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.
Like a lot of other people in Indiana these days, the General Assembly is taking a close look at pre-k and early childhood education this session.
The legislature’s Interim Study Committee on Education met Monday, charged with studying a host of topics described in HEA 1004, the legislation that established, among other things, Indiana’s first state-funded pre-k pilot program. Many of the remarks at that meeting reiterated the need for pre-k in Indiana, as well as funding to support it – along with a few recommendations for the committee to consider.
If you’ve ever attempted to watch C-SPAN, you’ll know how challenging it can be to boil a hearing or meeting down to one or two key takeaways – we at StateImpact feel your pain.
So, we’re taking a page out of the study committee’s book and making a list. The committee has defined 10 key questions to focus on during discussion on pre-k and early childhood education – and we’re attempting to give you a rundown of what happened during the three-hour meeting using the magic of bullet points.
Here are those 10 questions the committee is asking – and some comments from key players who are trying to help them figure things out:
Sonia Hooda / Flickr
The legislation's interim study committee on education has defined ten key items to focus on in discussions of early childhood education.
There is plenty of energy behind the push for preschool in Indiana, and now one of the state’s major philanthropic organizations has provided some financial fuel.
Rachel Morello / StateImpact Indiana
Policymakers and educators around the state have embraced the push for more high quality pre-k programs.
This week Lilly Endowment Inc. pledged $22.5 million to support two early childhood education initiatives. A grant of $20 million will support Early Learning Indiana (formerly Day Nursery Association), and the United Way of Central Indiana will receive $2.5 million. Both organizations plan to use the money to strengthen current preschool programs as well as build new ones.
The United Way is a key player in Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard’s initiative to expand pre-k in his city. Ballard introduced the idea as part of a new plan to reduce crime in the city, and already plenty of other politicians have voiced opinions on how to pay for the program.
Eli Lilly and Co. has already pledged to support Ballard’s plan by soliciting $10 million in donations from the local business community, including a $2 million contribution of its own.
Great to see continued investment in our children. Lilly Endowment awards $22.5M in early-ed grants.
Indiana’s public charter school system is considered one of the best in the nation, anchored by a charter school law ranked second among the 43 states that have such legislation.
Rachel Morello / StateImpact Indiana
This is according to a list of the nation’s healthiest charter school systems, compiled by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
The NAPCS released its inaugural report Wednesday judging states on how well they are implementing their charter school laws. Rankings were based off measurements of growth, quality and innovation in state’s charter sectors.
Combining those metrics, Indiana’s public charter school system came in at number seven out of the 26 states evaluated. The District of Columbia and the state of Louisiana topped the list with the “healthiest” charter school systems.
Even more impressive, the state’s public charter school law ranks second, above 40 other states and the District of Columbia, all which offer similar legislation. Indiana’s law ranks behind only Minnesota, where the nation’s first charter schools appeared in 1991.
Once upon a time, Jaime Burkhart would have been considered a “librarian.”
“My job description title in Monroe County is ‘media specialist’,” Burkhart explains.
Brad Flickinger / Flickr
As technology finds its way into classrooms, librarians are seeing their roles in schools change.
iPads and the Internet have become a regular part of the classroom scene at Batchelor Middle School in Bloomington, where Burkhart works, as well as in many other schools across the district, the state and the country. And that means people like Burkhart are no longer simply checking out books.
“Librarians really are curating information, however that is,” Burkhart says. “Whether that be print resources or digital resources, we work really hard to select the right things for teachers so that we can support them in their curriculum.”
Parents, school leaders and community members in Monroe County are divided when it comes to whether or not a proposed charter school would benefit their neighborhood.
Abhi Sharma / Flickr
Seven Oaks Classical School, a charter school proposed for Monroe County, proposes a focus on educating children through a classical education in the liberal arts and sciences.
The proposed charter, Seven Oaks Classical School, touts a mission “to train the minds and improve the hearts of young people through a rigorous classical education in the liberal arts and sciences.” The K-12 school would join either the Monroe County Community School Corporation or the Richland-Bean Blossom Community School Corporation, with the ability to support close to 500 students in its first year.
If approved, the school would open in 2015 in either Bloomington or Ellettsville.
At a forum hosted Monday night, multiple community members spoke up in support of as well as in opposition to the school. Mary Keck of The Herald-Times reports Indiana Charter School Board representatives heard over two hours of public comment from more than 50 people:
Many who opposed the charter expressed concern that its founders may have a conservative agenda, based on the proposed school’s connection to Hillsdale College and the Barney Charter School Initiative. Some felt the lack of transportation and the charter’s inability to provide lunch and cafeteria services to students made it inadequate to serve students.
Funding challenges mean the school will lack some basic offerings, such as lunch and bus service. Seven Oaks is not alone in this regard – federal, state and private groups struggle to keep up with demand when financing for charter schools, according to a recent report by the nonprofit group Local Initiatives Support Corporation.
Most figures in Indiana politics agree on the importance of and need for high-quality preschool. The issue of how to pay for it? That’s a different story.
Rachel Morello / StateImpact Indiana
Preschool-age students in Indianapolis are on their way to having high quality options for education - as long as state officials can agree on how to pay for them.
The most recent battle is playing out in Indianapolis, where Mayor Greg Ballard introduced his preschool initiative in late July. Ballard’s initiative would fund preschool for children from low-income families, as well as boost the quality of local providers. The mayor has called his five-year program a preventative measure, part of a new plan to reduce crime in the city.
That plan calls for an estimated $50 million by 2020 to cover preschool for about 1,300 kids who qualify for free or reduced lunch.
Ballard says over the next five years, the city hopes to raise half that amount through philanthropy. The other half would come from taxes – specifically the homestead tax credit. The mayor wants to eliminate the credit, which would cost the average homeowner about $22 per year.
The State Board of Education Committee on School Turnaround hosted a public meeting Friday in Gary to discuss improvement efforts at Roosevelt Career and College Academy, a public high school the state took over in 2011.
Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana
Roosevelt Career & Technical Academy in Gary has been run by turnaround operator EdisonLearning, Inc. since 2012.
Roosevelt is currently operated by EdisonLearning, Inc., a private, for-profit education management company. According to the Post-Tribune, the company has “encountered several maintenance-related problems with the Gary Community School Corp., but in recent weeks both sides say they have ended the bickering and now have a ‘shared vision.’”
Perhaps due in part to that history, representatives from both Roosevelt and EdisonLearning told the committee that the most effective way to attack transitions and operational challenges is to clearly define the role of each stakeholder.
“You really have to have a collaboration,” says EdisonLearning CEO Tom Jackson. “If you don’t have that triad and clearly spell out what is the role of the state, the role of the turnaround partner, and the role of the district, you will delay and frustrate the turnaround effort.”
“Its important for both parties to sit down so everyone is clear about the roles and responsibilities of each party,” agrees Roosevelt Principal Donna Henry.
Wide variation in state academic standards makes comparison across the country - as well as internationally - difficult, according to new research.
That’s essentially the takeaway from the most recent national report on academic guidelines.
A report released Thursday by the American Institutes for Research (AIR) finds that what’s considered “proficiency” in certain subjects varies widely – not only across states, but also between the U.S. as a whole and its international counterparts.
The study compares performance standards for reading, math and science in each state with international benchmarks used in two international assessments – the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) – to gauge difficulty and global competitiveness of each state’s standards.
The results generally showed the percentage of proficient students in most states declined when compared with international students – and Indiana was no exception.
For example, 77 percent of students in the Hoosier were considered proficient based on state performance standards for 8th grade math in 2011. When those same students had their score compared to TIMSS benchmarks, only half of them (35 percent) were still considered proficient.
That means in Indiana, students only required a C- in order to be considered proficient. The same rang true for students testing in fourth grade math and reading.
Last month, the U.S. Department of Education offered some states with waivers from the federal No Child Left Behind law the option to delay incorporating student test scores into teacher evaluations until the end of the current school year.
State Superintendent Glenda Ritz said her department will consult with other state officials prior to making a decision.
“It is in statute that teachers are evaluated in part by the state assessments and the growth component of that,” Ritz said at a press conference last month after receiving the waiver extension. “I plan on renewing that conversation with state leaders and having a conversation about that and seeing what Indiana might want to do regarding that topic.”
According to Alyson Klein at Education Week, sixteen states with waivers say they will pursue this option; at least eleven say they probably will not. States will apply for the flexibility when they reapply for waiver renewals in spring 2015:
Whether you’re the starting quarterback or the benchwarmer on the basketball team, you learn lessons in athletics that you can’t learn anywhere else. But what if you’re not even given the chance to be on the team?
Rachel Morello / StateImpact Indiana
Kim Mountain addresses the members of his homeschool volleyball team, the Indy Silver Lightning.
Last week we reported on academic regulations for homeschoolers in Indiana. In contrast to the state’s arguably lax rules for curriculum and testing, the guidelines for homeschooler participation in extracurricular activities is more restrictive than one might think.
Rules Of Play
Special subjects such as art, music or foreign language – and extracurricular activities such as sports or theater – are part of the regular school week for most students. Many homeschool families elect to supplement their everyday curriculum with courses like these in an attempt to make the school experience more “normal” for their students. But not every organization is 100 percent open to having homeschooled kids participate.
Bobby Cox is the Indiana High School Athletic Association, or IHSAA Commissioner. His organization spells out a number of minimum benchmarks homeschool students must meet in order to get involved with athletic teams at their local public high school.