo Credit: Claire McInerny/StateImpact Indiana)

After learning from testing vendor CTB last month that ISTEP+ scores wouldn’t be released on time, the Department of Education told the State Board of Education Wednesday that schools should receive their grades by Jan. 18, rather than the fall when grades are typically issued.

Not releasing A-F grades on time creates a domino effect for other things like whether a school is classified as a priority or focus school and when teachers would receive performance bonus pay.

The IDOE is also working with the federal government to make sure they comply with federal requirements for reporting low performance school data.

(Read more about the A-F delay and its implications here.) 

The tentative Jan. 18 release of grades will create a very tight deadline for schools to issue bonuses based on teacher evaluations, before the Jan. 31 deadline for those bonuses. These bonuses are issued in part based on student ISTEP+ scores as well as evaluations conducted by the school.

IDOE spokesperson Daniel Altman says the department is pushing CTB to expedite the scores as quickly as they can.

“We’re dealing with a delay from CTB that was outside of our control,” Altman says, “We’ve been working significantly with state board staff, legislative staff to get the timeline as reduced as it could be and we’re going to get information to schools as soon as possible.”

Indiana Schools Changing Policies To Include LGBT Students

Three Prism students speak on a panel at Bloomington High School South about making schools more inclusive for LGBT students. State superintendent Glenda Ritz joined the students as part of the panel.

Three Prism students speak on a panel at Bloomington High School South about making schools more inclusive for LGBT students. State superintendent Glenda Ritz joined the students as part of the panel. (photo credit: Barbara Brosher/WTIU News)

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz joined the conversation this week about how to make schools safer and more inclusive for all students. The backdrop for her announcement was Bloomington High School South, a school in the Monroe County Community School Corporation, which recently updated its anti-discrimination policy to specifically prohibit discrimination or bullying based on a student’s gender identity in addition to sexual orientation and other protected classes.

This policy change comes after a year where LGBT issues dominated politics between the controversy over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Supreme Court ruling in favor of same sex marriage. That conversation is now reaching classrooms in Indiana, and school districts, policy makers and students themselves are learning how to navigate through these changes.

Superintendent Ritz Learns From LGBT Students

Superintendent Glenda Ritz took a seat on the stage at Bloomington High School South Tuesday  to engage in a conversation about how to make schools safer and more inclusive, especially for LGBT students.

She was billed as the guest speaker, but she mostly sat back and listened, taking notes as students shared their experiences — good and bad — of teachers addressing LGBT students in the classroom.

“I was talking to a teacher in the classroom about my identity as a bisexual and they just kind of said, ‘Well, you’ll pick one’,” said Isaac, one of the student panelists.

State superintendent Glenda Ritz speaks before the panel discussion on LGBT issues in schools.

State superintendent Glenda Ritz speaks before the panel discussion on LGBT issues in schools. (photo credit: Barbara Brosher/WTIU News)

The student panelists are members of Prism, a youth group for LGBT students, run by Bloomington Pride. They organized the discussion to help inform school officials on ways to make school more inviting and inclusive for LGBT students, and discussed topics such as gender neutral restrooms, including LGBT relationships in sex education classes and how teachers can be better trained on interacting with this population of students.

After the panel, Ritz said conversations like this are slowly happening at schools statewide.

“Well I think the conversation is out there already with the RFRA conversation, it’s happening all over the state and in our communities and it’s happening in our schools,” she said. “I think that we have students that are feeling empowered so to speak to bring up issues with their administration and I’m excited that we’re having that conversation statewide.” Continue Reading

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