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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$50 Million State Voucher Program Continues To Grow

The Department of Education released its annual choice scholarship program report Thursday, showing participation in the scholarship continues to grow, with almost three percent of students statewide using the scholarships to attend a private school. More than 32,000 students now use scholarships, up from around 4,000 students the first year, 2011-2012.

The choice scholarship program passed the General Assembly in 2011, and the 2011-2012 school year was the first time scholarships were awarded. The scholarships, funded by the state, allow low income students to enroll in private schools.

The 2015 General Assembly allocated up to $50 million for the program for the next two years.

Below are the seven ways a student can qualify for a scholarship. During the first year of the scholarship, the first two ways were the only choices. For the 2012-2013 school year, the legislature added the third. The 2013-2014 school year was the first year all seven pathways were available.

The income requirements are based on free/reduced lunch levels. For a family of four, the 150% level is $67,294 a year and the 200% level is $89,725.

1. After attending a public school for two semesters before receiving scholarship. Family must have an income equal to or below 150% of what it takes to qualify for free/reduced lunch.

2. Received a scholarship from a different state approved organization. Family must have an income equal to or below 150% of what it takes to qualify for free/reduced lunch.

3. Received a choice scholarship previously (doesn’t have to be consecutive). Family must have an income equal to or below 150% of what it takes to qualify for free/reduced lunch.

4. Student received a choice scholarship the previous year. Family must have an income equal to or below 200% of what it takes to qualify for free/reduced lunch.

5. Student requires special education classes and has an individualized education plan. Family must have an income equal to or below 200% of what it takes to qualify for free/reduced lunch.

6. The public school the student would be required to attend has an F on the state accountability system. Family must have an income equal to or below 150% of what it takes to qualify for free/reduced lunch.

7. Student has a sibling that received a choice scholarship the previous year. Family must have an income equal to or below 150% of what it takes to qualify for free/reduced lunch.

The scholarships pay for either 50 percent or 90 percent of tuition, depending on the family’s income. For the 2015-2016 school year, 69 percent of the participants received a 90 percent voucher and 31 percent received a 50 percent one.


State Of Higher Education Address Focuses On Internships And Jobs

Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers  says universities need to make a bigger effort to help students find internships while in school.

Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers says universities need to make a bigger effort to help students find internships while in school. (photo credit: Claire McInerny).

Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers delivered the fourth annual State of Higher Education Address Wednesday, highlighting the goals for the Commission for the next year.

Lubbers says higher education is more important than ever for Hoosiers and says the Commission’s focus remains on making sure more Hoosiers receive credentials past high school, and making sure those credentials are meaningful.

The Commission’s goal is to get 60 percent of Hoosiers to earn some sort of credential past high school by 2025. Currently, that number sits at 36 percent, 41 percent if you count certifications.

Lubbers says going into the next year, the Commission will focus on making sure a degree or credentials earned from an Indiana institution has value.

She says rather than earning a degree based on credits, the Commission wants to work with employers to make sure credits earned also means earned knowledge about practical job skills. To do this, she says universities must make a bigger effort to help students get internships while in school.

“We know that internships are the number one college experience that leads to a job. And one of the best and most effective ways to reduce Indiana’s brain drain,” Lubbers said. “Yet too too few college programs include an internship as part of earning a degree.”

Lubbers also shared early findings from the Gallup-Indiana survey, a college graduate satisfaction survey, a new poll looking at the satisfaction of public Indiana universities.

The survey asked alumni from Indiana’s private and public universities about their experience at these schools, with what Lubbers calls “well being” questions.

Early results of 8,000 alums show overall satisfaction with their experience, but Lubbers wants to address areas like finding jobs and internships for those that were unsatisfied.

“It shows that the value to a graduate in Indiana is higher than the national average,” Lubbers says. “We’re going to align the Gallup results with our strategic plan.”

Full results from this report are not yet available.

Education Leaders Weigh In On ESSA For Indiana

State Board of Education member Byron Ernest spent time in Washington D.C. learning about the Every Student Succeeds Act and how it will affect education in Indiana.

State Board of Education member Byron Ernest spent time in Washington D.C. learning about the Every Student Succeeds Act and how it will affect education in Indiana. (photo credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana).

Last week, state superintendent Glenda Ritz and State Board of Education member Byron Ernest went to D.C. for separate national conferences to learn what the new education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (the re-write of No Child Left Behind) could meant here at home.

The national conferences align with ongoing federal negotiations that aim to translate ESSA’s broader mandates to the more specific changes that will be applied in each state.

Even though these national negotiations are still happening, Ritz and Ernest say they can already identify a few changes coming to Indiana’s education system.


ESSA updates how a state holds a school accountable. In Indiana, we use the A-F system for schools, and right now, elementary and middle school grades are mainly based on ISTEP+ scores .

The new federal law says grading criteria needs to be more diverse, and one of the new measures of accountability has to do with school culture.

“I really like a component where you look at the school culture,” Ernest says.

He has spent a lot of his career as an educator working with failing schools and creating plans for how to improve them. While no one yet knows how school culture will be measured, he says a supportive culture contributes to success, and he is glad to see this added to the law.

“You’d like to have a part of an accountability system that really takes a look at – are you doing the things that, I always use this term, make it a real school?” Ernest says.

Another measurement that will be added into the system has to do with English language learners. Right now, students receiving English language services take a test to show their progress learning the language. Growth on this test will now be added as a measure to a school’s performance. This means that a school with a high number of English language learners and lower ISTEP+ scores  could still get a decent overall grade if their ELL education program is succeeding.


ESSA continues the current annual assessment for grades three through eight. It also offers a new option – computer adaptive testing. This type of test adjusts as a student takes it: Each answer determines each next question.

This gives students a more individualized assessment, rather than every student in the state taking the same test.

Superintendent Ritz says she would like to use this for Indiana’s assessment.

“That’s a type of assessment I’d like to be moving toward,” Ritz says. “It will give us not only information about where children do perform but actually show us growth over time.”

The group of federal negotiators must find consensus in the next few weeks. If they do not produce a final set of ESSA regulations, the U.S. Department of Education will create them.

Guest Blog: The Surprising Loneliness of Teaching

Sara Draper is a second grade teacher at Helmsburg Elementary School in Brown County.

Sara Draper is a second grade teacher at Helmsburg Elementary School in Brown County. (photo credit: Alexander McCall). 

Sara Draper is a second grade teacher at Helmsburg Elementary School in Brown County. We are following her as part of The First Year series, which follows three Indiana teachers through their first year in the classroom. She wrote this blog as a contribution to this series. 

When I thought about my first job in a classroom, I looked forward to working with students and seeing breakthroughs in their learning each and every day. I also looked forward to collaborating with other teachers and working on ways to become a better teacher.

One thing I have realized so far in the year is how most days, I don’t have the opportunity to talk with other teachers beyond a quick question or “hi” in the hallway.  At the beginning of the year, I always worked through my half hour allotted for lunch.  I quickly realized that would not be sustainable throughout the year.  On days where my kids have no specials, that half-hour is the only time spent conversing with other adults. Once, I even took a restroom break on one of those days, just hoping I would run into another adult!  I was surprised how much I just wanted to talk about how my day was going and see how everyone else’s day was going, too.

I often wish there was another adult in the room when a student says something hilarious (that I really should not laugh at) or is behaving in a way that is just unbelievable. Whenever I describe a situation, I never feel like I can do it justice! For example, when one of my students is upset and rolls under the carpet, or pretends to take a shower behind the shower curtain covering a cabinet I just can’t explain how ridiculous it actually looked!

I do not feel like other people can truly know what the day-to-day life of a teacher is until they experience it.

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National Labor Board Will Look At Grad Student Unionization

Graduate students at Purdue want to form a labor union, and a similar movement is happening around the country at private universities.

Graduate students at Purdue want to form a labor union, and a similar movement is happening around the country at private universities. (photo credit: Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana)

Last week, we wrote about a group of Purdue graduate students petitioning to be considered university employees so they could create a labor union. The students want to form a union so they can collectively bargain benefits, wages and grieve unfair labor practices.

Our story found that students at Purdue, and any state university in Indiana, might have a hard time organizing a union because of a state law that prohibit state employees from collective bargaining.

NPR’s Yuki Noguchi did a story this week looking at a movement from graduate students at private universities in New York City to form labor unions. Her reporting found the National Labor Relations Board will reconsider its previous decision that wouldn’t allow them to form such unions.

With respect to private universities, the National Labor Relations Board has flip-flopped in its policy. For decades, it held that students were not employees, then ruled in favor of students in a case in 2000. Under a new administration, the board reversed itself again four years later. Now, students at Columbia and The New School are petitioning for another change.

John Logan, a labor and employment professor at San Francisco State University, says the shifts are tied largely to the political makeup of the board.

“When we get a new administration and the composition of the board changes, then sometimes you get this process of policy oscillation where the pendulum swings from one side to the other,” Logan says.

Meanwhile, he says, grad students’ interest in unionization continues to grow.

Aaron Nisenson, counsel at the American Association of University Professors (which has an affiliated union), argues that unions in higher education are increasingly necessary, as universities — like private corporations — rely more on cheaper labor.

“Everybody starting in a professional career can get some experience at a new job, but that doesn’t make it not a job,” Nisenson says. “Universities more broadly have been pushing a lot of the work towards contingent faculty, towards graduate assistants and towards other non-tenure track faculty.”

The National Labor Board didn’t say when it would make its decision, but it is only determining whether students at private universities, not public, can form unions.

IU Class Teaching Prisoners And Undergrads Won’t Continue

An IU class offered to undergraduate students and prison inmates will not continue after this semester.

An IU class offered to undergraduate students and prison inmates will not continue after this semester. (photo credit: Barbara Brosher/WTIU News)

A public speaking class at Indiana University-Bloomington that enrolled undergraduate students and prisoners at the Monroe County jail will not continue after this semester.

The class is part of a national program, called Inside Out, which trains university instructors to work in prisons and jails. The class can be in any discipline as long as a main focus of the class is a social justice issue in the local community.

The Inside Out classes at IU were public speaking and Deliberative Democracy, a class focused on politics and community organizing. Lindsey Badger, a Ph.D candidate in the Department of Communication and Culture, taught these classes after being trained by the national Inside Out team. She says her students have looked at social issues in Bloomington including police practices and fair housing practices for people with criminal records. The students choose a big issue and try to find a tangible way to address the issue.

“We stage public meetings, we have students go to city and county council, we have them put together packets to distribute to local non-profits,” Badger says. “They hold community meetings both in the jail and out in the communities that are topical.”

Because Badger is a graduate student, the College of Arts and Sciences can only fund her teaching this class for up to four years, which is why this specific section of public speaking won’t be offered after the current semester.

But College of Arts and Sciences spokesperson Deborah Galyan says it doesn’t have to end long term. Another graduate student who completes the Inside Out training could apply for funding.

“It can’t be taught by just any graduate student associate instructor, and at the moment, there are no graduate students who have proposed to teach this course or a similar course,” Galyan says. “The College would certainly take such a course proposal under consideration, just as it would other proposals from its graduate student associate instructors.”

Inside Out founder and Temple University criminal justice professor Lori Pompa says continuing this class helps an entire community. She says the students living outside jail gain a new perspective on their community, but the students in the jail often gain confidence. She says many had a negative experience with school, and this class helps change that perspective on education.

“So what they have is this incredible educational experience through the Inside Out program and it enlivens people,” Pompa says. “It gets people in touch with how smart they are, how capable they are how creative they can be.”

Editor’s Note: Although the program at Indiana University in Bloomington is expected to end this semester, ongoing Inside-Out programs are taught by regular full-time faculty members at at least 7 other Indiana universities.

No Child Left Behind Update Will Soon Come To Indiana

There’s a new federal education law coming to town. It’s the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the updated version of George W. Bush’s federal education law, No Child Left Behind. Since ESSA was introduced, states have been waiting to learn how it will affect local schools, and it looks like that time is soon.

After Congress passed an updated version of the No Child Left Behind law, called the Every Student Succeeds Act, states have been waiting on the details to know how it will affect local testing and accountability measures.

If you recall, No Child Left Behind, passed in 2002, was the education law that mandated standardized testing exist for students in grades three through eight and once in high school. It also created the current accountability system for schools and teachers.

When Congress set out to re-write those regulations, they aimed to write a law that gives states more control on how they test students and hold them accountable. A lot of the major criticisms of No Child Left Behind, like annual testing and high stakes accountability measures, are still in place. But now, states could have more flexibility to determine what testing and accountability look like in their state.

The exact logistics are still up in the air. In the last few weeks, educators from around the country convened to work with the U.S. Department of Education to create solid guidelines for states.

These discussions led the USED to release a draft Friday of regulations having to do with testing and federal education funding.

In terms of testing, EdWeek’s Politics K-12 blog summarizes some of the draft regulations proposed by the USED:

Computer-Adaptive tests: Under the regulations, computer-adaptive tests used for accountability would have to be able to determine whether a student is on grade level. The department released similar language ahead of the negotiations.

Eighth grade math tests: Under the proposed regulations, students who take a higher-level math test for accountability purposes (say, an Algebra test, usually given to high schoolers) must be given access to accommodations if they are English language learners, or students in special education. What’s more, the state has to show that all students have the opportunity to be prepared for and take advanced math in middle school. It’s unclear how that will fly with negotiators. Some, including Tony Evers, the state superintendent in Wisconsin, worried that requiring states to make sure everyone has access to advanced math might be too big a burden.

Local high school assessment: ESSA allows districts to substitute a “nationally recognized test” for accountability purposes at the local level, instead of the state exam, but the law doesn’t say what a nationally recognized test is, exactly. The draft regs define it as any test used for college entrance (i.e. the SAT or ACT) or any test that’s been designed for the purpose of college placement. That would seem to allow PARCC and Smarter Balanced tests, federally-funded tests aligned to the Common Core State Standards, to be part of the mix. States would also have to ensure appropriate accommodations for students in special education and English-language learners,something states using the ACT and SAT for accountability have struggled with. (Negotiators really stressed this issue during discussions late last month.)

Tests for Students with Disabilities: Under ESSA, states can give alternative tests for students with the most-severe cognitive disabilities to 1 percent of special education students. It’s not clear how this will work on a district-by-district basis, so the proposed regs outline circumstances where a district might go over the cap. (For instance, if health programs and schools in the area have noticed a lot of kids with severe cognitive disabilities.) ESSA also allows states to seek a waiver from that requirement, and proposed regs make it clear what steps states need to go through to get that waiver. (A state can’t, for example, start really ramping up the number of alternative tests it gives, and expect to get a waiver unless its population has changed significantly.) What’s more, the proposed regulations open the door for a subcommittee of negotiators to define “severe cognitive disabilities”—something that generated controversy among negotiators.

Tests for English-Language Learners: The proposed regulations say states need to come up with a common test to measure English-language proficiency. And states need to make it clear that they must do more to spell out how they are developing tests for students in their native languages.

The other area with new regulations is called supplement-not-supplant. This means USED want funds given to schools with disadvantaged students, to supplement state funds, not be the sole funding source.

The regulations around this topic let states choose how to report how they distribute federal funds, say states must allocate its own money to students with disabilities and English learners, and give discretion on the timeline for reporting.

The group of local educators working with the USED to create ESSA regulations reconvenes Wednesday.

While this summit is happening, a few other education conferences are meeting in D.C. this week, and ESSA implementation is a major agenda item. This includes the Council of Chief State School Officers’ meeting (state superintendent Glenda Ritz is attending) and the National Association of State Boards of Education (which SBOE member Byron Ernest is attending).

Here are a few people tweeting from these conferences, if you want to follow along the next few days:


Purdue Students’ Attempt To Form Labor Union An Uphill Battle

The Purdue Bell Tower on the West Lafayette campus.

The Purdue Bell Tower on the West Lafayette campus. (photo credit: Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana)

A group of graduate students at Purdue are attempting to form a labor union so they can collectively bargain benefits, wages and grieve unfair labor practices.

Michelle Campbell is a doctoral student in literary studies at Purdue, and says many graduate students work for the university teaching undergraduate classes or work in research labs. Campbell says the doubling of responsibilities makes being a graduate student employee confusing.

“When you’re in that position — where you’re boss might also be your adviser — that creates a lot of gray area about what are your rights as a student versus your rights as an employee,” Campbell says. “We definitely know that we’re learning as students. But we’re also employees, and it’s important to have contracts, rights and responsibilities, not only for the employee but for the employer. Currently those types of protections are not available.”

She also says a union would help the large number of international students working on graduate degrees at Purdue. Many international students are able to come to the United States under a student visa, and would be deported if they lost that visa. Because of that, she says many international graduate students don’t want to confront a boss they work for at the university in fear of losing a place in a program.

But creating a union would be hard for this group, according to Joe Varga, assistant professor for labor studies at Indiana University.

A law enacted under former governor Mitch Daniels prohibits state employees from collective bargaining. If the Purdue students got their status changed from students to workers, they would then be considered public employees because Purdue is a state university.

“They really don’t have much legal ground to stand on,” Varga says.

While graduate student unions are a common practice in other states, including neighboring Illinois and Michigan, Varga says they had an easier road than public university students in Indiana will.

“Most graduate student unions are in public universities in states where they don’t have laws restricting whether they can do that,” Varga says.

Campbell says she and other interested students will spend the summer having general union meetings and planning before launching a full membership drive in the fall.

Program Offering Free STEM Training To Dual Credit Teachers Sees High Demand

Dual credit teachers teaching STEM classes can take free graduate level classes at private universities in the state, thanks to a new grant from the Independent Colleges of Indiana.

Dual credit teachers teaching STEM classes can take free graduate level classes at private universities in the state, thanks to a new grant from the Independent Colleges of Indiana. (photo credit: Elle Moxley / StateImpact Indiana)

Indiana educators teaching classes in science, technology, engineering or math have the opportunity to take free graduate or undergraduate classes through a grant from the Independent Colleges of Indiana.

The ICI grant provides more than $2 million in tuition for teachers to take STEM related undergraduate or graduate courses and workshops at private universities in Indiana.

ICI President Richard Ludwick says the organization wanted to give dual credit teachers a cost effective opportunity to meet new requirements put forth by the Higher Learning Commission.

The Higher Learning Commission, an accreditation group that works with many states, changed requirements for dual credit teachers last year. It now requires these teachers to have a masters degree and at least 18 credit hours in the subject area they teach.

These requirements affect thousands of teachers in Indiana teaching high school classes that double as college credit. Ludwick says his organization wanted to help some of these dual credit teachers because it is a costly requirement change from the HLC.

“We consider it a socially responsible cause,” Ludwick says.

The ICI asked the state legislature to fund the grant, and received the $2 million last year. This funding is expected to last about four semesters, but Ludwick says he is already looking for ways to make it a sustainable program.

“We’re approaching foundations to say this is a real need that our communities have, and we’re providing a cost effective solution,” Ludwick says.

The program started this past semester, and Ludwick says it’s already enrolled more than 300 teachers. There is high demand, with the summer courses already on a wait list, meaning future semesters will likely have an enrollment cap.

How Do New Teachers Balance School And Personal Life?


First year teacher Gabe Hoffman is working to find balance between his duties as a teacher and coach, as well as making time for himself, his girlfriend and his family. (photo credit: Peter Balonon-Rosen).

It’s been a taxing few weeks for the Gabe Hoffman and his third graders at Nora Elementary School in Indianapolis.

“We just got done with ISTEP, we just got done with IREAD, we have ISTEP one more time,” he says. “So there’s a lot of stress in being a third grade teacher at this time in the year.”

The majority of Gabe’s class have special learning plans or are English Language Learners. At the beginning of the year, he spent 12+ hours at school, and time on the weekends grading and preparing lessons. He says, after a semester of that, he needed a change.

“My New Year’s Resolution was not to stay at school past 5:30.”

He wanted to watch sport again, go to Pacers’ games and make more time to see his girlfriend – who is also a teacher. Chelsea Brothers is an Algebra 1 teacher at Southport High School, also in Indianapolis.

They’ve been together for six and a half years, mostly long distance, but this year, both living in Indianapolis, has been one of the hardest. They’re navigating their first years in the classroom, and often, doing it together.

“We do grading together, planning together,” Brothers says. “If we can do that together it helps us have more time together.”

Then he made his new year’s resolution, became more efficient, and started leaving school earlier. Gabe says this winter they got in a rhythm and were seeing each other more than ever.

“Then I decided to coach a month and a half ago, and now we’re back to never seeing each other again,” he says.

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