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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Plenty of Data To Support Teacher Shortage – What About Solutions?

We’ve been talking about a “teacher shortage” in Indiana for a few months – but much of the conversation thus far has revolved around causes, not necessarily concrete solutions.

Most of the discussion has been based on anecdotes, – but the Indiana Department of Education did release some official statistics Thursday in the form educator licensing data. The numbers show that the IDOE issued 3802 initial practitioner licenses during the 2014-15 school year, down from 4806 during the 2013-14 school year – a 21% drop. The 2015 total demonstrates a 33% overall decrease since the 2009-10 school year.

The IDOE only counted educators who received multiple licenses once in this total. The initial practitioner license count includes administrative, instructional, and support services licenses, such as those awarded to counselors.

Source: Indiana Department of Education

Source: Indiana Department of Education

The data show that there is, in fact, a steady drop in the number of first-year educators granted a teaching license in the Hoosier state.

And data presented during the most recent meeting of Indiana’s Blue Ribbon Commission only further confirmed the problem. The group, convened by State Superintendent Glenda Ritz to develop statewide strategies for addressing the shortage, met for the second time Thursday.

A worksheet from Thursday's Blue Ribbon Commission meeting hangs off a light in the House Chambers at the Indiana Statehouse. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

A worksheet from Thursday’s Blue Ribbon Commission meeting hangs off a light in the House Chambers at the Indiana Statehouse. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

According to the Great Lakes Comprehensive Center, the number of students enrolling in teacher preparation programs in Indiana has declined steadily since 2009. The biggest drop happened between the 2011-12 and 2012-13 academic years, when 31 percent fewer students enrolled in these programs, according to federal data. That includes traditional and alternative options.

But aside from confirmation of the facts, the majority of the data presented Thursday is not news. And one commission member took the time to point this out.

When asked to put the cause of the recent challenge into words, John Jacobson, dean of the teachers college and professor of elementary education at Ball State University, said he couldn’t.

“I think the biggest challenge is we don’t know,” Jacobson told his colleagues. “We haven’t asked our high school students about their career paths.”

GLCC representatives presented some potential reasons, including data showing median salaries for Indiana’s classroom teachers lag behind the nation at elementary, middle and secondary levels, as well as limited opportunities for students to explore the teaching field early on – only 34 percent of state school corporations offer this for their high school students, excluding some of the biggest districts, like Indianapolis Public Schools and the Gary Community School Corporation.

But Jacobson pressed for, at the very least, a random survey of high school students to find out about the perceptions they have of the teaching profession. GLCC research associate Tara Zuber says that’s the goal – the kind of conversations her organization is facilitating with this Commission will help them craft the right kind of survey.

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Duncan: Indiana College Access Is Great, But ‘I Want Completion’

The U.S. Department of Education recently released a new “college scorecard” –  and it’s not your typical ranking system.

The tool gives users access to federal data on college attendance, student debt, graduation rates and other data for more than 7,000 institutions across the country, allowing them to compare schools for themselves. The system does not translate the numbers into ratings on its own.

A screenshot of the U.S. Department of Education's new College Scorecard, highlighting statistics for schools in Indiana. (Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Education)

A screenshot of the U.S. Department of Education’s new College Scorecard, highlighting statistics for schools in Indiana. (Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Education)

But anecdotally, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan says Indiana is ahead of the game in many areas.

Duncan and some of his U.S. Department of Education colleagues appeared in the Hoosier state as part of their sixth annual back-to-school bus tour. The group parked first at Purdue University Wednesday afternoon; a second Indiana stop is also planned in Indianapolis Wednesday evening, at Crispus Attucks High School.

Look for Eric Weddle’s coverage of Duncan’s Indianapolis stop later tonight. 

Duncan says when it comes to higher education, he’s all about three things: 

“We have to focus on access, we have to focus on affordability, and we have to focus on outcomes,” he says.

The secretary says Indiana is taking steps to address all of those areas. He commended Purdue president Mitch Daniels for his efforts to keep costs low for students and their families. Purdue is in its third straight year of a tuition freeze. Other state universities, including Indiana University and Ivy Tech Community College, have since followed suit.

Helping students obtain – and pay for – a college degree is a top priority for President Barack Obama’s administration this year. Obama visited Indiana earlier this year to tout his plan to make two years of community college free, incentivizing more people to get trained for high paying, middle class jobs. Earlier this week, the administration also introduced a new version of the FAFSA form for federal student aid, which they say is shorter and easier for students to fill out.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (right) speaks with Purdue president Mitch Daniels on the school's West Lafayette campus Wednesday. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (right) speaks with Purdue president Mitch Daniels on the school’s West Lafayette campus Wednesday. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Locally, some state lawmakers and education officials have expressed concern about the Indiana’s remediation and college completion rates. The legislature even included in this year’s budget bill a Commission for Higher Education review of the community college system.

Duncan acknowledges that there are still steps the Hoosier state can take to improve its options for students.  

“For me it’s all about outcomes,” Duncan says. “Access is important, but I don’t want just access, I want completion. I want graduation rates. So we need to move some of our funding toward not just inputs, but to outcomes.”

Purdue president and former Indiana governor Mitch Daniels says he agrees, and it’s his goal that Purdue be a leader in this kind of accountability for the state.

“The system of education has tried to avoid accountability…and at both the K-12 and higher ed levels right now, people are appropriately saying, ‘no, show us the results!” Daniels explains. “[It's] accountability for outcomes, not simply pouring more effort and dollars into inputs without knowing something valuable for young people is happening.”

Purdue is working to increase its graduation rate by introducing a new degree program this fall based on competency instead of credit hours.

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State Board Will Attempt To Keep Pace With A-F Grades Wednesday

Following a week of confusion surrounding Indiana’s A-F grading system earlier this month, the State Board of Education will focus primarily on school accountability at their monthly meeting Wednesday.

Earlier this month, state education officials raised a red flag and asked legal experts to weigh in on whether or not they had invalidated the state’s A-F letter grading system. The issue at hand was whether or not the State Board had followed the letter of the law in transitioning from an old A-F system to the new version set to take effect for 2016 grades.

State Board members Byron Ernest (left) and Steve Yager talk during a break in the board's August meeting. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

State Board members Byron Ernest (left) and Steve Yager talk during a break in the board’s August meeting. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

The state’s attorney general has since said everything is fine, and the current system is still valid.

Despite the confusion, the board is expected to vote to direct the Department of Education and state Superintendent Glenda Ritz to issue grades for the 2014-15 school year, including amendments for schools with atypical configurations.

The calculation of those grades will be delayed. That’s because of issues current test vendor CTB encountered in grading new technology-enhanced portions of the 2014 ISTEP+ test – a main factor in the state’s rating system. The company informed the board of those problems at their meeting in August.

Schools likely will not receive grades until December.

CTB will not be the state’s test vendor any longer – as of the current school year, that job now falls to British testing company Pearson. The board will receive an update on the transition between the two companies at Wednesday’s meeting.

Also on the agenda are votes for recommending new rules for reporting school discipline data and a discussion about Indiana’s new high school diploma requirements.

The board meets Wednesday beginning at 10 a.m. You can watch a live-stream of the meeting here.

Meet Dawn Wooten, The First Republican Candidate for Schools Chief

Dawn Wooten, a college-level English instructor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, is seeking the Republican nomination for state superintendent.

Wooten filed her election paperwork and launched a campaign website last week.

She is the first candidate to emerge as a challenger to current superintendent Glenda Ritz, a Democrat. Ritz is seeking her second term after dropping a bid for the governor’s seat.

Nominees will be chosen at state party conventions next year.

Dawn Wooten is the first Republican to present herself as a candidate for state superintendent of public instruction in 2016. (Photo Credit: Dawn Wooten Official Campaign Website)

Dawn Wooten is the first Republican to present herself as a candidate for state superintendent of public instruction in 2016. (Photo Credit: Dawn Wooten Official Campaign Website)

Wooten’s name might be familiar to some because she served on Indiana’s College and Career Readiness Panel – the group that prepared a new set of state academic standards after Indiana’s 2013 exit from the Common Core. During that stint, she visited the Department of Education offices at the statehouse in Indianapolis – and that’s part of what compelled her to run.

“I did not see a lot of initiative or activity in the office, in fact I barely saw any people. It made me question, what is this administration doing?” Wooten recounts. “I did not see any policy initiatives come out of the administration, and I don’t think they accomplished what they wanted to.”

Wooten has a degree and a background in management – a skill she sees as crucial for the person occupying the office of superintendent. That, she says, is what sets her apart from Glenda Ritz.

“The Department of Education is a huge department to manage in terms of human resources and money, and with her not having that experience I think it made it difficult for her to try to learn how to do that and try to get her policies initiated,” Wooten explains. “I can jump into that. I have that to bring to the table, in addition to my education experience, so I think I’m more well-rounded in terms of the job as a whole.”

Wooten says she will campaign for changing the state's test teacher autonomy. (Photo Credit: Dawn Wooten for State Superintendent Official Facebook page)

Wooten says she will campaign for teacher autonomy. (Photo Credit: Dawn Wooten for State Superintendent Official Facebook page)

Wooten says in both her current and past positions as a college-level educator, she’s seen what comes out of Indiana’s K-12 system. As an adjunct faculty member at IPFW, Wooten says she encounters many students who enter college in need of remediation – something she says needs to change.

In addition, Wooten homeschooled her own daughter and nephew for a number of years, during which time she used the Indiana state standards and textbooks as well as reviewing local curriculum. She says this experience gave her an awareness of what is actually going on in the state’s public schools.

And what she sees is an aggressive push on the part of the state and federal government on standardized testing – which she says has forced educators to “teach to the test.” That’s why teacher autonomy is one of Wooten’s top priorities.

“My number one priority is to kind of change the thinking about achievement testing,” Wooten explains. “The state and the federal government are so worried about student test scores, that if they really want to get those to a higher level, they need to realize that teachers cannot teach to a test adequately, and students don’t respond to that.”

“There was a time in this state when achievement testing was done once every two or three years, and it was more than enough,” Wooten adds.

Here’s a quick look at where the candidate stands on other top education issues:

  • Academic Standards: On her website, Wooten cites “stopping the Common Core influence” as a top issue in the 2016 race. She says Indiana’s standards as they were rewritten still contain a significant bulk of Common Core language, although notes that as a member of the rewrite panel on the English/language arts side, she was able to get a lot of that type of language removed. Wooten adds that Indiana needs to rethink its textbooks, since many of those currently in use were written to meet Common Core requirements: “By doing that, they have taken away so much of what I consider a ‘classical education’ – meaning reading, writing and arithmetic, and having our children exposed to the classics, and making sure that they’re not overloaded by informational texts,” Wooten says.

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Q&A: What’s Going On With Indiana’s Accountability System?

Last week, Indiana education officials held their breath as they waited to hear whether they’d made a critical error in developing the state’s A-F accountability rules.

It’s a system that’s been in flux for many of the past several years, change happening right alongside other big administrative shifts for Indiana schools – which caused some confusion and put policymakers, teachers and parents on edge.

That’s where we come in.

Let’s take a look at a few of the most frequently asked questions from last week, try to calm some nerves and get our bearings on the current state of Indiana’s school accountability system.

Q: What exactly happened last week?

A: Since Indiana first adopted the process of assigning annual school accountability grades in 1999, policymakers have tweaked how those grades are calculated on several occasions. Most recently, in 2013 the General Assembly asked the State Board of Education to totally rewrite the formula, after Indiana dropped the Common Core and adopted a new state test.

After an extensive retooling process, that rewrite is ready – it’s set to take effect beginning next school year. In the meantime, Indiana is still operating under the old set of A-F rules.

The middle of last week, news broke that legal officials had been asked to look into a potential problem with that process. The issue at hand was whether the State Board correctly followed the letter of the law in transitioning from the old system, whether the timing of certain amendments they made voided the existing accountability system.

If that were the case, it would mean Indiana schools might not receive a grade this year.

Later in the week, the state’s Attorney General took a stab at the law, and he said it’s valid. His staff sent policymakers a letter Friday, in which he also recommended the legislature consider passing a law next year to reaffirm the State Board’s authority to assign A-F grades.

RELATED READING: Indiana’s A-F School Letter Grades: How They Work Now & How They’re Changing
Members of the Indiana House of Representatives meet during the 2015 "education session." (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Members of the Indiana House of Representatives meet during the 2015 “education session.” (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Q: Will schools be receiving grades this year?

A: The short answer? Yes. But it’s complicated.

This goes back to a decision the State Board made in July. The federal Department of Education gave states some leeway with accountability during transition periods for standards and assessments. This is exactly Indiana’s situation right now, so state officials are considering taking advantage of the flexibility.

Indiana’s Department of Education came up with a list of 12 viable options that would fit within federal restrictions, so as not to jeopardize the state’s No Child Left Behind waiver. The option they recommended is called “hold harmless” – which would assign each school the better A-F grade received between the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years.

The State Board asked the Attorney General to weigh on the legality of pursuing this option, and in the same letter his office sent out regarding the A-F law, he said that option is not supported by current statute:

“…even assuming for the sake of argument that data from multiple years could be considered for purposes of grade calculation, we do not believe schools could be treated differently in this context, which would be the case if some schools are graded just based on ’14-’15 data, and others are graded based on multiple years’ data.”

This isn’t final yet. Deputy Attorney General Matt Light wrote that the Attorney General hopes to finalize an opinion to send to the Department of Education and the State Board before the board’s meeting next week.

RELATED READING: State Board Kicks Off Flexibility Discussions for A-F Grades


Indiana's accountability system has wide-ranging effects on things like local property values as well as teacher evaluations and pay. (Photo Credit: Kyle Stokes/StateImpact Indiana)

Indiana’s accountability system has wide-ranging effects on things like local property values as well as teacher evaluations and pay. (Photo Credit: Kyle Stokes/StateImpact Indiana)

Q: So it’s safe to assume this will be something the board will talk about at that meeting. Is there anything else on their agenda as far as A-F is concerned? 

A: As has become customary, the group is set to get an update on the status of grades for last school year.

Here’s where things get even more complicated: schools still don’t have those grades, and they might not for a while. First they’re waiting on ISTEP+ scores – and as you might remember, testing company CTB encountered some problems grading new technology-enhanced questions, so schools might not get those scores until closer to December.

Lawmakers say this is unacceptable because of the greater ramifications grades have for schools – on things like ­teacher evaluations and teacher pay.

“The last thing I think we want to have is performance pay to be delayed because of the fact that there’s been problems with the grading of the test,” says Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis. “It’s supposed to be distributed by December 31st. And frankly, I would assume most educators just like most people, it’s kind of a nice thing to get before Christmas, and I think that many of us would like to do what we can to make sure that that happens.”

As we’ve reported previously, CTB will no longer be the state’s test vendor – that job will now belong to Pearson. So as the state moves forward with them to work on yet another new version of the ISTEP+, we’ll see how the timeline for test scores and, in turn, A-F grades affects that process.

RELATED READING: More Test Issues Will Lead To Delay In ISTEP+ Scores


Have more questions about school accountability, the ISTEP+ transition or something else? Interact with us in the comments section below, follow us on Facebook or tweet us @StateImpactIN.

Is It Possible Schools Might Not Get A-F Grades This Year?

State officials are investigating whether or not A-F accountability rules still exist this year.

Indiana’s Department of Education is looking into the issue. Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, tells StateImpact that he met with department officials this week and discussed a potential technicality in state law that will make whatever grades are assigned for the 2015-16 school year void.

This is pretty complicated, so stick with us….

The problem allegedly lies in whether or not the State Board of Education correctly followed the letter of the law in its rulemaking process for A-F between April 2013 and now. Some sources claim that if they did not, it means Indiana could potentially operate for a full school year without an A-F standard in place.

Even if this is true, it’s likely the grades assigned for the 2014-15 school year would hold true, and the state would still be able to pick up with a new, recently-approved A-F system in the 2016-17 school year.

This came about after Kenley met with IDOE staff this week to go over the timeline for administering performance pay for teachers, now that there is a delay in getting ISTEP+ scores. It was during that meeting, Kenley says, that the IDOE first brought up the concern that something might be off with the A-F law.

“[We're looking] to see whether the rule is valid or invalid and I don’t have any idea what the status of that is, it was just brought up as a discussion point,” Kenley says.

After this meeting Kenley took the issue to Legislative Services Agency and is waiting to hear back.

Department of Education spokesperson Daniel Altman did not acknowledge his department brought up the potential problem with the law, and says the IDOE is looking at the law in preparation for calculating the A-F grades for this year like any other year.

“Through those preparations we’re doing our due diligence making sure we have all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed,” Altman says.

Altman says the Attorney General’s office has been contacted, although he would not specify for exactly what purpose.

It will likely fall to the Attorney General’s office to provide an opinion on whether a critical misstep was in fact made.

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Two Indiana Stops Planned For Department of Education Bus Tour

As kids all over the country head back to school, the U.S. Department of Education wants to come along for the ride.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan posted this picture of the USDOE's back-to-school tour bus last year, when he took over the official White House Instagram account. (Photo Credit: The White House/Instagram)

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan posted this picture of the USDOE’s back-to-school tour bus last year. (Photo Credit: The White House/Instagram)

Federal Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and senior Department officials launch their sixth annual back-to-school bus tour the week of September 14. The team plans to make an eleven-stop, seven-state tour across the Midwest – and the route will include two stops in Indiana.

The bus will dock at Purdue University in West Lafayette, followed by a stop at Crispus Attucks High School in Indianapolis. Exact dates and times will be announced through email updates and the department’s social media accounts.

The tour begins in Kansas City, Missouri.

This year’s theme is “Ready for Success,” which will bring attention to how states and local communities are working to increase access and opportunity from early learning through to the college level. Along the route, Duncan and his colleagues will host events “highlighting the progress and achievements of educators, students, families and leaders in expanding opportunity for students throughout the nation.”

The USDOE recently granted Indiana a three-year extension for the state’s No Child Left Behind waiver, as well as more than $300,000 to help cover the cost of AP tests for the state’s low-income students.

Department Of Education Considers Legal Action Over ISTEP+ Delays

Updated 11:26 a.m.:

Indiana Department of Education spokesman Daniel Altman says he cannot confirm that the department is pursuing any type of legal action against testing company CTB, but says the department is “looking at and assessing what our options are under the contract” with CTB.

Altman adds that the IDOE’s legal team will likely take a look at (among other things) a part of the contract about liquidated damages.

Remember, the state is still waiting to receive scores from the 2014 test – so taking much further action would be speculative at this point.

A public information officer for the Indiana Attorney General’s office says it’s routine for state agencies to pursue legal action or suit against vendors who don’t hold up their end of a contract, although their office had not heard that the IDOE was planning to do anything.

Original story (from Network Indiana): 

Indiana students take a number of tests that are either summative or formative in nature. (Photo Credit: David Hartman/Flickr)

Indiana students take a number of tests that are either summative or formative in nature. (Photo Credit: David Hartman/Flickr)

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz’s office might pursue a fine for the maker of the ISTEP+ over its latest problem in grading the exam, though it isn’t yet clear whether the state has any recourse.

Executives from CTB (the former CTB/McGraw-Hill) announced at last month’s State Board of Education meeting that they would re-grade some ISTEP+ tests administered last school year to correct what were initially marked as incorrect answers on some open-ended questions.

The delay means ISTEP scores will likely not be available until December according to the company, which could push the distribution of A-to-F grades for the 2014-15 school year as late as February 2016.

“Once you have ISTEP grades, there is a lot more process to go through,” said Daniel Altman, spokesman for the Department of Education. “It pushes the calendar back for ISTEP+ grades and other information schools are looking for.”

In 2013, when ISTEP was plagued with problems during the administration of the exam that mostly had to do with computer servers not being able to handle the online testing load, CTB had to repay $3 million to the state for the delays, only a small portion of its $95 million, four-year contract. This spring’s ISTEP was the last one to be given by CTB before the expiration of the contract, so it isn’t clear whether the state can assess another fine for the delayed scores.

“That’s something we are taking a look at. We are having our legal staff take a look at the contract to see what options are available to the state,” Altman said.

CTB would likely fight any attempt to recoup money they have already been paid for ISTEP+. At the State Board meeting last month, company president Ellen Haley essentially blamed the grading problems on the state’s new education standards and the creation of a new ISTEP to adhere to those standards. The quick change caused ISTEP+ to be longer in length since test questions could not be tried out in practice exams and weeded out before the actual ISTEP took place. Haley also says the company didn’t have a chance to test their new grading guidelines, which she says did not foresee the way some students answered technology-based questions.

What Do Indianapolis Mayoral Candidates Plan For Local Schools?

Joe Hogsett is the Democratic candidate for Indianapolis Mayor. (Photo Credit: Dan Goldblatt/WTIU News)

Joe Hogsett is the Democratic candidate for Indianapolis Mayor. (Photo Credit: Dan Goldblatt/WTIU News)

As Indiana’s capital city and home to the state’s largest public school district, Indianapolis is a hotbed for education policy.

That’s why we care about this year’s Indianapolis mayoral election, among others. Since current mayor Greg Ballard is not running for a third term, who is running and what he or she plans to do with the city’s schools matters on both the local and statewide levels.

Late last week, Democrat and former U.S. attorney Joe Hogsett made headlines when he announced a five-point plan for education, which he says is the key to solving violence and crime throughout the city.

Hogsett’s plan is anchored in the following ideas:

  • Expanding high quality pre-k
  • Offering discounted housing for teachers
  • An “Indianapolis Mayors’ Scholars Initiative” to eliminate barriers to high school graduation
  • Smarter school discipline
  • Excellence in charter schools

WFYI’s Ryan Delaney attended Hogsett’s press conference Friday – here’s how he explains the basics of Hogsett’s platform:

He wants to expand pre-Kindergarten opportunities and address the high childhood poverty rate. He also would like give younger teachers the chance to buy city-owned homes at a discount, as a way to attract talented educators.

“I think it’s time that we start being creative in terms of incentivizing teachers,” he said.

The program has been tried before — mostly around police officers and firefighters — to limited success.

Hogsett’s ideas also include a high school completion and college scholarship program.

“The greatest barrier to educational progress in recent years can be found outside the classroom, in parts of our community where students don’t even see college, don’t even think of college as a possibility,” he said.

Hogsett would like to replicate a program in Columbus, Indiana that increases tutoring in high schools and offers scholarships to eligible students to state colleges, centered around public-private partnerships.

As far as how Hogsett plans to pay for these initiatives, Hogsett For Mayor spokesman Thomas Cook says the vast majority of this plan will require zero additional tax dollars.

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