Indiana

Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

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Can Community Involvement Help Turn Around A Struggling School?

Elizabeth Huffman reads with her tutor at Fairview Elementary. The Bloomington school has brought in Indiana University students to tutor struggling readers.

Elizabeth Huffman reads with her tutor at Fairview Elementary in Bloomington.

The Monroe County Community School Corporation hopes it has found a new solution to low standardized test scores at Fairview Elementary in Bloomington.

The school is partnering with an Indiana University student group in hopes strong community ties can help struggling readers improve.

Fifth grader Elizabeth Huffman likes to read, but her mom Autumn Huffman says she could use some help with reading comprehension.

“I hope that she not necessarily has a newfound love of reading but is able to delve into it a little bit more as I saw her do today,” says Huffman. Continue Reading

Indiana Repeals Common Core, But Debate On Academic Standards Continues

Students in Fatonia Shank's fourth grade class at Indianapolis' Liberty Park Elementary solve a multi-step math problem.

Students in Fatonia Shank's fourth grade class at Indianapolis' Liberty Park Elementary solve a multi-step math problem.

The clock is ticking for Indiana education officials to approve new academic standards.

As we wrote earlier this week, Gov. Mike Pence  signed legislation that withdraws Indiana from the Common Core and requires state education officials write their own expectations for what students should know and learn at each grade level.

“I’ve pledged consistently that we’re going to write standards in Indiana that are written by Hoosiers, for Hoosiers, and are uncommonly high,” says Pence. “And we are deep into a completely transparent process and public process to do that.”

But that process is ongoing — schools won’t get new standards until later this spring.

“Children that are a finishing this year will finish under the existing Indiana standards, so teachers and students as well as, obviously, their families should not anticipate any changes moving towards the end of this calendar year,” says Lou Ann Baker, spokesman for Pence’s Center for Education and Career Innovation.

So for now, not much changes in Indiana classrooms. But as the first state to leave the Common Core, all eyes are now on Indiana. Continue Reading

Q&A: Why Indiana Lawmakers Aren’t Ready To Fund Preschool

Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, sits on the Indiana Senate Education Committee and chairs the Appropriations Committee.

Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, sits on the Indiana Senate Education Committee and chairs the Appropriations Committee.

“This,” says Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, referring to a proposed preschool program, “is almost a potential budget buster.”

Gov. Mike Pence asked state lawmakers this year to approve a small-scale preschool pilot program for low-income 4-year-olds. But Kenley, who chairs the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, says he’s not ready to commit to state-funded pre-K.

That’s why the Senate Education Committee said the governor’s preferred proposal was too expensive and elected instead to study the issue this summer.

Though there’s a chance lawmakers could still approve some funding for a pilot program, budget hawks remain skeptical of the plan. Continue Reading

For Indiana’s Smallest Districts, Decision To Consolidate Is More Than Financial

Cannelton City Schools Supt. Al Sibbitt drives down the town's main drag.

Cannelton City Schools superintendent Al Sibbitt drives down the town's main drag, pointing out shuttered stores and businesses.

Over the past decade, academics and political leaders have delivered a consistent message to Indiana’s smallest school districts: If possible, consolidate with a nearby district.

Recent Ball State research says half of the state’s school districts could reduce costs through a merger. Yet only a handful of schools have actually done it — in part because pressing financial need sometimes isn’t enough to drive consolidation.

Halfway between Louisville and Evansville on the Ohio River are two small cities: Tiny Tell City, Ind., and the even tinier Cannelton. Cannelton’s only three miles upstream from Tell City — but it can seem like it’s worlds apart.

“Here’s some old buildings, just sitting here, empty,” says Cannelton City Schools superintendent Al Sibbitt as he drives down Washington Street. Continue Reading

Tiny, Troubled District Wonders How Indiana Would Replace Business Tax Dollars

Cannelton City Schools was in "complte disarray" when Al Sibbitt took over two years ago. The 72-year-old part-time superintendent has had to implement steep cuts to keep the district going, but revenues are still drying up.

Cannelton City Schools was in 'complete disarray' when Al Sibbitt took over two years ago. The 72-year-old part-time superintendent has had to implement steep cuts to keep the district going, but revenues are still drying up.

At 72, Al Sibbitt doesn’t need to be working. But his part-time job still keeps him up nights.

“Where can I cut a few dollars here?” the Cannelton City Schools superintendent will ask himself when he can’t sleep. “Where can I save a few dollars there?”

When he took the job two years ago, Indiana’s smallest school district already had big financial problems. As if Cannelton’s declining enrollment weren’t problematic enough, the state’s Attorney General filed a lawsuit in 2012 against Sibbitt’s predecessor, who may have misspent more than $615,000 of the district’s money.

But on top of that, Cannelton has lost more than half of its local tax revenues to the state’s property tax caps. Proportionally speaking, only three Indiana districts have lost more to these constitutionally-enshrined limits on how much property owners pay to local governments.

“And now they’re talking about taking the machinery off the tax rolls,” Sibbitt says, referring to state lawmakers’ proposal to scale back Indiana’s business equipment tax. “Who’s going to make that up?” Continue Reading

What’s At Stake For Indiana Businesses In Lawmakers’ Equipment Tax Debate

Draper, Inc., in Spiceland is the largest private employer in Henry County, manufacturing various equipment for schools.

Draper, Inc., in Spiceland is the largest private employer in Henry County, manufacturing various equipment for schools.

The Draper, Inc., plant in Spiceland might have been the birthplace of your school’s gymnasium.

The manufacturer actually makes all kinds of equipment for schools, from window shades to projection systems. Look one way and you’ll see a basketball hoop hanging from the ceiling. Look another direction, and you’ll see wall padding stacked on a pallet.

“I’ll sell a lot of these to Saudi Arabia,” says Nate LaMar, who manages international sales.

Any equipment Draper employees use to make these products in its 400,000 square foot plant in Spiceland — from staple guns to forklifts — is subject to Indiana’s business personal property tax. It’s not just manufacturing equipment; office supplies and computers are taxed too.

LaMar says he sees both sides of state lawmakers’ current debate over whether to cut that tax, which generates $1 billion in revenues for local governments. In addition to his work at Draper, LaMar is also president of the Henry County Council. If lawmakers totally eliminated the tax, the county’s budget takes a $391,000 hit.

Though neither of the bills General Assembly members approved last week amount to a total elimination of the business personal property tax, school districts still stand to lose more than $170 million from funds already bruised by the state’s property tax caps. Continue Reading

If Indiana Offers Pre-K Vouchers, Who Will Ensure Quality?

A Head Start teacher in South Bend reads to her students.

A Head Start teacher in South Bend reads to her class of 4-year-olds.

Indiana is one of 10 states that doesn’t provide any public money for preschool — but, if elected leaders get their way, that could change soon.

State lawmakers and Gov. Mike Pence say they’ll make pre-K funding a priority in 2014. Pence favors a targeted program for low-income families similar to the Choice Scholarship vouchers the state provides to K-12 students.

But early learning advocates say the success of the initiative will depend largely on how Indiana measures quality.

“Are they going to put in that oversight if they’re giving vouchers? Is that oversight any good?” says Ann Rosen, co-director of the Family Connection, a non-profit that provides teacher assessments to pre-K providers in St. Joseph County.

In the absence of state leadership on early childhood education, it’s been up to community foundations such as Rosen’s to fill the void. Continue Reading

Why Evansville School Leaders Say They Don’t Need State Help To Turn Around A Troubled School

Glenwood Leadership Academy fourth grade teacher Amber Santana leads her students in multiplication drills while pacing across her their desktops. Santana is in her second year at the school.

Glenwood Leadership Academy fourth grade teacher Amber Santana leads her students in multiplication drills while pacing across their desktops. Santana is in her second year at the school.

Her shoes kicked off, a white board in hand, teacher Amber Santana is leading multiplication drills with her fourth graders at Evansville’s Glenwood Leadership Academy — while standing on their desks.

Standing just outside the third-year teacher’s room, Glenwood principal Tamara Skinner smiles.

“I realize that’s a bit unorthodox,” Skinner says, but Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation leaders say that’s the kind of vitality they hope to see in its staff — vitality that’s key to turning the troubled school around.

Teachers were burning out when Skinner took the principal’s job at Glenwood last school year. The school had a discipline problem. Its student body turns over often as kids from the largely-poor neighborhoods on Evansville’s south side moved from school to school.

With one of Indiana’s worst passing rates on last year’s statewide tests, Glenwood is all but assured its sixth straight F — leaving state officials with a decision to make before this school year is over. Continue Reading

Why Closing A School Won’t Keep Buses Running In Muncie

Supporters of Muncie Southside High School asked the Board of Trustees not to close the school. But district officials concluded the building could not be converted to house students in 7-12 grade.

Supporters of Muncie Southside High School asked the Board of Trustees not to close the school. But district officials concluded the building could not be converted to house students in 7-12 grade. Next year all high schoolers in the district will go to Muncie Central.

The Muncie Community Schools Board of Trustees voted this week to consolidate the city’s two high schools. The merger is expected to save the district $1.7 million annually — but it’s unlikely to solve the district’s transportation problems.

Earlier this month voters rejected a referendum that district officials said would keep school buses running. But buildings and buses are two separate issues.

“Very seldom will you have two initiatives like this at the same time,” says Superintendent Tim Heller, who on Monday recommended the board vote to move all high school students to Central and reopen Southside as a middle school.

Despite the efforts of Southside parents and students, who packed town hall meetings advocating for moving grades 7-12 into the high school buildings, the board voted 4-1 in favor of the plan.

Logistically, Heller says there just wasn’t enough space at Southside to make it work. So next year Southside will house grades 6-8, and the district will close Wilson Middle School.

“I was principal of Muncie South for three years,” says Heller. “I would certainly hate to have to close that school. But by the same token, my goal is to continue to meet the payroll on the 5th and 20th of each month.”

Closing Southside, says Heller, will help make that happen. But it won’t save the district enough to pay for bus service, too. Continue Reading

Why Kentucky Might Provide A Template For What To Do With The Common Core

Ryan Davis starts a new unit in his geometry class at Central High School in Louisville, Ky. Davis has been teaching Common Core since 2011 and says the new standards appropriately narrow the number of topics math teachers are expected to cover.

Ryan Davis starts a new unit in his geometry class at Central High School in Louisville, Ky. Davis has been teaching Common Core since 2011 and says the new standards appropriately narrow the number of topics math teachers are expected to cover.

This spring, as Indiana lawmakers debated whether to leave the Common Core initiative, students in neighboring Kentucky were taking new state tests aligned to the nationally-crafted academic standards.

A total of 45 states adopted the new standards for math and English language arts back in 2010. But every state is on a different timeline for implementing the Common Core. Before lawmakers paused rollout here, only kindergarten and first grade teachers had made the switch. Kentucky’s plan was more aggressive. Two years ago, it became the first state in the country to switch to new assessments.

Jamitra Fulleord says her teachers didn’t talk to students about the Common Core specifically, but they did say the new tests would be harder.

“So when the test comes around, of course we’re all nervous,” says Fulleord, a senior at Central High School in Louisville, Ky. “We’re like oh no, we already have like the ACT and the SAT staring at us in the face, so we’re going to have this really hard test.”

And, says Fulleord, the new test was harder. Across Kentucky, the number of students reaching proficiency fell dramatically when the state started testing the more rigorous standards. But they’re back up slightly now. That’s good news not just for Kentucky education officials, but also for education policy watchers here who are looking for signs of what Indiana will do next. Continue Reading

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