Indiana

Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

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Rachel Morello

Rachel Morello comes to StateImpact by way of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. She has worked for various news and education-related organizations across the country - but no matter the locale, you’re sure to find her sporting a Packers jersey and tuning into “Car Talk.” You can follow her on Twitter @morellomedia.

  • Email: rmorello@indiana.edu

Indiana Department of Education Website Down, Apparently Hacked

The IDOE website will be down temporarily while department Information Technology staff address an apparent hack.

Taylor Davis / Flickr

The IDOE website will be down temporarily while department Information Technology staff address an apparent hack.

Access to the Indiana Department of Education website went down Monday morning, due to an apparent hack.

A department spokesman said in a statement that there’s no sign any data hosted on the site had been compromised.

The hack apparently came due to a vulnerability in Drupal, the web development platform used for the site’s online content. Organizations including Harvard University, MIT and Warner Brothers Records also use Drupal for their websites.

According to a WISH-TV report, some users received a unique error message:

The message said the site had been hacked by the Nigeria Cyber Army, a group that in the past couple days listed on its Facebook page a number of government websites it had hacked. It’s unclear how long the site had been giving the message. As of 7 a.m., the site was no longer loading the message and still wasn’t loading the DOE’s actual site.

The Department’s Information Technology staff has taken the website down temporarily while this issue is addressed. Staff say they anticipate the site will be down at least through the rest of the day.

Education Cheat Sheet: What Voters Should Know At The Polls

In a mid-term election with no big races, education could prove to be the most important issue to voters.

StateImpact Indiana

In a mid-term election with no big races, education could prove to be the most important issue to voters.

Who’s ready for Nov. 4?

We’ve spent the past few days showing you how education will play into this year’s mid-term election, namely the presence of charter schools, a particularly timely pre-k referendum, and a who’s who of educationally-minded campaign donors.

The good news is that as voters, the power to shape what happens over the next few years is in your hands — who you elect could determine what education policies are selected, whether in the state legislature or on your local school board. So before you head to the polls and paste on your “I Voted!” sticker, skim through this list of items you should keep in mind when filling out your ballot:

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‘Four Is The New Five’: Pre-K On The Ballot In Bartholomew County

Shirts, signs and stickers are among the items Pre-K 4 All volunteers distribute to community members to spread the word about Bartholomew County's pre-k referendum.

Rachel Morello / StateImpact Indiana

Shirts, signs and stickers are among the items Pre-K 4 All volunteers distribute to community members to spread the word about Bartholomew County's pre-k referendum.

At a recent community gathering in Columbus, hundreds of people are milling about making small talk. Robin Hilber is standing outside, folding a stack of green shirts. Each sports the phrase “Lead the Way With Pre-K.”

Hilber ruffles through the shirts and a few piles of other campaign materials.

“We’ve got yard signs, we’ve got buttons that also have the same logo on them, and then we also have business cards,” Hilber lists. “It’s important to vote ‘yes’ for pre-k!”

Hilber is a volunteer with Pre-K 4 All, a community group working to promote the passage of a preschool-related referendum on this November’s ballot – an issue all too familiar to county residents.

As we’ve reported, the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation is asking voters to raise property taxes to fund pre-k for approximately 450 low-income four-year-olds living in the district.

Taxes would increase by 5 cents per $100 of assessed valuation for seven years. That amounts to roughly $16 extra per year for a taxpayer with a $100,000 home. The levy would bring in about $12.6 million dollars to fund scholarships and allow the county’s existing public pre-k program, Busy Bees Academy, to continue operating and even expand.

Residents faced this request before in 2012 when they voted no on the referendum. But this time around, Hilber and her team are campaigning harder; they are putting out yard signs, canvassing neighborhoods and attending community events to get the word out.

“We weren’t quite as vocal, so we’ve decided to go out there and really inform people of the issue,” Hilber explains.

Pre-k is a hot topic across the state, and the renewed interest could help Bartholomew County’s cause. But there is much more for community members to consider.

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Q&A: Assessing Child Progress In The State’s Pre-K Pilot

Indiana’s youngest students are getting a lot of attention these days, perhaps most notably because of the state’s pre-k pilot program. The initiative will target kids from low-income families in five counties during the 2014-15 school year.

Legislators approved more than $10 million dollars for the pre-k pilot, and many say they hope to expand the program statewide. But that will depend on how successful the pilot is in improving student outcomes – and in order to determine success, the state needs data.

They’ll get some of that data from a Kindergarten Readiness Assessment, a test that will be administered to students at each participating provider. The state’s Early Learning Advisory Committee (ELAC) designed the assessment, which the State Board of Education approved just last week.

StateImpact sat down with ELAC member Dr. Megan Purcell, who is also a clinical assistant professor at Purdue University. She explains what the assessment will look like, and how it might differ from what is typically used to determine kindergarten readiness.

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Deadline Extension Reopens Debate Over $80 Million Pre-K Grant

Updated 4:46 p.m.: 

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz is urging Gov. Mike Pence to reconsider applying for federal money to support pre-k, due to a last-minute deadline extension by the U.S. Department of Education.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz is urging Governor Mike Pence to reconsider applying for federal money to support pre-k.

Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz is urging Governor Mike Pence to reconsider applying for federal money to support pre-k.

Gov. Pence pulled Indiana’s application for a Preschool Development Grant through the U.S. Department of Education last week, citing a desire to fund Indiana pre-k without federal intrusion.

The grant, aimed at states that have a great need for pre-K infrastructure, could provide up to $80 million in federal investment for early childhood education.

Indiana is one of only 16 states eligible to apply.

The original deadline to submit the grant application was Oct. 15. The U.S. Education Department, along with the Department of Health and Human Services, announced today that they have extended that deadline to Oct. 22.

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State Board Holds Off On Release Of 2014 A-F School Grades

The Indiana State Board of Education voted Wednesday to hold off on releasing 2014 A-F school accountability grades until their November 5 meeting.

The scores were sent out on an embargo Tuesday, but will now not be released for a few weeks.

Multiple board members expressed concern that data calculation errors for a handful of schools would compromise the integrity of the board.

“We’re being told that the comparative analysis is not done, we’re not ready,” said board member Brad Oliver. “I would rather have accurate data on November 5th than to just do this knowing we don’t have key pieces. These grades are going to be scrutinized by everybody. We’re trying to get it right.”

“It’s so important to them that we need to ensure that the data is accurate,” added board member David Freitas.

Prior to discussion of the timeline, the board heard appeals from three schools with atypical configurations. Those schools included Christel House Academy, Indiana Math and Science Academy and Carpe Diem.

Charter School Board Denies Bloomington Classical School Charter

The Indiana Charter School Board decides Tuesday whether or not to add a classical charter school to Monroe County schools.

pedro reyes alejandre / Flickr

The Indiana Charter School Board decides Tuesday whether or not to add a classical charter school to Monroe County schools.

Updated, 4:47 p.m.:

The Indiana Charter School Board has denied a charter to the Seven Oaks Classical School in Monroe County.

The board finalized its decision Tuesday at a meeting in Indianapolis.

Board members peppered Seven Oaks leaders Lindsey Weaver and Matt Wolf with questions about their initial charter application. Among the concerns:

  • Alignment of the school’s proposed discipline policy with its mission of “training minds and improving hearts. Board member Karega Rausch called the policy “consequence-heavy” and commented that it seemed “disconnected” from the school’s proposed classical model.
  • The school did not have plans to offer a lunch program for students. Wolf told board members the group had not initially budgeted for a lunch program, but said they had are discussed possible options in the case the budget did allow for it in the future.
  • The Seven Oaks board’s financial expertise. The group did not include any members with experience that charter school board members found significant for effective management.
  • The Seven Oaks board’s lack of K-12 experience. Although a number of group members have been involved in education activities – including homeschooling and classroom teaching – board staff took concern with their collective lack of operational experience.

Board staff did commend Seven Oaks leaders’ passion and dedication, as well as their plans for the school’s special education services and technology.

Ultimately, board members accepted their staff’s recommendation to deny the charter. Board member Karega Rausch says the deficiencies he and his colleagues saw from Seven Oaks outweighed the strengths at this point in time.

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Funding Still A Roadblock For Ballard’s Pre-K Plan

The Indianapolis community continues to make small steps in supporting Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard’s pre-k initiative, but the program has yet to reach full funding.

Pre-k is an important issue in Indiana this year. Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard is just one of the state's policymakers who is attempting to make moves for the city's youngest students.

Rachel Morello / StateImpact Indiana

Pre-k is an important issue in Indiana this year. Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard is just one of the state's policymakers who is attempting to make moves for the city's youngest students.

The City-County Council approved $1.7 million in funding for pre-k during their meeting Monday night. The money is part of the city’s $1 billion budget for 2015.

Pre-k funds will come out of the local homestead tax credit, which was overfunded by $2 million. Ballard had wanted to eliminate that credit outright to add $5 million a year toward his $50 million pre-K plan. Council Democrats voted that idea down.

As John Tuohy of the Indianapolis Star reports, the future of Ballard’s program relies on other donations as well:

Ballard had sought $5 million a year, which would have triggered a $2 million gift from the Lilly Foundation and a commitment to find $8 million more in private donations.

With just a third of the money potentially in the pipeline, a foundation official declined to say whether Lilly would still make a grant if the $5 million isn’t reached.

“We haven’t even gone that far in our discussions yet,” said Michael O’Connor, director of state government affairs. “This (the $1.7 million) is a positive indicator, but there are a lot of moving parts still.”

Earlier this month, the Lilly Endowment pledged $22.5 million to support two early childhood education initiatives – Early Learning Indiana and the United Way of Central Indiana. Both of those organizations plan to use the money to strengthen current preschool programs as well as build new ones.

Although policymakers generally accept the goal of Ballard’s initiative, not everyone agrees on how the program should be funded.

Ballard’s initiative is similar to, but separate from the state’s new pre-k pilot program. Marion County was one of the five counties selected to participate in that program, which is also scheduled to launch in early 2015.

What To Watch For At Wednesday’s State Board Meeting

What’s on your calendar this week?

Indiana’s State Board of Education meets Wednesday, and they’ve put together what looks to be a pretty packed schedule. They’ll revisit some recurring issues (school turnaround), look to take final action on others (elements of the pre-k pilot program), and undoubtedly get into some back-and-forth on controversial issues (presumably good ol’ A-F school grades).

Let’s take a look at some of the items on the agenda:

Glenda Ritz and members of the Indiana State Board of Education will meet on October 15.

Elle Moxley / StateImpact Indiana

Glenda Ritz and members of the Indiana State Board of Education will meet on October 15.

  • Approval of proposed rule language on Pre-K Accreditation. Preparations for the state’s pre-k pilot program are well underway, and a key element of implementation is helping providers in the five participating counties get ready. The board will look at new legal language describing which providers have the proper credentials to actually participate in the program. Remember that providers also have to qualify as a Level 3 or 4, the top two levels on the state’s Paths to QUALITY rating system. Public hearings on the proposed language will be held in late November and early December.

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Report Revisits Controversy Over Charter Schools In Indiana

This is an update from a story we posted on Thursday, October 2. You can find the original story here

According to a pro-charter school advocacy group, Indiana’s public charter school sector is among the best in the nation.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools released its inaugural report last week of what it considers the “healthiest” charters. The District of Columbia and Louisiana topped the list; Indiana came in at number seven.

The report looked at characteristics like growth, innovation and quality – but critics say those measurements are flawed because researchers did not accurately compare charters and traditional public schools. 

In an article for Governing Magazine, reporter Chris Kardish explains the dissenting view of the NAPCS report: 

[T]o critics, the rankings do little more than build on the Alliance’s previous work, indicating how friendly a state is to charter schools but not enough about which is truly the best in terms of academic quality. They also argued the rankings set a low bar for academic quality by comparing charter schools with local public districts, many of which are struggling urban schools, rather than with top-performing schools elsewhere.

Indiana enacted its public charter school law in 2001.

Indiana serves close to 35,000 students in charter schools statewide.

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Indiana serves close to 35,000 students in charter schools statewide.

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