Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom


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.

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Bipartisan Congressional Duo Releases NCLB Rewrite Bill

Senate leaders unveiled a bipartisan bill Tuesday to replace the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The bill, authored by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), includes items that are attractive to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, including state-crafted accountability systems and maintenance of the current federal testing schedule.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan praised the bill, along with White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, who called it an “important step” and added that the President will continue to advocate for a measure that drives progress as well as helps to close nationwide achievement and opportunity gaps.

Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., unveiled a bipartisan bill Tuesday to overhaul the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that the two have been brokering for more than two months.

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State Board To Continue Testing Talks Wednesday

It’s only been a few weeks since the last State Board of Education meeting, but plenty has happened in that time to provide board members with topics for discussion.

One item sure to take center stage: testing.

The subject received a majority of the attention at the board’s March meeting – the first chance members had to discuss proposed contracts for the companies the Department of Administration recommended to create different parts of the state’s assessment system.

Members of the State Board of Education will meet Wednesday in Indianapolis. (Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Members of the State Board of Education will meet Wednesday in Indianapolis. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

The total estimated cost of those contracts – about $134 million – ruffled some feathers, and although State Superintendent Glenda Ritz generally agreed with board colleagues that the price tag was too high, it became evident that finding a compromise might pose problems.

In response, board member Sarah O’Brien released a proposal to cut costs and trim time off the test. She will present her resolution to the full board Wednesday, which she says will come in at around $86 million.

Ritz put out her own set of recommendations just a few days later, in an updated budget presentation for the Department of Education before the Senate Appropriations Committee. She told the group she could cut costs even further – down to about $75 million – with the elimination of IREAD-3 and other annual tests.

The board will need to decide Wednesday under what criteria they will authorize the development of the 2015-16 ISTEP+, a process that many would like to see happen as soon as possible to avoid the problems the state experienced this spring.

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National News: More States Push Private Educational Options

Around the country, more states’ legislatures are discussing measures to give parents and students the chance to seek out alternatives in education – be they private schools, voucher money or charter schools. Meanwhile, Congressional efforts to rewrite the federal No Child Left Behind law this year have “opened a wider discussion about the federal government’s role in schools,” versus how much power belongs to the states and local schools. The conversation is further complicated by concerns about the widespread implementation of common academic standards and standardized tests.

Indiana currently has the largest voucher program in the county, in addition to a robust charter school presence.

A growing number of statehouses are considering measures that would allow school districts, parents and students increasingly to use taxpayer funds to explore alternatives to traditional state-backed public education. The flurry of new bills-which range from supporting private-school options to putting education dollars directly into parents’ hands-come amid concerns of increasing federal overreach in schools and a backlash against…

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How Much Should The State Be Involved In School Intervention?

Senate lawmakers continued an ongoing conversation Wednesday about how the state handles schools in jeopardy.

Right now, schools receiving six consecutive failing grades could face state intervention. (Photo Credit: amboo who/Flickr)

Schools receiving six consecutive failing grades could face state intervention. (Photo Credit: amboo who/Flickr)

The Senate Committee on Education & Career Development tweaked House Bill 1638, a measure which suggests a number of changes to the repercussions for failing schools.

Original bill language in would have allowed the state to take over entire school corporations, rather than just individual schools. Committee members approved an amendment to eliminate that section.

This is sure to please Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, who shared his concerns about this section with the Times of Northwest Indiana earlier this week:

Smith said Gary and Indianapolis schools are the only two corporations in the state that have had schools taken over.

“My concern is that if you have a school like Gary where there are three schools which have an A, and two other schools with a B and a C, why take over the whole district,” he said. “There is no great effort to get to the root of the problem or to assist. They just want to move forward and take over the entire district.”

Elements of the bill that remain intact include shrinking the timeline for state intervention. Currently, state officials must design a plan for any school receiving failing school accountability grades (D’s or F’s) for six consecutive years; the bill recommends bringing that number down to four.

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In Need Of Substitute Teachers? So Are Many Hoosier Districts

It’s getting tougher to find substitute teachers these days.

Nationally, school corporations are struggling to fill the gaps left when regular teachers go on vacation, get sick or take time out for professional development.

Shortages are not a new phenomenon in Indiana, either. Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, says a majority of districts across the state are facing some sort of challenge when it comes to finding subs –– and there doesn’t seem to be one overarching reason why this is the case.

Low pay, lack of benefits and could be reasons why fewer people sign up to substitute teach. (Photo Credit: elementalPaul/Flickr)

Workload, low pay and lack of benefits could be reasons why fewer people sign up to substitute teach. (Photo Credit: elementalPaul/Flickr)

“I think part of it is the workload. You’re asking people to come on very short notice sometimes minutes, and very little time to prepare for whatever it is they’re supposed to sub for,” Meredith says. “Other times it might be pay –– if they can make more at McDonald’s, is that a little less stressful than the substitute role?”

The average rate of pay for a substitute is about $105 per day across the U.S., according to the National Substitute Teacher Alliance. In Indiana, compensation can range anywhere from around $60 to a little more than $100 a day, depending on the corporation and a candidate’s credentials.

Along with low pay, experts speculate the problem has increased in recent years because of poor training and lack of benefits.

Others say the pool of quality candidates has decreased because fewer college students study to be teachers nowadays.

“We really do see that trend as part of the problem,” says Dan Roach, superintendent at Washington Community Schools in southern Indiana. “In past years, those preservice teachers are waiting for those jobs, hoping to get their foot in the door, but those numbers continue to decrease.”

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Updated IDOE Testing Plan Cuts Original Estimate In Half

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz continued the conversation about testing costs Thursday, presenting an updated version of her Department of Education’s budget estimates to the Senate Appropriations committee. Ritz’s plan provides a different outlook for Indiana’s slate of standardized tests than was released by her State Board of Education colleague Sarah O’Brien just one day earlier – one that, by IDOE calculations, would cost about $12 million less than O’Brien’s proposal.

Ritz also told committee chair Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, that she welcomes conversation about switching the ISTEP+ out for a national “off-the-shelf” test in the future.

Indiana might not be able to completely avoid more expensive state ISTEP tests in the future, but a revised plan today from state Superintendent Glenda Ritz would save big money for now, cutting the cost by almost half from the two-year $134 million estimate she presented in December.

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Bloomington Classical School Seeks Charter For A Second Time

A Bloomington group leading the charge for a local charter school is sticking to the old adage “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

The Seven Oaks Classical School submitted its second application for authorization to the Indiana Charter School Board Monday. The board denied the group’s original request this past fall.


Credit: Seven Oaks Classical School Official Website

“We are so excited to begin the process in bringing a classical education in the liberal arts and sciences to the students of Monroe County,” school leaders wrote on Facebook.

School officials say they will likely get a public hearing sometime in April.

The ICSB voted unanimously against granting Seven Oaks’ charter request last October, citing concerns primarily with the group’s business plan, discipline policy, lack of a lunch program and board members’ lack of K-12 experience.

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One State Board Member Has Ideas To Cut Future Testing Time

As Indiana students continue to take the statewide ISTEP+ test, State Board of Education members continue to search for ways to modify the assessment to make it less stressful, costly and weighty.

State Board of Education member Sarah O'Brien speaks during a meeting last July. (Photo Credit: Bill Shaw/WTIU)

State Board of Education member Sarah O’Brien speaks during a meeting last July. (Photo Credit: Bill Shaw/WTIU)

Board member Sarah O’Brien, an elementary school teacher in Avon, released a proposal Wednesday afternoon to trim the length of future ISTEP+ tests, as well as eliminate other “planned and unnecessary tests.”

“I share the concern of teachers and parents about the amount of testing being forced on our children, especially following the surprise doubling of the ISTEP+ test this year,” O’Brien said in a statement. “The Department of Education has initiated many new tests and extra sections that go beyond what is required. My resolution would prohibit the state from finalizing a contract for those new tests.”

Among O’Brien’s suggestions:

  • Require a pilot test be administered in fall 2015 (and any future years pilot items are needed),
  • Require the vendor selected to administer the ISTEP+ in 2015 and 2016 to submit an assessment blueprint no later than August 1, 2015, and
  • Reuse previous test items that apply to current standards, to minimize the number of questions and reduce test development costs.

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Monroe County Joins The Push For Preschool

The Monroe County Community School Corporation plans to add two pre-k classrooms in the 2015-16 school year, adding to the list of Indiana school districts advocating for early childhood education.

The Monroe County Community School Corp. will add two preschool classrooms for the 2015-16 school year as part of an ongoing “push toward increasing access to early childhood education.” The corporation plans to add a 20-seat, no-fee classroom to Arlington Heights Elementary School, according to a news release.

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