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.

With A New Superintendent, Which Policies Hang In The Balance?

On Nov. 8, 2016 Republican Jennifer McCormick beat Democrat incumbent Glenda Ritz for the position of state superintendent of public instruction. (Eric Weddle/WFYI)

On Nov. 8, 2016 Republican Jennifer McCormick beat Democrat incumbent Glenda Ritz for the position of state superintendent of public instruction. (photo credit: Eric Weddle/WFYI)

With Jennifer McCormick’s defeat of current State Superintendent Glenda Ritz on Tuesday, the Ritz administration now has two more months in office. McCormick will be sworn in in January.

The unexpected election result came in the middle of huge education policy transitions in the state.  Responsibility for that will transfer from Ritz’s administration to a new, unknown administration under McCormick.

The creation of a new state assessment

Last legislative session, the General Assembly passed a law scrapping the ISTEP in its current form. The law also created a panel of educators and stakeholders to create recommendations for a new statewide test. This panel has met for the last six months, hearing from experts across the country about best practices for creating an assessment.

While the panel will submit its final recommendations to the General Assembly by Dec. 1, the Legislature will ultimately decide how to move forward. Superintendent-elect McCormick says she hopes they look to her and her department for guidance for this huge education legislation.

As she transitions from her current job as superintendent of Yorktown Schools, she will have a surrogate attend the second to last ISTEP panel meeting. She plans to be at the very last one, where the final plan is submitted.

School funding

The 2017 General Assembly is a budget session, which happens every other year. Over 50 percent of the Indiana’s budget funds education. McCormick campaigned on similar policies to current state superintendent Ritz. She says more state funding should go to public schools, especially schools educating students with more needs.

In 2015, the Legislature updated the school funding formula to make the funding more equal across the board. But schools with high numbers of students living in poverty received around the same state funding as schools with more well-off students.

This year, the Legislature has the opportunity to tweak that formula. No legislators have said they plan to overhaul it, though.

Because McCormick’s belief on funding don’t exactly match other Republicans in the General Assembly, she’s interested to see how she and the Legislature will work together.

“I’m realistic that we are not always going to agree on items and that will take communication and being willing to listen,” McCormick says. “I plan to be a voice in making sure my agenda is brought forward. Mine will represent a lot of concern from the field, because I think that’s one area that’s obviously not been heard for a while.”

Compliance to the new federal education law

Last year, President Obama signed into las a new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaces No Child Left Behind. It’s an education law that gives states much more freedom with how they test students and rate schools and teachers.

The Ritz administration has worked all year on a plan for how Indiana will comply with ESSA and use its new freedoms. Up until Tuesday, they planned to submit this to the federal government by March.

McCormick and Ritz are meeting next week to discuss the transition, including how to move forward with the ESSA plan. She says she will ask Ritz for an update on on the plan thus far, but also has other questions in mind.

“Now that we have a new president-elect, what happens with ESSA?” McCormick says. “What happens to those timelines for submission for the state, so I’m watching that carefully as well.”

Transition plans

During the meeting next week with Ritz, McCormick also plans to talk to Ritz about staffing the Department of Education. She says she does not plan to completely overhaul the department, but will conduct an internal audit and decide how to go forward with retaining or hiring staff.

During the campaign, Ritz supporters criticized McCormick saying if elected she would be a return to the Tony Bennett era. But McCormick says the fact that she is a career educator rather than a career politician makes her different.

“I understand educators being nervous about change,” McCormick says. “I’m hoping that teachers and educators … will give us a chance. I think within six months to a year people will begin to relax and feel comfortable.”

All But One School Referenda Questions Pass

Voters passed 9 of 10 school referenda posed on ballots around the state Tuesday, raising property taxes to help fund local schools.

The Gary Community Schools referendum is the only one that failed, with the ballot measure falling 321 votes short of passing.

The overwhelming passage of these referenda is a surprise to Larry DeBeour, an economist based at Purdue who studies local taxes.

“Until now, the referenda in May always did better than the referenda in November,” DeBeour says.

DeBeour says the biggest advantage that nine of the ten districts had was they posed these questions before and knew what it would take to get voters to raise taxes.

“Those who know they can’t win don’t even try,” DeBeour says.

Eight school districts posed 10 different referenda questions on ballots around the state, asking voters to increase property taxes to help fund local schools.

There are two types of referenda questions: construction and tax levees. Construction referenda seek money to fund a specific project like a school renovation. Tax levees contribute to the district’s general fund, which pays for teachers, utilities and other expenses.

[Here’s a list of all referenda posed on ballots and what the districts are asking.]

Why Is Voting Important? We Asked Some Future Voters

As Hoosiers headed to the polls Nov. 8, many voters brought along their kids. In Monroe County, public schools gave kids the day off, meaning many elementary school students came with their parents to watch them vote. We talked to some of these future voters about the importance of casting your ballot.

Keegan Donovan, 6 and three quarters

Keegan Donovan went to Binford Elementary School in Bloomington where his dad voted.

Keegan Donovan went to Binford Elementary School in Bloomington where his dad voted. He voted in a school election that day before. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

“I think [voting] is really important,” Donovan says. “You will want the person that you want to be president. It would be unfair if it came to the president you didn’t want and there wasn’t an election.”

Lorelei Jaffe, 6-years-old

Lorelei Jaffe went to vote with her mom. She brought along the book "White House Dog", and when asked if a dog would make a good president? "I guess so."

Lorelei Jaffe voted with her mom Tuesday, and brought along the book “White House Dog.” When asked if a dog would make a good president? “I guess so. But a dog would make a crazy president.” (photo credit: Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting.)

“The president has to rule the world after you vote,” Jaffe says. “And they live all the way in America. That’s far away, you could take four planes to get there, I don’t know.”

Graham Mackaywhite, 9-years-old

Graham and Allister LAST NAME voted with their parents Tuesday morning.

Graham and Alistair Mackaywhite voted with their parents Tuesday morning. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting).

“You want to get as much voters on your side as you can,” Mackaywhite says. “Or else you lose the election and your rival becomes president. And that’s not something you want.”

Ballot Referenda Are Becoming More Important For Schools

Monroe County Schools is one of nine school referenda questions asking voters to raise property taxes to fund schools.

Monroe County Schools is one of nine school referenda questions asking voters to raise property taxes to fund schools. (photo credit: JD Gray/WTIU News).

Voters around the state will see questions at the bottom of their ballot asking for an increase to property taxes to fund local schools. Ballot referenda have become more and more popular in the last decade as funding streams for schools changed.

School referendum questions became a common ballot measure in Indiana back in 2008, after the legislature voted to enact property tax caps. The caps were written into the state constitution, and the amendment says the government may not collect taxes equaling more than one percent of an owner occupied residence, two percent for other residential properties and three percent for all other properties.

But school districts used to depend on property tax money. Without it, many turned to referenda to supplement. After years of posing referenda questions, many school districts have come to depend on this revenue stream.

Monroe County School Corporation is posing a referendum, and as WFIU reports it would continue to fund the district, which was receiving property taxes after a 2010 referendum.

MCCSC school board member David Sabbagh says the new rate is less than what was asked for in 2010.

“The rate we’re asking is a little less than we did last time. We have referendum money coming on now. We are not asking for an increase. It’s just a continuation. Actually, a little less,” Sabbagh says.

In previous years, referenda have a better chance of passing during May primaries, because it can often be one of the more notable parts of a ballot. So during an election like this, with huge races at the local, state and federal level, it could end up that more people will be voting but not be aware of what the school referenda are asking, and then vote no to raising taxes.

Read our full list of school referenda around the state, including what the money will be used for. You can also calculate how much your tax rate would go up if passed. 


English Learners Prioritized Under New Federal Education Law

Frankfort teacher Anne Lanum works with English learner students.

Frankfort teacher Anne Lanum works with English learner students. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting). 

The Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, directs more attention to English Language Learners. This new federal education law replaced No Child Left Behind last December, and it could mean a big change for ELL students and the schools that educate them.

One ESSA provision dictates states move English learner instruction from Title III, the program it used to live under, to Title 1. Title I has more prominence and money.

The law also dictates that ELL proficiency be part of the criteria that states use to hold schools accountable.

Indiana is not currently counting ELL proficiency in school A-F grades. Under No Child Left Behind, these evaluations where largely tabulated with student ISTEP+ scores. But ESSA gives states more options.

Elementary schools are measured with student academic proficiency (how a child performs on a test), academic growth (if a child improved from year to year on a test), language proficiency for English Language Learners, and an indicator of the state’s choice. In high school you add graduation rates to this list.

As we’ve reported, states get to choose what the final academic indicator. A few examples a state could use are school climate, technical training certificates earned by students, access to a variety of courses, chronic absenteeism or disciplinary action. The challenge with these indicators is making sure they are measured correctly and are tested, so one school cannot simply say it has a great school climate to help its grade.

States, including Indiana, are currently creating a plan to use these various criteria. It’s up to a state to decide how much weight to put on each of these factors. For example, a state could decide to make academic growth worth 30 percent of the grade and academic proficiency 15 percent. Or they could flip it.

Rebecca Vonderlack-Navarro, a senior policy analyst at the Latino Policy Forum, says the addition of the ELL proficiency into the calculation gives states a tricky decision.

“You don’t want it to be weighted too much and have a state with a real concern to just re-designating kids and moving kids out of services,” Vonderlack-Navarro says. “But at the same time you don’t want it so low that it doesn’t matter at all.”

She says a reasonable amount to weigh this factor would be around 10-15 percent of the overall grade.

In Indiana, this could could be a challenge. Many of the state’s English language learners are concentrated in specific school districts, while most school districts have a very small population of these students.

As we’ve reported over the last year, resources for educating these students is already sparse, and it changes from district to district.

“What’s been perennial in education is that we haven’t been preparing all teachers for English learners, and it’s been a huge issues because most teachers didn’t expect to be teaching these kids, and now are,” Rebecca Vonderlack-Navarro says. “I think we need to redefine what good teaching is in this country, and good teaching needs to be being responsive to language and cultural differences and it needs to be a key part of teacher preparation.”

Resources will undoubtedly be the challenge. But Department of Education spokesperson Daniel Altman says the DOE has already begun trying to increase resources for these students.

“Superintendent Ritz and her team were successful in doubling state funding for ELLs during the previous budget session,” Altman say. “This increase in state funding provides direct supports, materials, training, and staffing of EL programs across the state with the aim of ensuring equitable access for all ELs.”

The Indiana Department of Education is currently working on its plan for how to comply with ESSA, and plans to submit it to the federal government in March.

Supreme Court Will Take Up Transgender Bathroom Case

The White House released guidance to public schools saying they must allow transgender students to use bathrooms that match their gender identity. (Pixabay)

The White House released guidance in May to public schools saying they must allow transgender students to use bathrooms that match their gender identity. (Pixabay)

The Supreme Court announced last week it will take up the case of transgender students using bathrooms that match their gender identity.

NPR reports the case centers around a high school student in Virginia:

Gavin Grimm, a 17-year-old senior in Gloucester County … came out as transgender when he was a freshman in high school. The school principal allowed him to use the boys’ bathroom, until some parents complained, and the school board adopted a policy that required students to use the bathroom that corresponds with their biological sex, or a separate single-stall restroom office.”

So Grimm, who has been taking hormones and has grown facial hair, sued the school board. In April, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit agreed that his case could proceed. Gloucester County then petitioned the court, and in August, the justices ruled 5-3 that the school board did not have to follow the lower court’s order. Justice Stephen Breyer said he voted to stay the lower court order as a “courtesy” to maintain the status quo while the court considered whether to hear the lawsuit.

Earlier this year, the Obama administration released guidelines to schools saying schools must allow transgender students to use the bathroom of the gender they identify with.

We reported on that guidance and how schools around the state were reacting.

The Supreme Court will hear the case sometime next year.

New Teacher Licenses Increase For First Time In Three Years

Fourth grade math teacher Larysa Euteneur helps students with an exercise at Evans School. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/StateImpact)

Fourth grade math teacher Larysa Euteneur helps students with an exercise at Evans School. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/StateImpact)

The Department of Education announced Monday the number of new teachers receiving licenses from the state saw a huge increase this school year.

Last school year, the Department issued 3,843 licenses to new teachers, the lowest of the last six years. This school year, 4,552 licenses were issued — an 18 percent increase.

The number of licenses issued to new teachers in Indiana dropped every year since 2012, and this is the first year since that there’s been an increase.

“With a majority of school corporations reporting a teacher shortage in their district, now more than ever, Indiana needs more individuals to choose teaching as a profession,” said state superintendent Glenda Ritz in a statement. “While today’s numbers do not fully solve the shortage, they reflect our strong state commitment and work to support the education profession over the past four years.”

After the lowest drop in new licenses issued in the 2013-2014 school year, the state started addressing what they are calling a teacher shortage. It was discussed during last year’s legislative session and state superintendent Glenda Ritz created a panel of educators to discuss how to better the profession in the state.


Letter To ISTEP Panel From Superintendents: Don’t Rush The Process


A group of superintendents from around the state wrote a letter this week criticizing the way the process of re-writing the state assessment is being handles.

The Indiana Urban Schools Association issued the letter, which is aimed at legislatures and the state’s ISTEP panel. The panel, created during the 2016 General Assembly, charged a group of educators, parents and state policy makers to create a recommendation for how to replace the ISTEP.

This panel has met for the last six months, and has a Dec. 1 deadline to issue the recommendation, but hasn’t come up with concrete plans.

The letter expresses concern that this panel is trying to create a test without working along with a similar group establishing the state’s updated A-F system.

IUSA Executive Director Hardy Murphy says he hopes the letter reminds legislators and the panel about how important this decision is, and why it’s valuable not to rush anything.

“What could happen is we replicate the very unfortunate experience that we’ve had so far with the assessments and we don’t think those experiences were good for anyone,” Murphy says.

The ISTEP panel next meets Nov. 15.

10 26 16 LettertoAssessmentAccountability by Indiana Public Media News on Scribd

As She Battles For Re-Election, A Look At Glenda Ritz’s First Term

One of the few races all Hoosiers get to vote for this election is for superintendent of public instruction. The state superintendent runs the Department of Education and chairs the State Board of Education. In the first of a two-part series looking at the candidates in this race, we look at Democrat incumbent Glenda Ritz.

When Glenda Ritz first ran for state superintendent in 2012, she was the underdog.

She faced Republican incumbent and school reform advocate Tony Bennett. He praised charter schools, supported the creation of the voucher program and new ways to hold teachers and schools accountable for low test scores.

His campaign outspent Ritz’s 5 to 1. But Ritz was an educator, and she had the support from the state’s teachers, a strong grassroots campaign. And on Election Day, she received more votes than any other candidate on the ballot, including Governor Pence.

Many who opposed the school reform strategies of Republican leaders saw Ritz as a solution. But the fact that she disagreed with the Pence administration – became a problem.

Conflict Plagued Ritz’s First Term

This manifested the most at the State Board of Education meetings.

“This is the part of these meetings that I hate,” former SBOE member Andrea Neal said at a particularly combative meeting. “It’s unnecessary tension, my stomach starts churning the night before.”

The boiling point came when Ritz abruptly ended a board meeting before the agenda was complete.

She later filed a lawsuit against board members for communicating with each other outside of meetings, via email, saying they violated proper meeting procedures.

Because of all this, education became one of the biggest political issues in the state. This included verbal sparring between Ritz and Pence.

“Yes there were politics going on, but I figured out really quickly that I don’t need anyone’s permission at the statehouse to serve children,” Ritz says. “And the politics is sometimes just the politics, and I have work to do.”

Of course, some of the conflict was rooted in Ritz’s outsider status. She is currently the only Democrat in a statewide elected position, and she opposed the brand of education reform republicans started rolling out under the Daniels administration.

But as state superintendent Ritz and her administration had to implement all of those changes, and it was sometimes a rocky transition.

For example, after Pence abruptly made the state leave Common Core, the State Board of Education and Department of Education had less than a year to write a new test.

Testing experts say that is too short of a timeline, and warned the state board it would be a long assessment. But when parents and teachers complained about the length, Pence blamed it solely on Ritz.

“Look I don’t want to make it personal, but the Department of Education is in charge of crafting the test and conducting the test in the state of Indiana,” Pence said a press conference after signing an executive order to shorten the 2015 test. “That is their responsibility.”

This political drama dominated most of Ritz’s first term. She even launched a short-lived campaign for governor last fall, to oppose Pence. Continue Reading

Report: Indiana’s Voucher Program One Of Most Expansive In Country

Indiana University researchers found that Indiana's school voucher program has the most students attending a private school using state money that have never attended a public school.

Indiana University researchers found that Indiana’s school voucher program has the most students attending a private school using state money that have never attended a public school. (photo credit: Abhi Sharma / Flickr)

A group of researchers at Indiana University released a report comparing the mechanics of school voucher programs in a handful of states, which featured Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program.

The Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at IU wanted to compare the school voucher programs in Indiana, the District of Columbia, Arizona, Louisiana, Ohio and Wisconsin — all places with a similar voucher program (the researchers’ criteria was a program that is available to all types of students, because many programs are for children with special needs only).

CEEP researcher Molly Stewart says the report found that Indiana had by far the largest number of students attending private schools using state money that had never attended a public school in the first place.

“More than 50 percent of current voucher recipients in Indiana have not attended a public school in the past,” Stewart says. “That is a huge number.”

Stewart says this number is also so large compared to the other states because Indiana doesn’t have a cap on how many vouchers it gives out. The only limit that exists in the Indiana program comes from available spots in private schools.

The report also compares how these states study the fiscal impact of these programs. Indiana is one of two in the study that do not require audits of the program. Stewart says some of the other states must complete audits every year, which is written in their law.

Stewart did say the Department of Education in Indiana collects data about the program that is available to the public, which not every state does.


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