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

Pre-K Pilot Preview: How Are Counties Finding Participants?

The clock is ticking.

Indiana’s pre-k pilot program launches in four of the five participating counties in January, a little less than a month away. But many leaders in those counties say they’re still finalizing the details – crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s of fundraising, getting providers up to speed and children into the classrooms.

Timeline Troubles?

The Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA) released applications for providers who want to participate on November 12, and grant applications for eligible families went out the following week. Those are due December 15.

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Let It Snow Or Let It Go? State Board Talks eLearning Option

On an agenda packed with policy recommendations and legislative agenda discussions, the item that got the most attention at Wednesday’s State Board of Education meeting focused on eLearning.

The conversation started last month, when district officials in the Twin Lakes School Corporation announced on Facebook that the Indiana Department of Education had approved its application to hold “eLearning Days” to replace traditional snow make-up days. Board member Brad Oliver immediately took to his own social media accounts to question why the board had not been involved in the decision to offer this option.

IDOE Director of eLearning Candice Dodson speaks before the State Board of Education.

IDOE Director of eLearning Candice Dodson speaks before the State Board of Education.

Oliver reiterated his comments at Wednesday’s meeting.

“My concern is not with the value of eLearning,” Oliver said. “My concern is that schools are being permitted to expand the use of eLearning in a way that constitutes a substantial policy change in Indiana’s attendance requirement.”

State code requires 180 instructional days per school year.

“I don’t understand why such an expansion of eLearning would not be taken back through the Indiana General Assembly to ensure we have sufficient legislative direction with respect to virtual attendance,” Oliver added.

Board member Dan Elsener echoed that sentiment. He added that while eLearning might be a good enhancement for classroom activities, he doesn’t see it as a replacement for an instructional day.

“We have no business reducing school days,” Elsener said. “It may be convenient in the short-term, but…that’s not leadership.”

According to IDOE guidance, school corporations may allow students to complete their classwork online during snow days.

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Turnaround Efforts Take Center Stage At State Board Meeting

State superintendent Glenda Ritz and members of the State Board of Education focused on turnaround efforts during their monthly meeting in December.

State superintendent Glenda Ritz and members of the State Board of Education focused on turnaround efforts during their monthly meeting in December.

The end of the calendar year means some clarity for the state’s failing schools as to how they’ll move forward with turnaround efforts.

At their meeting Wednesday, the State Board of Education heard recommendations from an outside consultant as well as the board’s three-person committee on School Turnaround.

That committee has spent the fall meeting with leaders from the state’s nine ‘failing’ schools, and compiled a list of options for the board to consider. We’ve already reported about those options, but here’s a recap of the highlights:

  • Approve the “transformation zone” – allowing the school corporation in question to develop its own turnaround plan to operate under varying degrees of state oversight – as a primary turnaround strategy. Such a model is currently working well in the Evansville-Vanderburgh school district, and it’s been recommended as an option for Indianapolis Public Schools as well.
  • Eliminate the “Lead Partner” model. Under this option, an external partner contracted by the state works with a district in a limited capacity to operate certain aspects of the school. To date, all original Lead Partners have withdrawn from the turnaround academies they operated.
  • Allow the state board the ability to assume management over failing school corporations as a last resort.
  • Modify the current statute to allow for earlier state intervention in failing districts and schools. The method for doing so would mean a big change to existing rules – namely, allowing the board to implement turnaround strategies for schools that receive a D as well as an F, and move the intervention timeline up to assist schools after they’ve received four consecutive F’s, instead of the current six.
  • Establish a board-specific turnaround unit to manage state intervention activities.

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Teachers See Evaluation System Less Favorably Than Administrators

As Indiana’s academic standards and statewide assessments change, educators are being tasked with adjusting what they teach while still continuing to help students succeed. How students perform in class and on standardized tests is a key factor in how those teachers are evaluated — and in turn, how they’re paid.

And when compared to the state’s administrators, teachers are still generally more skeptical about the state’s evaluation system, according to a study brief issued by the Center on Education and Lifelong Learning (CELL) at Indiana University.

Teachers are a bit more skeptical about their evaluation system than the administrative counterparts in their districts, according to a new study.

Teachers are a bit more skeptical about their evaluation system than the administrative counterparts in their districts, according to a new study.

CELL researchers conducted a large-scale survey of Indiana public school administrators and teachers regarding feelings about the state’s teacher evaluation system and how it has been implemented in their districts.

Results showed that superintendents are most favorable of the evaluation system, followed by principals and lastly teachers. Principals generally say they have more confidence in their knowledge of the system and their ability to conduct effective evaluations than do the teachers they’re rating.

These response patterns are consistent with findings in similar studies from around the country, including Georgia and New Jersey.

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Tech-Savvy Teaching: How Online Learning Helps Students & Teachers

Technology has become increasingly prominent as a teaching tool in classrooms around the state.

Technology has become increasingly prominent as a teaching tool in classrooms around the state.

Think about the last time you used technology in your daily life.

Maybe it was dialing up a colleague on your smartphone, using your laptop to take notes in a meeting or an online tool to help you put together that big presentation. Digital tools play a big role in today’s economy, and the ability to operate different technologies appropriately is one of the top skills employers look for.

Nationally, President Obama is pushing for schools to increase their use of technology in the classroom in order to prepare students for life in today’s world. Teachers nationwide are introducing “Bring Your Own Device” policies, and beginning to use tools like Skype to bring in guest lecturers from around the world. Teachers in Indiana are being recognized for paving the way when it comes to new technology, but effectively incorporating it into teaching can be a challenge.

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State Board Will Consider Format Options For Turnaround Schools

As 2014 comes to a close, school leaders and teachers have a lot to think about as they move into the second semester of the school year – how can we keep moving forward? What can we improve?

Washington High School in Indianapolis is one of the failing schools members of the Committee on School Turnaround are trying to help.

Washington High School in Indianapolis is one of the failing schools members of the Committee on School Turnaround are trying to help.

In particular, the nine state schools considered ‘failing’ will be looking to take any positive steps that they can. And the State Board of Education‘s Committee on School Turnaround is looking for ways to help.

The panel met Monday for the final time this fall to review state intervention tactics at those nine schools and discuss potential changes. They’ll present their recommendations to the full state board at its Dec. 3 meeting.

To date, the state has established nine turnaround academies under one of three models:

  • Lead Partner: An external partner contracted by the state works with the school corporation in a limited capacity to operate certain aspects of the school.
  • Turnaround School Operator (TSO): An external partner contracted by the state operates the school independently, similar to a charter school. The school corporation continues to provide some operational services.
  • Transformation Zone: The school corporation develops its own turnaround plan, operating under varying degrees of state oversight. The school corporation can, but is not required to, work with an external partner contracted by the state as a turnaround operator.

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Chamber of Commerce Pushes For Appointed State Superintendent

Another day, another discussion of power among state education leaders.

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz speaks to reporters outside the State Board of Education meeting in July, when she engaged with board members about her duties as board chair.

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz speaks to reporters outside the State Board of Education meeting in July, when she engaged with board members about her duties as board chair.

Leadership of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce says one of the group’s top legislative priorities for the 2015 session is pushing to make the position of State Superintendent of Public Instruction appointed beginning in 2016.

Currently, Indiana is one of 12 states with an elected superintendent, according to the National Association of School Boards of Education. Members of the State Board of Education are appointed by the governor.

Chamber president Kevin Brinegar says he believes the superintendent, the head of the Department of Education, should be appointed similar to the heads of all other state agencies– a consistent position of the Chamber.

“This will be my 34th session, and for most of that time we’ve had the superintendent and the governor not on the same page with respect to major issues,” Brinegar says. “Often that’s because they’ve been of a different party, and in some cases they’ve even been of the same party but the governor didn’t appoint that person. We need consistency and one agenda for education that voters can assess and determine whether they like it or they don’t like it in the next election.”

Brinegar says the Chamber plans to speak up “louder this session than ever before” with respect to proposed legislation in favor of appointing the position. If such legislation is unable to pass, he says the Chamber advocates that members of the state board be allowed to select the chair of that body.

The state Constitution requires there be a State Superintendent, but leaves the method of selection up to legislators. Since it’s written into state law, reformers would need to push for an amendment to make the position appointed by the governor.

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The ‘Virtual Option’: Schools Prepare For Potential Snow Days

With winter weather on its way, school officials in Indiana are surely preparing for whatever Mother Nature has to throw their way (remember last year?)

Rather than make up snow days after the fact, the IDOE offers districs the option to provide virtual instruction while students are home from school.

Rather than make up snow days after the fact, the IDOE offers districs the option to provide virtual instruction while students are home from school.

One district sounds like they’ve got it all figured out. In the event of a snow day or other weather-related closing, students in the Twin Lakes School Corporation in Monticello will be able to complete their classwork online.

School officials announced on the district’s Facebook page earlier this week that the Indiana Department of Education approved its application to hold “eLearning Days” to replace traditional snow make-up days:

In the event of a cancellation, students will receive eLearning materials and will access their learning resources through the school’s website,tlschools.com, and through TLCampus, tlcampus.com. Teachers and technology staff will be available throughout eLearning days to assist students with questions.

In order to accommodate anyone experiencing technical difficulties during an eLearning day, classwork will be due two days after classes resume on the normal schedule.

School closings occurring after December 8 may be used as eLearning days.

The Department of Education implemented this virtual option during the polar vortex of the 2013-14 school year, and about 40 schools took advantage. According to the IDOE website, the option can be used in two ways: on a make-up day (to provide for students that might have difficulty learning outside of the building, i.e. internet access or special need accommodations), or on an inclement weather day.

Districts may only exercise the latter if special considerations for all students can be addressed and met away from the building.

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Higher Education Commission Joins Discussion On Sexual Assault

The Indiana Commission for Higher Education is taking steps to address sexual assault on college campuses, and held a special meeting Thursday to discuss the issue.

One in five females on Indiana's college campuses is raped or sexually assaulted by the time she graduates, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

One in five females on Indiana's college campuses is raped or sexually assaulted by the time she graduates, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Higher Education Commissioner Teresa Lubbers pointed out that the group spends a lot of time talking about academic quality at the state’s public and private universities, and that discussion has expanded to include quality of life for students.

Lubbers says if the goal is for students to be successful, a lack of safety could be a barrier to achieving that goal.

“We think this [needs] an all-hands-on-deck approach, and as the coordinating body for higher education in the state, the commission has an obligation to do that,” Lubbers says.

A report by Southern Indiana’s News and Tribune pinpoints why the Commission decided to call the meeting:

Prompting the commission’s interest are increasing numbers of sexual assaults reported on the state’s campuses. That includes IU-Bloomington, which has been under review by the U.S. Department of Education for possible violations of federal law in how it handles sexual violence.

Adding impetus, Indiana University-Bloomington police charged three men in connection with an off-campus attack last Sunday.

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FSSA Accepting Provider Applications For “On My Way Pre-K” Pilot

Indiana’s Family and Social Services Administration announced Wednesday it is accepting applications from preschool providers that want to participate in the state’s pre-k pilot program.

Only providers located in the five selected counties are eligible to apply.

The Family and Social Services Administration has announced a new, official name for the state's pre-k pilot program: "On My Way Pre-K."

The Family and Social Services Administration has announced a new, official name for the state's pre-k pilot program: "On My Way Pre-K."

The FSSA also announced a new name for Indiana’s first state-funded pre-kindergarten program: “On My Way Pre-K.”

In order to participate, providers must qualify as a level 3 or 4 institution on the state’s Paths to QUALITY ranking system, as well as sign an agreement requiring them to follow minimum attendance guidelines and administer required kindergarten readiness assessments at least twice throughout the year.   

A full list of requirements, as well as application materials and other forms are now posted to the official On My Way Pre-K website.

FSSA Director of Early Childhood and Out-of-School Learning Melanie Brizzi says her department is excited to begin this stage of the operation.

“Beginning to enroll early learning providers in On My Way Pre-K marks a significant milestone in our mission to provide high-quality early education for lower-income students in Indiana,” Brizzi said in a statement. “We look forward to engaging as many programs as possible to help us open the doors to new learning opportunities for Hoosier children.”

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