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.
Rachel Morello / StateImpact Indiana
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.
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.
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.
Rachel Morello / StateImpact Indiana
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.
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.
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.
Last week, Governor Mike Pence announced the five counties chosen to participate in the state’s first pre-k pilot program, which is scheduled for a full launch next July.
Rachel Morello / StateImpact Indiana
Students at a Jump Start program in Seymour work with their teacher on learning the alphabet.
Schools in Allen, Jackson, Lake, Marion and Vanderburgh counties plan to have the program up and running for the 2015-16 school year. That means they have exactly 12 months to prepare – and already the clock seems to be ticking rather quickly.
Of the counties selected, only Jackson is considered a rural area. With a population of more than 43,000 people, the southeastern Indiana county consists of four distinct towns, the largest of which is Seymour. Pre-k has recently become a topic of interest there, as well as in each of the outer lying towns – Brownstown, Crothersville and Medora.
“There’s a push to really see if we can move that needle up,” says Dan Hodge, executive director of the Jackson County Education Coalition. “I think everybody understands why it’s important, it’s just the logistics of getting it done.”
Most of the state will not participate in the new pre-k pilot program, but that isn't stopping them from increasing access to preschool.
Indiana is selecting five counties –Allen, Jackson, Lake, Marion and Vanderburgh—to test its pre-k pilot program and see whether it should be expanded to the rest of the state. Only parents in those five counties will be eligible to receive state dollars to pay for preschool, but local leaders in counties that didn’t qualify for the program are still seeking ways to make early childhood education a priority.
What is the pilot program?
First off, we need to understand what the program is and how it works.
The pre-k pilot program is a result of legislation the General Assembly passed this year. The program provides money to low-income families in the five counties selected to enroll their four-year-olds in a high quality preschools. In terms of this legislation, low-income is defined as making less than 127 percent of the federal poverty level. A high quality program is defined as meeting Level 3 or 4 on the state’s Paths To Quality ranking system.
Children will enroll in these programs, and the Family and Social Services Administration will conduct a longitudal study to see how preschool for these students affects their education in the long run. This is why the program is only available in limited areas right now.
Infighting is nothing new for Indiana’s State Board of Education.
Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana
A crowd member shows her support for State Superintendent Glenda Ritz during July's State Board of Education meeting.
In the last year alone, board meetings have resulted in a walkout, a lawsuit and a whole lot of confusion.
But tensions between the board and its chair, superintendent Glenda Ritz, reached a new level at last week’s meeting.
As we reported, board members brought forth two controversial resolutions. One would allow them more involvement in important matters, such as the state’s No Child Left Behind waiver, and another would change meeting procedures to give everyone a say in planning and appeals.
This latest power struggle arguably interferes with the work the state’s education leaders are supposed to be doing, and many constituents – notably teachers – have expressed concern.
Mattie Grimes dropped out of high school. She’s now 31-years-old and a single mom, but she hasn’t lost sight of her career aspirations.
Claire McInerny / StateImpact Indiana
The Excel Center in Kokomo serves over 300 adult students seeking their high school diploma.
“I want to work in a factory,” Grimes says. “I don’t like working fast food.”
She’s also realistic about her goal.
“Factories will not hire you unless you have a high school diploma,” says Grimes. “So if that’s something that I want to do, I gotta have what I gotta have.”
Two-thirds of employers say a diploma is the least people like Grimes need to have, according to a recent survey by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. Nearly 40 percent of employers say they have left jobs unfilled because they could not find qualified applicants.
Máire Flood explains different cues babies give for different needs to new mom Jazmin Smith. The two work together as part of the Nurse Family Partnership, which pairs Medicaid eligible moms with a nurse to learn best practices for raising a child.
Every week, Máire Flood arrives at Jazmin Smith’s home armed with a scale, measuring tape and binders of information about child development. All of this is used to help Smith raise her three-month-old son, Amiri-Jayden.
Flood is a nurse home visitor with the Nurse Family Partnership, an entity of Goodwill Industries that partners Medicaid eligible mothers like Smith with a nurse who helps them through pregnancy up until their child turns two. They talk about everything from what to expect during labor to breastfeeding.
“We also do what are called PIPE lessons,” Flood said. “Which is Partners In Parenting Education, and a lot of those are about being your baby’s first teacher and reading to your baby and picking up on cues and all those kinds of things.”