Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom


As State Officials Ponder Fines, Testing Company Execs Explain ISTEP+ Disruptions

Apologetic executives from the testing company whose servers overloaded twice — interrupting April’s online ISTEP+ exams twice — told the combined membership of the Indiana House and Senate Education Committees that they took responsibility for the errors.

“I have family here in Indiana,” said Ellen Haley, president of CTB/McGraw-Hill. “It was very disappointing to have this happen and have this impact schoolchildren in Indiana. Please accept my sincere apologies and regret that anything at all happened.”

Haley’s statements came on the same day Department of Education officials announced they would be seeking at least $613,600 in damages from CTB — though a Department of Education spokesperson later stressed that the penalties “could reasonably go into the millions” — in part to pay for an outside review of the disrupted exams that’s already underway. Continue Reading

How A Group Of High School Students Wants Indiana To Grade Their High School

The eight students in Ben Davis High School’s AP Statistics class didn’t have time for senioritis. On Tuesday, their last day of high school ever, the eight college-bound seniors dressed up for a final presentation.

The subject: Indiana’s A-F rating system for schools.

We first met this group two weeks ago after Wayne Township superintendent Jeff Butts asked me to explain the labyrinthine grading formula to the class.*

For the next step of their assignment — making formal recommendations for how to re-write the A-F model — Butts invited three state lawmakers, including House Education Committee Chair Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, and a representative for state superintendent Glenda Ritz to the Indianapolis high school to hear their proposals.

But while the students’ pitch couldn’t be more timely — the Indiana General Assembly has given state education officials until November to completely re-write the formula — the Ben Davis class is also entering a political fray as complex as the A-F grading system itself. Continue Reading

Why Construction Referenda Could Lead To Inequalities In School Facilities

Elle Moxley / StateImpact Indiana

Facilities Manager Darren Hess and Snider High School Principal Deborah Watson explain Fort Wayne Community Schools' plan to renovate 36 buildings.

As a rule of thumb, for every ten cents a school corporation asks for when proposing a tax levy increase, it knocks a percentage point off the number of voters supporting the referendum.

“In a close election, that could make the difference,” says Purdue agricultural economist Larry DeBoer. “Though most of these elections haven’t been that close.”

Before 2008, Indiana school corporations could levy up to $2 million without asking for taxpayer approval. But changes to how schools are funded have sent an increasing number of districts to the ballot box in the last five years. Only 16 of the 40 districts that have pursued major construction projects have succeeded.

That has DeBoer and others who study school finance curious about the future of facilities maintenance in Indiana schools.

“Will it be the case that some school corporations find that they can pass the referendum and therefore they can keep their facilities up to date and have new buildings and better facilities,” he says, “while other school corporations perhaps cannot?” Continue Reading

After Project School's Closure, Parents Make New School Choice: Start Over

Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

Matthew Brooks points down the hallway of an old school building in Indianapolis in which he and other Project Libertas leaders are considering renting space next year. Project Libertas, a private, non-accredited school formed by charter school the Indianapolis Mayor's Office shut down last summer, is currently renting space in a church-owned gymnasium just northeast of downtown.

The ink was barely dry on a legal decision that sealed fate of The Project School — Mayor Greg Ballard had ordered the Indianapolis charter school to close — when some of the school’s staff declared they would still hold classes this year, charter or not.

And about 20 defiant families have done just that.

The school they’ve opened, called “Project Libertas,” has very little money. But with about 35 students in Grades K-8 and a small staff of former Project School hands, the parents are now seeking a more permanent home.

“I don’t know there’s even a word to describe us,” says parent Matthew Brooks, sitting in a small room in the school’s current location — a church-run gymnasium on Indianapolis’ east side. “We’d need a few hyphenations. We’re an independent, hyphen… communal, hyphen… startup school.” Continue Reading

Rockville Students Spend Afternoon At 'Museum'

Elle Moxley / StateImpact Indiana

Younger students walk through the halls of Rockville Elementary School as fifth graders portray famous historical figures. The students can't talk or interact with their parents or peers while part of the Tableau Museum.

You’re in fifth grade. It’s the day before school lets out for winter break. You’re excited about the holidays, the forecasted winter storm and no homework for two weeks.

But before you can go, your teacher makes you stand in the hallway — perfectly still, perfectly silent — while your peers file past. Sound like a tall order? Welcome to the annual Rockville Elementary School Tableau Museum.

We spent a lot of time covering policy here at StateImpact. I was in Rockville Thursday looking at the state’s A-F letter grade system. But when Principal Jeff Eslinger asked if I’d stay another hour “to see something special,” well, you can’t say no to that.

So for a bit of light-hearted fun, I’ll let fifth grader Kennett Taylor explain his class’ history project.  Continue Reading

What's At Stake For Special Education In Fiscal Cliff Negotiations

Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

Tori Tackett, 20, plays a board game with another student in the CHOICE program, an initiative of the Northeast Indiana Special Education Cooperative.

No Indiana school district stands to lose more than 3 percent of its overall revenues if President Obama and Congressional leaders fail to reach an agreement before a looming budget deadline.

But if Indiana schools were to lose the estimated $114 million in federal K-12 education funding at stake in the so-called “fiscal cliff” debate, programs for some of the state’s most vulnerable student populations would feel a deeper impact.

That’s because dollars underwrite services for special education students — and by law, local districts must still fund those services even if those dollars fall victim to the automatic spending cuts coming at year’s-end.

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Updated: Overflow Crowd Packs IDOE, Awaits Vote On Teacher Licensing Provision

A large crowd of parents, educators and advocates packed the State Board of Education’s meeting in Indianapolis on Monday morning as the executive panel met to consider a broad package of changes to Indiana’s teacher licensure guidelines.

The proposal, known in shorthand as REPA II, has been controversial, as we’ve written. Supporters say the provision offers more flexibility in who gets licensed while still allowing schools to decide what teachers get hired. Opponents say REPA II “de-professionalizes” teaching by de-emphasizing training prospective educators receive in colleges of education.

Here are some of the public comments offered on the proposal so far: Continue Reading

How Career And Technical Education Is Changing In Indiana

Elle Moxley / StateImpact Indiana

Students in the C4 Columbus Area Career Connection building trades program dig a foundation for a out building on Aug. 30, 2012. Students work on one large-scale construction project each year — usually a house —€” but this year they’re building a new baseball complex for the Bartholomew School Corporation.

“You think greasy, dirty, grimy, whatever, and that’s just not the case anymore.”
—Gene Hack, director of C4 Columbus Area Career Connection

It’s just after 2 o’clock on a Thursday afternoon. The sun is high in the sky, and the construction workers digging the foundation of a storage building at Columbus North High School’s new baseball field are about to call it a day.

But once they’re done, they’ll board a yellow bus and go back to school. That’s because the workers at this construction site are high school students.

Both major party gubernatorial candidates are calling for Indiana high schools to bring back vocational training. Yet most Indiana school districts already have robust career and technical education programs — and they’re not just for students preparing for college.

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How Indiana Schools Are Blurring The Lines Between Computer & Classroom

Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

A teacher at Carpe Diem charter school in Indianapolis assists a student working in the 'learning center.' Students spend half their day in this room, which is filled with hundreds of cubicles and computers, working on assignments online. Teachers use data about their progress to craft classroom lessons.

Indianapolis high school junior Reo Burton spends as much of his school day at a cubicle as he does in a classroom.

Half of Burton’s time is spent in a classroom, but the other half is spent taking online courses with the assistance of both virtual and in-person teachers and learning coaches.

“It’s a lot more interactive than one would believe — just sitting in a cubicle working,” Burton says.

This mix between digital curriculum and in-classroom instruction is called “blended learning,” and Burton is part of a small handful of Indiana students who’ve moved to similar schools.

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