Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom


Building Funds: How Charter Schools Benefit From The Newest Budget

We’ve been talking a lot about money leading up to, during and now after the conclusion of the 2015 “education session.”

(Photo Credit: Michelle Vinnacombe/Flickr)

(Photo Credit: Michelle Vinnacombe/Flickr)

That’s because lawmakers spent a good deal of time this year reworking the way schools are funded – not just traditional public schools, but charter schools too.

These institutions saw a pretty big swing in their favor in the state’s new biennial budget: they can now receive additional money to pay for things like buildings, technology, and transportation – money they couldn’t previously access.

Not everyone likes charter schools, or believes that they should be handed public funds, but others say the move could serve as a pretty big incentive to not only to draw more charter schools into Indiana, but to keep the schools that are already here – and their traditional counterparts – performing at a high level.

‘Space Available’

Mariama Carson stands in an empty parking lot on Commercial Drive, off of I-465 on the north side of Indianapolis. She looks up at a building that sits on the south end of the lot, among a series of strip malls. This particular space sits between a small Chinese restaurant and an abandoned H.H. Gregg grocery store.

A vacant space at 3695 Commercial Drive that Mariama Carson is considering for her proposed charter school, set to open in 2016. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

A vacant space at 3695 Commercial Drive that Mariama Carson is considering for her proposed charter school, set to open in 2016. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

“A former Hobby Lobby,” Carson explains. “That’s what I know it as. I was a teacher down in this area, and I remember coming here to get crafts and things for the classroom.”

Carson, a former school principal in Pike Township, points to a different sign now atop the building entrance: “For Lease: Space Available, 56,000 square feet.” She says the space might be an option for Global Prep Academy, the proposed charter school she hopes to run.

“I think they’re waiting for it to be revived, and I’m hoping that this kind of space would be great for a school to revive the area,” Carson says.

3695 Commercial Drive has been empty for a long time; the last time Carson says she remembers coming in for craft supplies was maybe 10 years ago. In fact, five or six other retail spaces beside it also boast bold-faced “For Lease” signs.

Despite the vacancies, Carson says this area – dubbed the “International Marketplace” – is exactly the type of environment she’s been looking for to house her proposed K-8 school for dual language learners.

“The International Marketplace collectively is the most diverse pocket in the entire state of Indiana,” Carson recounts. “Wanting to have a school that’s in close proximity to the demographics we’re going after, it’s this place.”

But there is a major factor standing in her way: cost.

“The total for the whole project from the renovation standpoint was like $4.5 million – that’s just renovation, not even for the building,” Carson says. “To buy it is like over a million dollars.”

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Mandatory Kindergarten Falls Off This Year’s Legislative Docket

Legislation before the General Assembly this session sought to make kindergarten mandatory for Hoosier children by lowering the compulsory school age from seven to five.

It’s an issue that has lawmakers and educators split, even as the state focuses on funding early education initiatives.

‘Kindergarten Is The New First Grade’

These are the some of the more than 60 skills five-year-olds are expected to learn now in Indiana’s public kindergartens:

  • Count to 100 by ones,
  • Solve real-world problems that involve addition and subtraction, and
  • Understand how a nonfiction book is organized.

They’re the same skills that could cause a student to struggle during first grade if they haven’t been exposed to them earlier.

Should kindergarten be mandatory for Hoosier kids? (Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks/Flickr)

Should kindergarten be mandatory for Hoosier kids? (Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks/Flickr)

“I am hoping they are going to be able to read and write and do their math and be able to count and recognize numbers,” says Karen Berman, a 24-year kindergarten teacher at Greenbrier Elementary in Washington Township. “We are doing a lot with number sense and it’s unbelievable.”

Students in Berman’s class use interactive technology, shout out fractions during group number games and learn how the government works.

Kindergarten, Berman says, is the new first grade.

“I think you have to mandate kindergarten,” Berman says. “What difference does it make if you put them in pre-k and they don’t go any further? And then go to first grade – they are still going to be behind. Yes, you have to have the pre-k, there is no question about it, but you have to mandate kindergarten.”

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What Happens If Kids Opt Out of ISTEP+?

The road to this year’s ISTEP+ test has been bumpy. Recurring problems with technology and last-minute legislative changes to trim the length of the test have only added to the frustrations many Hoosier parents feel about the stressful effects of standardized testing.

Many parents are deciding to “opt out,” or withdraw their child from this year’s pool of test-takers.

But that decision could have serious repercussions for teachers, schools and even the state.

When Children Worry, Parents Act

Caswell Woodruff was a third grader at Bloomfield Elementary School last year when he began relaying ISTEP+ horror stories to his mother, Resa.

Bloomfield parent Resa Woodruff displays a picture of her son Caswell, 9. (Photo Credit: Barbara Harrington/WTIU News)

Bloomfield parent Resa Woodruff displays a picture of her son Caswell, 9. (Photo Credit: Barbara Harrington/WTIU News)

“He would tell me some of the things the teachers would say about ‘you have to pass this,’” Woodruff says. “He would just tell me some of the kids were worried and concerned and just the stresses of the environment in the classroom because of the testing.”

Worried for her son, Woodruff began researching, finding any information she could about Indiana’s standardized tests – and what she found scared her, too.

“The more research we did on the subject, the more we wanted to opt our child out of the test,” Woodruff says. “They’re not a reliable and accurate assessment of our child’s developmental growth.”

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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.

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.”

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.

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

Bill Shaw / WTIU News

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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