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.

Reporter’s Notebook: Covering English Learners Across Indiana In 2016

Elias Rojas is a first grade teacher at West Noble Primary school in Ligonier. As one of the school’s few bilingual teachers, he volunteered to participate in the school\’s new dual language immersion program. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Elias Rojas is a first grade teacher at West Noble Primary school in Ligonier. As one of the school’s few bilingual teachers, he volunteered to participate in the school\\’s new dual language immersion program. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting).

At the very beginning of 2016, I wanted to follow up on a school funding change that went into place the year before. A previous school funding formula gave schools more money to educate high-need students, like students in special education, students who are English learners and low-income students. But, in an attempt to distribute school funding more equally, the new formula took much of that money away.

I traveled to Goshen Community Schools to look at how these cuts were affecting a district where a third of the students need English learning services. I spent a lot of time with the district’s Chief Financial Officer, and I didn’t expect it to be an emotional interview. But it was. The district lost a lot of money through the new funding formula, and he worried they might have to scale back services.

This story drew me into a topic I hadn’t covered closely yet – English language learning.

When I looked at the data, school districts with the highest percentage of English learners were mostly concentrated in rural areas, and I saw that this was an issue that wasn’t being covered. I knew small, rural school districts were also facing disproportionately larger budget problems, and English learning programs are expensive. I was also interested in the social reactions to this population, as it is a growing percentage of residents in small towns.

I became so invested that I applied and got a fellowship with the Institute for Justice in Journalism, whose 2016 program was focused on stories around immigrant children. I pitched a series of stories on different school districts serving the growing English learner population in rural Indiana.

One of my first stops was Frankfort, where the schools serve the largest percentage of English Learners in the state. Eight teachers are trying to provide English learning services to 800 kids.

Many small districts face this challenge. It often means the dedicated EL teachers don’t get as much time with the kids as they’d like:

Other teachers say they get pulled away from working with English learning students to proctor ISTEP+ exams or do lunch duty. And they all say the schools need more dedicated, certified EL teachers. But Frankfort’s Director of English Learning, Lori North, says that’s a tough ask right now.

“We had teacher cuts this year so it’s really hard for me to go and say ‘I need more EL teachers when they’re cutting general education teachers,” North says.

Another place this reporting took me to was Columbus, Ind., a larger school district, but one where the English learner population was changing. The EL teachers in the district had typically served Spanish speaking students, but because of foreign businesses moving to Columbus, more and more Japanese students were enrolling in Columbus schools.

Hiroko Murabayashi moved to Columbus, Ind. from Japan in August with her husband and two kids. They came for her husband’s job at Enkei, a Japanese wheel company with a branch in Columbus. Her children, Yoki, 9, and Rico, 7, attend Southside Elementary school in the Bartholomew County School Corporation and receive English language services. When they started the year they didn’t speak any English. (Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Hiroko Murabayashi moved to Columbus, Ind. from Japan in August with her husband and two kids. They came for her husband’s job at Enkei, a Japanese wheel company with a branch in Columbus. Her children, Yoki, 9, and Rico, 7, attend Southside Elementary school in the Bartholomew County School Corporation and receive English language services. When they started the year they didn’t speak any English. (Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

It is hard to appeal to every student’s language and cultural needs. And this frustrates some parents, who want the teachers to give their children more one-on-one attention.

While in Columbus, I met Hiroko Murabayashi, a mother of two elementary school students. They only lived in Columbus for a few months, and she was hoping her kids would spent more time learning the mechanics of English and not as much in their general studies.

This tug of war between what a school is capable of doing and what is best for a student learning English was a theme. And it’s what made this topic so interesting.

Relative to other states, Indiana’s immigrant population is small, but it’s growing quickly. This tension is not going away.

And this is something I heard so often from teachers in these schools – they don’t feel supported. They say most of the legislators who are able to allocate funds to these programs don’t understand how much work it takes to learn English.

Another thing that came up again and again – once the EL students became proficient in English, they academically outperformed native English speakers.

My last story of this series took place in Ligonier, at West Noble Primary School. This school received a grant from the Indiana Department of Education to start a dual language program. This type of program requires teachers who speak two languages, because they will teach half of their lessons in one languages and half in another.

West Noble’s population is about half Latino, and many of the students were already bilingual.

I loved rounding out the series with this story, because it showed a school that is able to embrace its diversity. When I spoke with the principal and a teacher for the dual language program, their goal is to break down social barriers and encourage all students to be bilingual.

“I want them to feel equipped with and have the mentality to have a diverse mentality,” first grade teacher Elias Rojas said. “To have them not see a minority and not say that’s a minority. That is a person.”

What Were The Top Five Education Stories Of 2016? Let’s Review

Jennifer McCormick speaks with the press on Nov. 8, 2016. (Eric Weddle/WFYI)

Jennifer McCormick speaks with the press on election night, after defeating Glenda Ritz for state superintendent. (photo credit: Eric Weddle/WFYI)

As 2016 winds down, there’s a lot to reflect on. A lot. While so much happened this year (seriously so much happened, I’m sure we blocked most of it out), we’re going to focus on the milestones of the Indiana education world: the most notable laws, conversations and changes in our classrooms.

The Ever-Evolving ISTEP+

When it comes to Indiana education, 2016 was the year of the ISTEP+. The year started with the 2016 legislative session, where lawmakers passed a bill to get rid of the ISTEP+ as it currently functions. They also created a 23-person panel to craft recommendations for its replacement.

The panel met once a month for six months, and its strategy had a broad frame. Members included teachers, principals, superintendents, legislators and state officials. This range of experience required a lot of discussion on both how standardized assessments function and how they are created.

Narrower conversations about specific changes to the test or testing administration did not take place until the the very end of the process, the second to last meeting before the Dec. 1 deadline.

The final recommendations to the legislature were broad and didn’t offer major changes to the testing system.

The fate of the new state assessment now rests with lawmakers, who will decide how much to reshape the old one. We recently heard from Sen. Dennis Kruse, the chair of the Senate education committee, that he will propose pushing back the deadline for a new test to make sure the revisions are well done.

What’s Next For State Funded Pre-K?

All year, we’ve heard many call for the state to expand its pre-K pilot program and serve more children.

State superintendent Glenda Ritz and former Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg called for universal pre-K. A group of business leaders called on the legislature to expand the current program to just low-income families, and many candidates brought it up during the election.

Universal pre-K will not be on the table, now that both Ritz and Gregg lost their respective races. But all of the talk from different groups prompted the legislature to announce they will address the issues during the next session.

So… How About That Election, Huh?

Remember that?

It has some major implications for education.

In Indiana, we elected a brand new Superintendent of Public Instruction, the state’s highest ranking education official. The publicly elected office also heads the Department of Education and chairs the Indiana State Board of Education.

In a stunning upset, relatively-unknown-on-a-statewide-level Republican Jennifer McCormick handily defeated incumbent Glenda Ritz. McCormick, current Yorktown Community Schools’ superintendent, agrees with Ritz on key issues – reforming teacher evaluations, pre-K expansion, calling for less testing.

But with a Republican as state superintendent, the change could mean fewer squabbles between the Republican-controlled Legislature and the education department.

And we can’t forget that Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is now also Vice President-elect. So, Indiana’s education policies may soon make it onto the national stage. Largely in the form of school choice. Indiana boasts the country’s most robust school choice program, with the state spending $40 million to send more than 300,000 students to private schools. President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for secretary of education, Betsy Devos, is well-known for pushing programs and laws that require public funds pay for private school tuition in the form of vouchers.

Indiana Prepares For New Federal Education Law

For those of you who have been following our blog closely, you may have noticed we’ve spent a lot of time on the country’s new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act. Fellow policy nerds (…I mean, you ARE reading an education policy blog right now…) will know ESSA was signed into law in Dec. 2015 and set to take full effect in 2017. So this year was largely – figuring out how to make sure the roll out goes smoothly.

The new education allows states more freedom to design administration and practices for rating schools and teachers, as long as they meet certain federal standards.

State leaders weighed in on it. Experts shared advice. A state panel worked to create goals for various education factors, including English language instruction, graduation rates, and student achievement on state tests.

Much of the debate surrounded a still undetermined, non-academic factor that the state will measure as a way to measure schools’ progress. That factor could include school climate, access to AP classes, chronic absenteeism or disciplinary action.

Although the federal law allows states much more flexibility in test administration, teacher evaluations and school ranking, many of these elements are already written into Indiana state law. So tweaking those things, even though ESSA allows it, would require legislators to change the law.

School Rankings Took A Dip

The 2016 school rankings showed far fewer A’s. It also showed fewer F’s. Schools from the high and low rankings moved to the middle – many more schools ranked as B’s and C’s.

A few factors led to this. A change in the way the state ranks schools now measures students’ growth in test scores from year to year, rather than whether a student passed the test or not. And last year the state held schools harmless for lower test scores. In other words, the school was awarded the higher grade between their 2014 and 2015 scores.

So 2015 scores were higher than they may have been otherwise, possibly leading to a more drastic dip in 2016.

We have a database of school test scores here.

What were your favorite stories of 2016? What should we look for in 2017? Leave your answer in the comments below.

Messer Sponsors Bill To Help Grad Students Save For Retirement

U.S. Rep. Luke Messer is sponsoring a bill that would allow graduate students receiving stipends from grants or fellowships to save part of that money for retirement.

U.S. Rep. Luke Messer is sponsoring a bill that would allow graduate students receiving stipends from grants or fellowships to save part of that money for retirement. (courtesy of Rep. Messer’s office).

Indiana Rep. Luke Messer is sponsoring a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that would allow graduate students to save portions of their fellowship and grant stipends in retirement accounts.

Democrat Elizabeth Warren and Republican Mike Lee introduced The Graduate Student Savings Act of 2016 in the Senate earlier this year, and Messer, along with Democrat Rep. Joe Kennedy, is sponsoring the companion bill in the House.

Right now, graduate students who have part-time jobs or work as research or graduate assistants can save some of their wages in an Individual Retirement Account (IRA). But students who receive a stipend, whether it is through a grant or a fellowship program, legally cannot save that money in an IRA. If passed, this bill would give graduate students that option.

The senators’ plan would allow graduate or doctoral students to take money from their stipends and contribute toward a retirement plan. And that can mean big savings in the long run. The plan would allow a student who puts away $1,500 for 5 years, or $125 a month, to earn an extra $58,000 through interest by the time they retire.

“Grad students and researchers who are studying to improve all of our futures should have the chance to invest in their own.”

Thursday was the last day of the session, so the bill will not get a vote until after they resume after the holidays.

 

 

 

 

Wayne Township Teachers Donating Small State Bonuses

State issued teacher bonuses are calculated using mainly test scores and graduation rates. The bonuses vary between districts, with teachers in more affluent areas getting a larger bonus.

State issued teacher bonuses are calculated using mainly test scores and graduation rates. The bonuses vary between districts, with teachers in more affluent areas getting a larger bonus. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/StateImpact Indiana)

After state issued teacher bonuses gave thousands more dollars to teachers in affluent districts, some teachers in Wayne Township are donating their bonuses to help other teachers.

The state uses a formula to decide how much money each school district receives to award bonuses to all teachers rated effective or highly effective.

But because that formula is mostly based on test scores and graduation rates, teachers in affluent school districts get a larger bonus – a few thousands dollars. And teachers in less affluent districts, such as Wayne Township in Indianapolis, might get around 40 dollars.

Wayne Township superintendent Jeff Butts says many of his effective and highly effective teachers are donating their $42 bonuses to a district fund that helps teachers and students.

“They’re personally going to make that donation to the Wayne Township Education Foundation so that they can continue doing the work of supporting our teachers in the classroom.”

Butts says, so far, 40 teachers in the district committed to donating the money.

Butts says he has set up meetings with legislators to discuss how this money is distributed, to hopefully change the process in the future.

(Read a letter from some Wayne Township teachers to legislators protesting the formula that distributes bonus pay).

High School Dual Credit Teaching Requirements Gets Extension

Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers led a meeting in 2015 discussing how Indiana educators can get more college education to teach dual credit courses.

Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers led a meeting in 2015 discussing how Indiana educators can get more college education to teach dual credit courses. ” credit=”Gretchen Frazee / WTIU News

The Higher Learning Commission, a regional accreditor working on behalf of the federal government, granted Indiana an extension on new requirements for dual credit teachers, giving the state until 2022 to meet new requirements.

The HLC passed changes for the credentials high school teachers that teach dual-credit courses that were supposed to go into effect in 2017. The changes said a high school teacher teaching a dual credit class, a high school class that also earns a student college credit, must have a master’s degree that includes 18 credit hours in the subject they teach. This means a high school teacher teaching advanced Biology can’t just get a master’s degree in education, but also complete multiple classes in Biology.

The new requirements raised concerns in the education community, as it was estimated 71 percent of Indiana’s dual credit teachers, teaching more than 45,000 students, wouldn’t meet the new requirements.

The extension from the HLC gives Indiana teachers until September 2022 to meet the new requirements.

In the last few years, state superintendent Glenda Ritz and Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers have called on the legislature to provide funding so teachers can afford to take these college classes and meet the requirements.

During last year’s legislative session, the General Assembly passed a bill saying they would study ways to make these requirements easier for teachers to reach. But the bill allocated no money to pay for these classes, just makes a scholarship or tuition break possible.

Indiana schools are required to offer dual credit classes to students, but currently do not provide assistance for teachers to obtain advanced degrees.

Lubbers said in a statement Tuesday she is glad the state received approval of the extension.

“We are pleased that the accreditor has granted our colleges this extra time to ensure Indiana’s teachers have sufficient time to meet these new requirements,” Lubbers said. “We will spend the next five years working to make certain all Hoosier students continue to have access to high-quality dual credit opportunities.”

The legislature may pick up the issue during the budget session that begins Jan. 3.

What To Expect From A Pre-K Expansion This Legislative Session

Students at a Jump Start program in Seymour work with their teacher on learning the alphabet.

Students at a Jump Start program in Seymour work with their teacher on learning the alphabet. Seymour was one community where the current state funded pre-k program offered scholarships to low-income families. (photo credit: Rachel Morello / StateImpact Indiana)

When the General Assembly convenes for the 2017 legislative session, expanding state funded pre-K will be a top priority.

Legislative leaders have already said they are motivated to expand the pilot program, On My Way Pre-K, which provides tuition scholarships to a limited number of low-income 4-year-olds – 1,792 are enrolled this year.

There are still questions about how far the expansion will go, but details are slowly starting to emerge.

The Current State Pre-K Program

In 2013, the General Assembly passed a bill allocating $10 million to a new pilot program that gives scholarships to low income four-year-olds to attend a high quality preschool program.

On My Way Pre-K went into effect in January 2015, in Allen, Lake, Marion and Vanderburgh Counties. The fifth county selected to offer the scholarships, Jackson, launched its program in July 2015.

The program gives families a voucher they can use to attend any high quality preschool in their town. The Family and Social Services Administration oversees the program, and makes sure every provider involved is rated a Level 3 or 4 on the state’s Paths to Quality system, the two highest rankings.

In the counties where the program launched, the demand far outpaced available spots, showing families wanted this opportunity for their kids but weren’t able to afford it.

Since On My Way Pre-K began in January 2015, it has served 3,702 children in the five counties, and advocacy groups and business leaders have called for an expansion. Legislative leaders agree, but there will likely be debate over what the expansion should look like.

The Request From Early Education Advocates

Through this past year State Supt. Glenda Ritz and former Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg called for universal pre-K, free preschool for all 4-year-olds in the state. This is something that we are not likely to see, however, as neither were elected.

A more likely option is an expansion of the scholarship program. Earlier this summer, a group of business leaders and advocates called for this. The United Way of Central Indiana is also an advocate.

“Four is a critical time,” says Christina Hage, vice president of public policy for UWCI. “Before the age of 5, 85 percent of your brain is developed. If these children are arriving at kindergarten and unable to do the basic skills, then they’re already behind. And there are studies after studies that show it is very difficult to catch up.” Continue Reading

2016 A-F Grades Released, Show Fewer As And Fs, More Bs and Cs

The State Board of Education approved school A-F grades for the 2015-2016 school year Tuesday. It reports a sharp decline in the number of schools receiving As and higher numbers receiving Bs or Cs.

A-F grades are mainly calculated using ISTEP+ scores, but this is the first year the grades were calculated with a new formula. The new formula prioritizes student growth on the test, rather than whether a student passed the test.

The grades released today show fewer As, much more Bs and Cs, and slightly higher Ds and Fs. But Ritz says this new system is more fair for schools with low ISTEP+ passing rates.

“So I don’t believe the system actually makes it harder or easier for any school,” Ritz says. “I think we have a total emphasis now on the growth of every child, no matter where the child performs.”

Tuesday was Ritz’s last meeting as state superintendent, and Superintendent-elect Jennifer McCormick will chair the next meeting in January. McCormick says looking to the future of A-F grades, she wants to take advantage of any changes allowed under the new federal law, the Every Student Succeeds Act.

“With ESSA, we have an opportunity to move forward with that and maybe take a deeper dive to help us,” says McCormick. “We’ll take advantage of that and see what ESSA brings and allows.”

Last year, the SBOE voted to change how they awarded A-F grades, after ISTEP+ scores across the state dropped dramatically. They awarded schools the higher grade between the 2014 and 2015 calculation, which may be why we’re seeing more Ds and Fs this year.

Schools have 30 days to appeal their grades. After all appeals are settled, the DOE will release A-F grades for districts.

Having trouble seeing the database? Click here.

State Board To Approve School A-F Grades At Tomorrow’s Meeting

The State Board of Education meets Tuesday for its monthly meeting. It will approve the A-F grades for schools for the year.

The State Board of Education meets Tuesday for its monthly meeting. It will approve the A-F grades for schools for the year. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/StateImpact Indiana)

State officials will approve 2015-16 school A-F grades Tuesday when the Indiana State Board of Education meets for its last meeting of the year .

As of right now, A-F scores are mostly calculated based on ISTEP+ scores, which, for the second year in a row, dropped.

During the 2015-16 school year, 52 percent of students passed both the English language arts and math portions of the test — a one percentage point drop from the year prior.

The 2015-16 school year was the second year of an updated version of ISTEP+, and the first year with the education company Pearson administering the test. In 2014-15, when the test was brand new, the education board voted to hold schools harmless for their A-F grades. That meant schools’ scores wouldn’t drop if they performed lower than they did in 2013-14.

Superintendents from around the state asked the board at its November meeting for a hold harmless provision again this year, but the board said that isn’t possible due to federal requirements.

We will have a full database of A-F scores posted tomorrow.

The board meets at Tuesday Dec. 13th at 9 a.m. in the State House, Room 125.

Students At Indiana’s Universities Rallying For Sanctuary Campuses

Students at Indiana University and the University of Notre Dame are appealing to administration, asking to make the schools a sanctuary campus for undocumented students.

Students at Indiana University and the University of Notre Dame are appealing to administration, asking to make the schools a sanctuary campus for undocumented students. (photo credit: Kyle Stokes/StateImpact Indiana)

After the election of president-elect Donald Trump in November, college students around the state began asking their universities to become “sanctuary campuses.” This means university officials would not comply with immigration officials when it came to deportations or raids.

A week after the election, students at the University of Notre Dame staged a walk-out and protest calling for the sanctuary status at the school.

WNDU in South Bend reported on other demands in a petitions signed by students and faculty:

1. Declare Notre Dame to be a sanctuary campus that will actively refuse to comply with immigration authorities regarding deportations or raids.

2. Guarantee student privacy by refusing to release information regarding the immigration status of our students and community members to any government agency.

3. Create an undocumented student program, with a full-time director, and free on-campus access to legal counsel. Create funds to assist undocumented students (and faculty, staff and students with family members) in need.

4. Assure that all students receive a campus, classroom and community experience free of hostilities, aggressions and bullying regarding immigration status. Communicate unequivocally and repeatedly that undocumented students are full members of the Notre Dame community who will be protected to the fullest power of the administration.

5. In line with the Catholic tradition of providing sanctuary to the persecuted, identify particular spaces on campus where those who feel threatened can seek refuge and protection.

Similar requests are being made at Indiana University, when students asked provost Lauren Robel to make a similar distinction. But the Indiana Daily Student at Indiana University reports this looks unlikely:

Robel met with the UndocuHoosiers Alliance on Nov. 28 after they delivered demands on Nov. 16 to her and IU President Michael McRobbie to meet with them and discuss how they will support undocumented students when Donald Trump takes office.

Robel said she thinks the possibility of opposing immigration officials being able to execute immigration law on the IU campus is an unwise step for a number of reasons because of her concern for IU students.

“So, I think the position we’ve taken is we will do everything that is legally within our power to protect our students and we do everything that we do with our students interest in mind, not with political statements in mind,” Robel said.

State Superintendent-Elect McCormick Announces Transition Team

Jennifer McCormick speaks with the press on Nov. 8, 2016. (Eric Weddle/WFYI)

Jennifer McCormick speaks with the press on Nov. 8, after she defeated current State Superintendent Glenda Ritz. (photo credit: Eric Weddle/WFYI)

State superintendent-elect Jennifer McCormick announced her transition team Friday. The 17-person team will help McCormick is hiring her cabinet at the Department of Education and preparing her new administration. She takes office Jan. 9.

The transition team consists of many public school principals, superintendents and leaders in higher education.

“I am excited and honored to work with such a dynamic and diverse group,” McCormick said in a statement. “The team’s commitment to Hoosier students will drive critical decision-making which will ultimately impact Indiana’s education system and ensure Indiana has one of the best Departments of Education in the nation.”

Here is the full list of McCormick’s transition team:

Dr. Brad Balch – Professor and Dean Emeritus, Indiana State University, Department of Educational Leadership

Dr. Todd Bess – Executive Director, Indiana Association of School Principals

Mr. Wes Bruce – Education and Assessment Consultant

Dr. Jeff Butts – President-Elect, Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents

Rep. Tony Cook – Republican, Cicero

Mr. Denny Costerison – Executive Director, Indiana Association of School Business Officials

Dr. Scot Croner – Superintendent, Blackford County Schools

Mr. Steve Edwards (Transition Team Chair) - Retired Superintendent and Education Consultant, Administrator Assistance

Dr. Nancy Holsapple – Executive Director, Old National Trail Special Services Inter-Local

Mr. David Holt – Chief Financial Officer, MSD Warren Township

Dr. Lee Ann Kwiatkowski – Member, State Board of Education

Mr. Micah Maxwell – Executive Director, Boys & Girls Club of Muncie

Dr. Hardy Murphy – Executive Director, Indiana Urban Schools Association and Clinical Professor of Education, IUPUI, IU School of Education

Mrs. Kathryn Raasch – Principal, Wayne Township Preschool

Mr. Terry Spradlin – Director of Community and Governmental Relations, Education Networks of America

Mrs. Lisa Tanselle – General Counsel, Indiana School Boards Association

Mrs. Kelly Wittman – Executive Principal, Max S. Hayes Career & Technical High School of MSD Cleveland

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