Indiana

Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

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Can Free Tuition Change Students’ Attitudes About College?

The idea of providing community college for everyone seems a little lofty to some, but advocates say it's a good opportunity for a national conversation.

The idea of providing community college for everyone seems a little lofty to some, but advocates say it’s a good opportunity for a national conversation. (photo credit: Ivy Tech Community College)

Leading up to his State of Union address later this month, President Obama announced last week he wants to make community college tuition free to encourage more people to get education beyond high school.

It’s a goal many people can get behind, but advocates in Indiana are more excited about the national platform for the conversation than the president’s proposal.

High School Education Is ‘Not Enough’

President Obama said his new plan to bring down the cost of community college tuition in America is the most important proposal of his State of the Union address he’ll give Jan. 20.

“I want to bring it down to zero,” he said in his announcement.

The plan says if a student maintains a 2.5 GPA while attending community college at least halftime, they wont pay any tuition.

And while the logistics of how to pay for this plan — and whether Congress will even pass it — are still unknown, higher education advocates are thrilled the White House recognizes something they’ve know for a long time.

“An education that stops at high school is not enough for today’s world,” Ivy Tech Community College President Tom Snyder says. Continue Reading

New Bill Calls For Appointed Superintendent, Beginning 2021

State superintendent Glenda Ritz listens to comments from the public during a hearing at Glenwood Leadership Academy in Evansville. (Photo Credit: Elle Moxley/StateImpact Indiana)

For months, current state superintendent Glenda Ritz has been at the center of controversy involving the State Board of Education, a group she chairs. (Photo Credit: Elle Moxley/StateImpact Indiana)

We’ve been hearing the same story for months: State Superintendent Glenda Ritz and members of the Indiana State Board of Education don’t really get along. People say the drama keeps the group from getting anything accomplished.

We may see a remedy for the problem during the 2015 legislative session.

Could appointing the superintendent, rather than electing someone to the position as is customary in Indiana, force the state’s education leaders to work together?

Old Problems, New Solution

Bickering has become somewhat of a norm at state board meetings. Issues of power and responsibility have made the agenda in addition to – and sometimes, overshadowing – actual education policy matters, and it’s become a major problem. So much so, that Governor Mike Pence made “playing referee” a centerpiece of his 2015 legislative agenda.

“To maintain our momentum and to implement new policies, we’ll also need to fix what’s broken in education in Indiana,” Pence said at a legislative conference late last year. “For education to work in our state, it has to work at the highest levels.”

Pence offered an olive branch of sorts by eliminating his education agency, the Center for Education and Career Innovation, appeasing Ritz. The governor has also called on legislators to allow state board members to elect their own board chair, rather than let the superintendent automatically assume that role.

But neither of those ideas address what many people see as the root of the problem.

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Pre-K: How Does Indiana Compare On The National Scene?

The new year brings a fresh start, and nobody is more aware of impending changes than families in Allen, Lake, Marion and Vanderburgh counties.

Indiana’s first preschool pilot program begins in those four communities in January, when an anticipated 450 low-income four-year-olds will head off to school for the first time.

Forty others, plus the District of Columbia, already have state-funded pre-k. Indiana will become the 41st. President Obama has been pushing for more states to adopt preschool programs, and in doing so he’s been dropping names of states he sees as national examples, including Oklahoma, which was one of the first to offer free voluntary pre-k in 1998.

Approximately 46 percent of children across the country – approximately 3.7 million – attend preschool, according to data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

In the early stages of planning Indiana’s program, Melanie Brizzi of Indiana’s Family and Social Services Administration gave StateImpact a list of states she considered as models for the Hoosier state’s program.

“Minnesota, Florida, Ohio, Illinois – there’s an abundance of research material we can go to,” Brizzi said.

Let’s take a look at some of those states and see how Indiana compares.

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How The Role Of A School Librarian Is Changing

Once upon a time, Jaime Burkhart would have been considered a “librarian.”

“My job description title in Monroe County is ‘media specialist’,” Burkhart explains.

As technology finds its way into classrooms, librarians are seeing their roles in schools change.

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.”

Librarians really are curating information, however that is.
-Jaime Burkhart, Librarian/Media Specialist

‘Media Specialist’: What’s in a name?

To work in a school, certified librarians like Burkhart must also hold a valid teaching license in the state of Indiana. This allows them to know the standards they help support, so they can use their other skills to help teachers work effectively.

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Extracurricular Rules May Exclude Some Homeschoolers

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?

Kim Mountain addresses the members of his homeschool volleyball team, the Indy Silver Lightning.

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.

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Home Work: Homeschool Families Don’t Have Many State Guidelines

Trends indicate homeschooling is on the rise across the country and in the Hoosier state.

The most recent federal stats come from the 2011-2012 school year, when according to the National Center for Education Statistics, 1.8 million children were homeschooled. That’s about three percent of the school-age population.

Emily (left) and Holli Burnfield work on language arts lessons together. The girls are homeschooled, along with their younger sister Layla, in Bloomfield.

Emily (left) and Holli Burnfield work on language arts lessons together. The girls are homeschooled, along with their younger sister Layla, in Bloomfield.

In a recent report by the The Republic newspaper in Columbus, homeschool groups in Indiana have also seen an influx of members in recent years.

But there’s no way to be sure. Many states don’t keep a tally. Indiana’s Department of Education tries to keep track – parents who want to homeschool are encouraged to report their enrollment – but since it’s not mandatory, state officials say there’s no way to know if their data is accurate.

“Indiana has had a fairly long tradition of hands off in terms of regulation and oversight,” says Rob Kunzman, who heads the International Center for Home Education Research at Indiana University. “It just goes back to the setup for education oversight in our country more generally that it’s a state decision in terms of regulation of their educational system.”

More parents nowadays see homeschooling as a way to circumvent the frustrations that come with traditional schooling. But the state provides little regulation and oversight, so they’re largely left to their own devices.

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Shortened Summers Help Students But Hurt Seasonal Businesses

School corporations around the state are going back to school earlier, which hurts seasonal businesses like Holiday World Theme Park.

School corporations around the state are going back to school earlier, which hurts seasonal businesses like Holiday World Theme Park.

Increasingly around the state and country, the first day of school is getting earlier with some districts starting the first week of August. Research supports earlier start dates, saying it increases student retention by giving them less time over the summer to forget important information. Outside of the education community though, seasonal businesses feel the effects of the absence of free time for students during traditional summer months.

It’s not year-round school, it’s a balanced calendar

The shorter summer is because of the balanced calendar some school districts are trying. Instead of summer being about two and a half months long, the days off are spread throughout the school year. This usually means summer break is only a month and a half, but Christmas, Thanksgiving and Spring break are significantly longer.

School districts are not adopting this calendar to take summer away from kids or punish seasonal businesses; many say it’s the best thing for students.

Steve Phillips is the superintendent of Mitchell Community Schools near Bedford and says his district switched to the balanced calendar two years ago.

“I heard consistently that once students get back from a long summer, they had to take a week, two weeks, three weeks just to catch them back up to the level that they were when they left so I think there’s some merit to that concept,” Phillips says.

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Non-Teaching Personnel Now Account For Half Of District Staffs

With few exceptions, the number of staff in schools is growing, but most of them are not teachers.

According to a report published last week by the Fordham Institute, the number of non-teaching personnel in schools has increased over the last half century at a rate that outpaces even the growth of teachers and students.

The number of teachers' aides on public school staffs has increased by 130 percent since the year 1970.

The number of teachers' aides on public school staffs has increased by 130 percent since the year 1970.

Since 1970, the total number of employees in the nation’s schools grew from 3.4 million to 6.2 million, an 84 percent increase. During that same period, the student population grew only by about 8 percent. In other words, for every four children added to American schools, districts hired three adults.

The number of teachers added has steadily increased, but what comes as a surprise to many is that non-teaching personnel have accounted for the majority of the growth on staffs. This group increased in size by more than 130 percent, and they now make up close to half of the average public school district’s workforce, counting about 3 million nationwide.

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As New School Year Begins, Teachers Cope With Education Changes

Teachers around the state are trying to adjust to new standards and anticipate the unknown assessment students will take this spring.

Teachers around the state are trying to adjust to new standards and anticipate the unknown assessment students will take this spring.

The saga of education policy in Indiana has waged in both the statehouse and the classroom the last few years. Academic standards, the No Child Left Behind waiver, and the state assessment have all become points of contention, and this fall all of these changes are coming to a head for teachers and students.

Many Indiana teachers skipped summer vacation this year to re-evaluate lessons created for Common Core standards, and try to anticipate what the new assessment will ask of students.

Navigating The Unknown

Tami Geltmaker, an administrator in the Crawford County School Corporation, is one of those teachers and says she is facing more changes this year than any of her previous 31 years as an educator.

In July, Geltmaker joined dozens of school administrators from Southern Indiana for a professional development session in Huntingburg. She said she was looking for tips to help her prepare lessons around the state’s new academic standards and the new assessment students will take this spring.

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Wayne Township Uses Old School Bus To Deliver Summer Meals

The mobile café is a refurbished school bus that has all the amenities of a school cafeteria.

The mobile café is a refurbished school bus that has all the amenities of a school cafeteria.

The scene in a school cafeteria is pretty common: lunch ladies organizing cartons of milk, the scent of ammonia and bleach used to sanitize table tops lingering in the air, and kids refusing to try their carrots.

It’s also the scene on MSD of Wayne Township’s new mobile bus café that launched this summer. The mobile cafe is housed on a refurbished school bus that has linoleum floors, fold down tables and benches and a built in cooler to store food.

“You walk in here and once you sit down you almost feel like you’re in a pretty traditional lunchroom,” Jeff Butts, MSD of Wayne Township superintendent said. “It’s the same kind of a countertop and the same kind of a bus seat you would see in a cafeteria table.”

Butts says the district made the renovations to the two school buses to provide consistent and nutritious lunches to students who use free and reduced price lunches during the school year, so they wouldn’t go hungry when school is out.

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