To many, Dr. Cheryl Pruitt stands out among other important Gary residents and benefactors, including Oprah, the Jackson 5 and Magic Johnson. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)
A sneak peek…
Dr. Cheryl Pruitt is a product of the district she now heads. During the course of her career, she has also taught and served as an administrator at several Gary schools. She says she never planned to become superintendent – it’s one of those things that “just kind of happened.” And, she says, it’s home.
Despite her love for the city, she’s not in denial about the problems its school district faces.
I’m probably not the traditional superintendent, because I have debt, I have funding, I have education – and then I have the negative publicity, the vouchers, the charters, the takeover – it kind of all just goes together in my head.
By now, you’ve likely heard this headline: Indiana – like many other states all over the country – is facing a teacher shortage.
As we’ve reported, the number of first-year educators granted a Hoosier State license dropped pretty dramatically last year. Across the nation, fewer people are becoming teachers than in past years, too. Enrollment in teacher preparation programs in the U.S. fell by about 30 percent between 2010 and 2014.
For the most part, people agree this drop could represent a troubling trend. Where they tend to disagree is in what’s causing it, and what the appropriate response should be.
Everyone, even the national media, has an opinion. Long story short: officials mulling over what to do about Indiana’s situation usually lie in one of two camps.
On one side, there are those who see the shortage as a problem that can be addressed most effectively on the front end, when teachers first enter school as students. They see it as a matter of what teaching trainees pay for their education versus the return on that investment once they get a job.
Gordon Hendry listens during a State Board of Education meeting earlier this spring. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)
Indiana State Board of Education member Gordon Hendry sits on this side of the issue. He says he thinks he has a solution that will get more of the state’s best and brightest into Hoosier classrooms: do something about their low salaries.
“There’s been a substantial rise in the cost of getting a higher education in our state. When you weigh that against the teacher salaries, I think the formula is a little out of whack,” Hendry says.
Mallory Rickbeil and her boyfriend Chris Stearly want to buy a home, but Rickbeil’s student debt is preventing them from moving forward with that decision. (Photo Credit: Claire McInerny/StateImpact Indiana)
The path to a college education has gotten pretty complicated.
The American job force is increasingly demanding a college degree, and at the same time it’s becoming more and more unaffordable to get one. Tuition is increasing and grants and financial assistance aren’t keeping pace. Young people are taking out thousands of dollars to get just a bachelor’s degree, and as we’ve reported, Indiana has one of the highest rates of college graduates defaulting on their student loans.
With the millennial generation carrying more student loan debt than any other, what does this do to the overall economy, as millennials move toward marriage and home buying? How will their habits change the landscape of higher education?
First Comes Love, Then Comes…Debt Payments?
Mallory Rickbeil and Chris Stearly just moved into a new house in Bloomington. This is the second place they’re renting together, and it’s an upgrade from their previous home.
“There’s so much space,” Rickbeil says. “Chris and I were looking around being like, ‘we have too much space.’”
Roominess aside, the new house has one huge flaw: it’s not theirs.
“Chris and I have the same objective of wanting to have a house that we own, and at this point Chris is much more capable of doing that than I am – in a large part because of my student loans,” Rickbeil says.
Rickbeil owes thousands of dollars in student loan debt for a master’s degree she finished three years ago. She pays around $500 a month, which makes it tricky to make ends meet, let alone save for a house, something she and Chris are ready to do.
Momentum is so great that programs are popping up in places you might not otherwise expect them – like the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The IMA has offered summer classes and supplemental educational programming for years, but this is the first time it is hosting a group of young children for a year-long classroom experience. And like many of these other institutions, the IMA has a lot to consider in starting this type of educational program.
Children and adults alike have had opportunities to experience the IMA beyond its galleries and exhibits for years. The museum offers an array of courses ranging from creative indoor workshops to interactive adventure sessions at one of its many garden and outdoor facilities.
There is also plenty of programming for school groups, who often schedule their own field trips to the museum. Heidi Davis-Soylu, the IMA’s manager of academic engagement and learning research, noticed that one such local group took frequent advantage of these events, and decided it was worth forging a partnership.
Art supplies line the countertop in a preschool classroom at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)
A toddler art program came out of that collaboration with St. Mary’s Child Center, which expanded and evolved into what has now become the IMA preschool.
“We learned a lot about working with toddlers in the art galleries – what’s the good ratio? How do we make this a space where they feel like they belong, but they also know how to be quiet in the hallways if we need to?” Davis-Soylu explains. “Bringing in the arts is a great natural fit for early childhood education.”
So beginning this week, just as the museum is opening to the public, a gaggle of three- and four-year-olds is leaving the building at the end of their school day. This group of seven makes up the IMA’s very first preschool class.
“As the largest art institution in the state and as in schools cutbacks are happening for art education are happening, we’re charged with that task to play that role,” Davis-Soylu says.
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.
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 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.”
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)
“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.”
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)
“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.”
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 →
“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.”