Indiana

Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

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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.

  • Email: clmciner@indiana.edu

Attorney General’s Office: A-F Law Intact, Schools To Get Grades

After questions regarding the validity of the state’s A-F school accountability system surfaced this week, the Attorney General’s office sent a statement to the Department of Education and State Board of Education Friday to weigh in, stating that the law is valid and schools should receive A-F grades according to the rules currently in place.

As we reported, the question around the law stems from changes made to the A-F system over the last few years.

Specifically, in 2013, lawmakers said the state must trash old A-F rules once new procedures had been put in place. Questions about how that shift was executed are what prompted this week’s inquiry. 

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller (Photo Credit: Dan Goldblatt/Indiana Public Media)

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller (Photo Credit: Dan Goldblatt/Indiana Public Media)

Chief Deputy Attorney General Matt Light wrote the statement received by the IDOE and INSBOE, in which he says although it seemed murky to some, the transition from old practices to the current ones are legal.

“[T]he intention of the statute was to have the new set of comprehensive rules replace the old set of comprehensive rules,” Light writes.

He goes on to say the IDOE should calculate A-F grades for the 2014-15 school year according to current rules.

The Attorney General’s office also suggests the General Assembly introduce legislation next session to prevent further confusion on the issue.

“We would recommend looking at legislation for the 2016 session to retroactively confirm validity of all applicable rules so as to minimize potential for any challenges to them,” Light writes.

State Board of Education spokesman Marc Lotter says his colleagues are grateful for the Attorney General’s contribution to the matter.

“The State Board of Education appreciates the Attorney General’s Office putting these questions to rest and upholding the system that informs Hoosier parents how our children’s schools are doing,” Lotter said in a statement.

The new set of rules for calculating A-F grades will go into effect during the 2015-16 school year.

Is It Possible Schools Might Not Get A-F Grades This Year?

State officials are investigating whether or not A-F accountability rules still exist this year.

Indiana’s Department of Education is looking into the issue. Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, tells StateImpact that he met with department officials this week and discussed a potential technicality in state law that will make whatever grades are assigned for the 2015-16 school year void.

This is pretty complicated, so stick with us….

The problem allegedly lies in whether or not the State Board of Education correctly followed the letter of the law in its rulemaking process for A-F between April 2013 and now. Some sources claim that if they did not, it means Indiana could potentially operate for a full school year without an A-F standard in place.

Even if this is true, it’s likely the grades assigned for the 2014-15 school year would hold true, and the state would still be able to pick up with a new, recently-approved A-F system in the 2016-17 school year.

This came about after Kenley met with IDOE staff this week to go over the timeline for administering performance pay for teachers, now that there is a delay in getting ISTEP+ scores. It was during that meeting, Kenley says, that the IDOE first brought up the concern that something might be off with the A-F law.

“[We're looking] to see whether the rule is valid or invalid and I don’t have any idea what the status of that is, it was just brought up as a discussion point,” Kenley says.

After this meeting Kenley took the issue to Legislative Services Agency and is waiting to hear back.

Department of Education spokesperson Daniel Altman did not acknowledge his department brought up the potential problem with the law, and says the IDOE is looking at the law in preparation for calculating the A-F grades for this year like any other year.

“Through those preparations we’re doing our due diligence making sure we have all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed,” Altman says.

Altman says the Attorney General’s office has been contacted, although he would not specify for exactly what purpose.

It will likely fall to the Attorney General’s office to provide an opinion on whether a critical misstep was in fact made.

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State Expands Dual Language Immersion Programs

Theodore Potter is one of few dual language immersion programs in the state, but through a new pilot program created by the legislature this year, more programs like this one will start over the next year.

Theodore Potter is one of few dual language immersion programs in the state, but through a new pilot program created by the legislature this year, more programs like this one will start over the next year. (photo credit: Claire McInerny / StateImpact Indiana)

For the last few decades, dual language immersion programs in Indiana’s schools have been rare. A handful are sprinkled throughout the state, but after this year’s legislature allocated $500,000 to start a dual language immersion pilot program, five more schools will join the pool of available programs.

This type of language initiative provides a unique learning opportunity for students and has been shown to increase test scores.

Still, while many educators agree this type of program is academically and culturally beneficial for students, a lot needs to go into it for it to be successful.

How Dual Language Immersion Works

A group of first graders are listening intently as Pilar Sanchez goes through the list of steps for planting a lima bean at the front of the classroom.

It’s a typical lesson for an elementary school science class, except here at Theodore Potter, a K-6 school within Indianapolis Public Schools, the lessons sound very different from other schools. 

“Es una semilla,” Sanchez says as she holds up a lima bean.

“I only use Spanish mainly to teach the class because this is a Spanish immersion school so the whole point of it is that the kids learn the Spanish through the subjects,” Sanchez explains after the class ends.

This is how dual-language immersion programs work. During half of the subjects taught, the teacher only speaks to students in the target language. The same classes are taught in the same language every day – Language Arts is always in English, math is always in Spanish.

Theodore Potter also adds another layer to the language immersion – half of the students at the school are native Spanish speakers, and the other half are native English speakers. So in each class, no matter what language it’s taught in, half of the students are learning in their native language.

Research shows this strategy is working. At Theodore Potter, almost 90 percent of kids are passing the ISTEP+, compared to the rest of the district which has a 50 percent passage rate.

Nearly all of the school’s Spanish-speaking teachers come from Spain through a visiting teacher program run through the U.S. State Department, because as principal Tim Clevenger explains, foreign teachers are crucial for the native Spanish speaking students.

“If [the teacher's] native language is English and they learn Spanish, they possibly could be fluent, at a very high level,” Clevenger says. “But if things get difficult and they need to explain things in four or five different ways they might not be able to do that in the native language or the target language, and then fall back and rely on their English.” Continue Reading

For A Successful Pre-K Experience, Involve The Parents

Darlene Miles is the Parent Involvement Educator at Francis Bellamy, a preschool program within Indianapolis Public Schools. Miles is a full time employee that focuses solely on engaging parents into their child's school experience.

Darlene Miles is the Parent Involvement Educator at Francis Bellamy, a preschool program within Indianapolis Public Schools. Miles is a full time employee that focuses solely on engaging parents into their child’s school experience. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/ StateImpact Indiana)

The first huge milestones of a kid’s life, crawling, walking, and talking, are often cultivated by their parents. But often, once a child enters school full time those milestones shift from the living room to the classroom.

A teacher takes on the responsibility of helping a child master reading, counting and various motor skills.

But educators recognize parents are vital to a child’s education, and now there is a push in Indiana preschools to engage parents as a lead teacher in their child’s life.

Creating A Connection With Parents

The countertops in Darlene Miles’ office are covered in stacks of handouts. Each with encouraging messages for parents or lists emphasizing skills the preschoolers should master during the year.

Miles passes out these handouts like you might business cards. As the Parent Involvement Educator at Francis Bellamy Elementary School, a preschool center within Indianapolis Public Schools, it’s her job to get parents into the schools and give them the tools they need to help their child with their education.

Every school in IPS has someone like Miles who works one on one with parents.  It’s a program that’s been in place in the district for 20 years.

“So we go over all the basic stuff, the ABCs the 123s, learning how to do the buttons and zippers and the social skills,” she says.

“I’ve had a couple parents that come in and sit down and just wanted to vent.”
—Darlene Miles, Parent Involvement Educator, Francis Bellamy Preschool

But as much as Miles’ job is about assisting parents in helping their kids academically, it’s equally about being there for the parents personally.

Miles helps parents look for jobs, food or housing, and, quite often, just sits and listens.

“I’ve had a couple parents that come in and sit down and just wanted to vent and talk and it was very soothing and very comforting,” she says.

The point of the program is two fold: IPS wants parents to feel comfortable coming to the school to discuss academic issues about their child, but it’s also a place for them to address other struggles in their life, because if they can’t provide the basic needs for their children and families it will be harder for the child to succeed academically.

To make the parents aware of her services, Miles’ organizes monthly events and workshops for both kids and parents. Some of the workshops include healthy eating seminars and car safety demonstrations, but they are also events where parents and children do crafts or eat meals together.

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New Budget Slashes School Safety Grants

The recently passed budget cuts school safety budget by more than half.

The recently passed budget cuts school safety budget by more than half. (photo credit: flakeparadigm/Flickr)

School safety was a priority during the 2013 legislature, which allocated $20 million over two years for schools to install safety equipment and hire school resource officers as a response to the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in late 2012.

Indiana school corporations received the grants over the last two school years, but when the legislature met again this session, that funding was slashed by more than half this year, down to $7 million over the biennium.

The grants have been used toward employing school resource officers, conducting threat assessments or purchasing security equipment that makes it tougher to enter a school or alert police of an emergency.

Niki Kelly of The Journal Gazette reports the decrease in grants won’t affect schools that used them to pay for one time equipment costs:

The 65 percent cut to $7 million likely means less money for equipment – from surveillance cameras and fortified doors to radios and fencing. And it could leave some schools looking for ways to continue paying police working as school resource officers.

“It certainly will be more competitive,” said John Erickson, spokesman for the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, which implements the Indiana Secured School Safety Grant program. “The current plan is to review grants in exactly the same way as in the past – equal and fair. If there are more applications than funding, the board will have to make determinations at that time.”

State Budget Director Brian Bailey said the state launched the program to address a need, but no one knew what to expect. After two years of experience, he and his staff are comfortable that one-time equipment needs have been taken care of, and the focus going forward will be for the school resource officers.

But with less money in the overall pot, the concern is whether existing school resource officers will be able to stay in schools if the district was dependent on these funds to pay the position.

Kelly explains how the reduced grant amounts don’t perfectly align to SRO spending since the last budget cycle.

That breaks down to $3.5 million per year, the 2014 grants included more than $4 million for school resource officers, according to a news release.

“It is not our intention for anyone to lose their grant for school resource officers,” Brown said. But he also acknowledged that programs like this are decided one budget cycle at a time and in conjunction with other education funding.

Ritz And Gregg Partner To Promote Education In 2016

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz announced her gubernatorial campaign at an event at Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis in June. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz announced her gubernatorial campaign at an event at Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis in June. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

State superintendent Glenda Ritz is teaming up with her former gubernatorial adversary John Gregg to encourage voters to address the teacher “crisis” that’s been a popular topic of discussion and encouraging voters to keep education in mind when voting for governor in 2016.

The pair sent out a petition asking Governor Mike Pence to support public schools:

Indiana schools are facing a crisis.

Our schools can’t hire the teachers they need because Governor Pence has been working to undermine public schools and educators almost since the moment he took office.

Over the last few years, Governor Pence diverted taxpayer money into private school vouchers, fought to expand unaccountable charter schools, attempted to oust the democratically elected State Superintendent of Public Instruction, worked to undermine the rights of teachers, and defamed the very profession of teaching.

Our teachers — and our kids — deserve better. They deserve a governor who is committed to their success — not an ideologue with his own agenda. And they deserve a governor who will work with the elected State Superintendent, teachers, parents, students and administrators — not against them.

As the new school year begins, there’s no better time to set a new agenda and demand Governor Pence strengthen public schools.

This collaboration comes just a little over a week after Ritz exited the gubernatorial race, saying instead she will focus on her re-election as superintendent.

Many said her dropping out of the governor’s race and putting her education experience behind Gregg would help the Democrats in the election. Here’s Andy Downs of the Mike Downs Center for Politics explaining this on last week’s Indiana Newsdesk:

The other Democratic challenger, Karen Tallian, dropped out of the race Monday, leaving Gregg currently as the only challenger to Pence.

IU, Purdue Promise Cooperation Amid New Engineering Program

University officials at IU and Purdue say they plan to continue working together despite IU’s plan to offer engineering degrees.

Historically, Purdue University has offered engineering programs while IU has focused on business and the liberal arts.

But the Indiana Commission for Higher Education unanimously approved Thursday an IU proposal to create a program called ‘intelligent systems engineering.’

IU’s Associate Vice President of Public Affairs, Mark Land says he thinks it will only benefit all parties, and, most important, the students.

“We don’t see this as a competitive situation. We see this as a complimentary situation and one where we’re actually hopeful for some collaboration between what we do here and some of the programs at Purdue,” he says. “We think it’s a win for everybody because there’s enough need to go around.”

Purdue Provost Deba Dutta says their goal is to cooperate and collaborate so the state’s resources are used in the best way possible.

IU plans to begin accepting engineering students into the program in the fall of 2016.

How Student Debt For Millennials Is Changing The Economy

Mallory Rickbeil and her boyfriend Chris Stearly want to buy a home, but Rickbeil's student debt si preventing them from moving forward with that decision.

Mallory Rickbeil and her boyfriend Chris Stearly want to buy a home, but Rickbeil’s student debt is preventing them from moving forward with that decision. (Photo Credit: Claire McInerny/StateImpact Indiana)

The path to a college education has gotten pretty complicated.

The American job force is increasingly demanding a college degree, and at the same time it’s becoming more and more unaffordable to get one. Tuition is increasing and grants and financial assistance aren’t keeping pace. Young people are taking out thousands of dollars to get just a bachelor’s degree, and as we’ve reported, Indiana has one of the highest rates of college graduates defaulting on their student loans.

With the millennial generation carrying more student loan debt than any other, what does this do to the overall economy, as millennials move toward marriage and home buying? How will their habits change the landscape of higher education?

First Comes Love, Then Comes…Debt Payments?

Mallory Rickbeil and Chris Stearly just moved into a new house in Bloomington. This is the second place they’re renting together, and it’s an upgrade from their previous home.

“There’s so much space,” Rickbeil says. “Chris and I were looking around being like, ‘we have too much space.’” 

Roominess aside, the new house has one huge flaw: it’s not theirs.

“Chris and I have the same objective of wanting to have a house that we own, and at this point Chris is much more capable of doing that than I am – in a large part because of my student loans,” Rickbeil says.

Rickbeil owes thousands of dollars in student loan debt for a master’s degree she finished three years ago. She pays around $500 a month, which makes it tricky to make ends meet, let alone save for a house, something she and Chris are ready to do.

“If Chris and I were to buy a house, it would put more of the burden on him for making the down payment,” she says.  Continue Reading

CTB Explains New Timeline For Receiving ISTEP+ Scores

CTB president Ellen Haley and Indiana Department of Education Assessment Director Michelle Walker address the State Board of Education Wednesday. CTB told the board it will take one extra month to score all of the state's ISTEP+ tests.

CTB president Ellen Haley and Indiana Department of Education Assessment Director Michelle Walker address the State Board of Education Wednesday. CTB told the board it will take one extra month to score all of the state’s ISTEP+ tests. (photo credit: Steve Burns / WTIU News)

Indiana students, teachers and schools will not see results from this past spring’s ISTEP+ likely until the end of this year, after testing vendor CTB informed the State Board of Education Wednesday there are issues with scoring that will delay results.

During Wednesday’s regularly scheduled board meeting, CTB President Ellen Haley spoke to the board and said CTB is behind in its scoring procedure because of new, technology-enhanced items that appeared on the test for the first time this year. The items allow students to fill in their own answer, and Haley says the problem is Indiana students entered answers that were correct, but not in CTB’s answer bank, so the online rubric marked it as wrong.

CTB now has to go back through the tests and double-check these answers so students can get credit for their correct work.

This upset many board members, including Vince Bertram, who said he was confused how the company was not prepared for this outcome.

“I would think that after years of experience and millions of tests that we would understand how a fifth grader may describe and come up with a correct answer for the perimeter of a rectangle,” Bertram said.

But Haley says Indiana is in this situation because we did not have time to field test these questions, since we developed the test so quickly after adopting new standards.

“Normally, this would all be done in your field test year when nobody was waiting for their scores, you’d have all the time in the world to look at the items, look at the rubrics, look at the student responses,” she said. “We’re doing it in the middle of an operational year.”

Because re-scoring will take more time, tacking an extra month onto the entire process, there will be delays in getting schools individual student scores.

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