Indiana

Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Your Guide To School Referenda On The May 2016 Ballot

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Many schools started turning to these referendum questions after property tax caps went into place in 2008. (photo credit: Jashin Lin/WTIU News)

As the May 3 Indiana primary approaches, ten school districts across the state are asking voters to raise taxes to fund school projects.

In November 2008, Indiana’s public school districts began posing more and more school funding questions to their communities on the ballot – should taxes be raised to fund a certain construction project or boost the district’s general fund?

If a referendum passes, the property taxes increase by a specified amount for a specific period of time. They were rare before the property tax cap. Since November 2008, there have been 128.

It’s a part of the ballot that has significant impact on a local community, but voters often arrive at the polls with little information about their community’s referendum question and why it is there.

There are ten referendum on the May 3 primary ballots. They span the entire state, big and small school districts and fund both general funds and construction projects. Over the next week, we’re going to dig into the ballot questions around the state to bring voters more information about each of them. Here are the ten school districts asking their communities for tax increases:

  • Ft. Wayne Community Schools
  • New Prairie United School Corporation
  • Argos Community Schools
  • Brown County Schools
  • Hamilton Southeastern Schools
  • MSD of Southwest Allen County
  • Noblesville Schools
  • School Town of Speedway
  • Southern Wells Community Schools
  • Wabash City Schools

Referenda Trends Since 2008

School referendum questions became a common ballot measure in Indiana back in 2008, after the legislature voted to enact property tax caps. The caps were written into the state constitution, and the amendment says the government may not collect taxes equaling more than one percent of an owner occupied residence, two percent for other residential properties and three percent for all other properties.

But school districts used to depend on property tax money. Without it, many turned to referenda to supplement.

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Why An Indiana Elementary School Wants Teachers Thinking About Race

Getting teachers to realize their own assumptions can mean having conversations about an often-taboo topic: race.. (Photo Credit: Phil Roeder/Flickr)

Getting teachers to realize their own assumptions can mean having conversations about an often-taboo topic: Race. (Phil Roeder/Flickr)

INDIANAPOLIS — At Eagle Creek Elementary School, the student body is diverse. Three of every four students are students of color. Over half of the school’s 520 students qualify for free or reduced lunch. Sixteen different languages are spoken in the students’ homes.

But for teachers at the school in northwest Indianapolis, it’s a different story.

There are 37 licensed, full time staff. All but four are white.

And that can mean a disconnect between teacher and student experiences. Teachers may enter the classroom with preconceived notions — unconscious biases, assumptions about a student’s background or misinterpretations of a student’s culture.

The complicated part? Teachers might not even realize they’re doing any of that.

To get teachers to recognize their assumptions, Ayana Coles, an African American third grade teacher, invited fellow staff to talk about an often-taboo topic: race.

“I wanted teachers to be more aware of what they’re bringing into the classroom, but also shift the conversation towards how we can use our curriculum to empower our students,” Coles says.

So she gathered a group of teachers for an informal study group on race and culture, entitled Courageous Conversations. During the group meetings, Coles facilitated sessions for teachers to speak about their own racial experiences.

“We had very intense conversations about our own experiences with race, our children’s experience with race,” Coles says. “How that effects school, how our biases can play a role in our classroom.”

It was an awakening that reverberated throughout the building for staff like Principal Kevin Kempton, a white man.

“The goal of that was could we build a safe environment where staff of different cultures could talk openly about their questions?” Kempton says. “Even ask simple questions like ‘Can I use that terminology? Is that right or is that wrong?’”

Kempton says it also laid the groundwork for teachers to talk sensitive topics — white teachers’ own biases from growing up in all-white neighborhoods, black teachers’ concerns about their children’s safety and each person’s role in making the school more culturally competent.

“I wanted to make sure ‘Can a white middle class principal be effective in a building that is different than me?’,” Kempton says. “For a while, I was afraid there may be a ‘No’ to the answer.”

Kempton found the conversations so eye-opening and useful for teachers, he made conversation about cultural relevancy and its impact on instruction part of formal teacher training. This school year, all full-time, certified teachers participated in the conversations.

The Indiana Department of Education recognized the school for the productive conversations. Kempton’s seen the language staff use in the building change. And his opinion about his own role changed, too.

“I have come to the conclusion where now it’s a very strong ‘Yes’,” Kempton says. “But I will only remain effective if I remain mindful of the students I serve, and become as open and knowledgeable and self-reflective as possible. That’s going to be key.”

But challenges remain at the school. Almost one in five students are Hispanic, but there’s no Latino teacher at the school (something Principal Kempton says he’s like changed). About half the student body is black, but only four teachers are.

Kempton says he’s grateful the college student tutors that work with the school through IUPUI are a more diverse group.

“What I’m wanting my kids to do is just see role models that look like them that inspire them,” Kempton says. “It bothers me to think that in a minority school, all of their models that they’re seeing may not look like them. I want them to see themselves.”

Teacher Ayana Coles, who led the initial discussions on race at Eagle Creek, says there’s no easy formula to make a school culturally competent, but it’s important to understand students.

“I wholeheartedly believe that children of color, people who come from lower socio-economic status … they’re oppressed,” Coles says. “We can teach children how to think about the world around them and then use education to change it.”

But to reach students, that means getting through to one group first.

“That won’t happen,” Cole says,” if teachers aren’t on board.”

American Schools And Their Funding Problem

Over the next few weeks the Ed Team at NPR is tackling a simple question: Why do some schools have so much money, while others, well, don’t?

This reporting project is a national collaboration. StateImpact Indiana’s own Claire McInerny was one of 20 education journalists who contributed across the country, and the project explores the dollars behind schools both rich and poor across the nation.

Indiana will be one of the featured states next week, in part two. The web story will take an in-depth look at the money flowing, and not flowing, into schools in the Hoosier State.

This week, in part one, the NPR team takes a look at disparities between how local and state dollars flow to different districts. Check out the interactive map on their website that shows spending per student, by school district, across the country.

(Alyson Hurt and Katie Park/NPR)

(Alyson Hurt and Katie Park/NPR)

In Indiana, the average district spends $11,093 per student. That’s just below the national average. Only eight Indiana districts spend significantly more than the national annual average of $11, 841 per student.

The mechanism behind school funding?

From NPR:

Two words: property tax.

These days, when we ask “the inhabitants in general” to help pay for their schools, we usually start with local property taxes. That’s nothing new. The property tax is an old idea, older than America itself.

The problem with a school-funding system that relies so heavily on local property taxes is straightforward: Property values vary a lot from neighborhood to neighborhood, district to district. And with them, tax revenues.

And in Indiana, that gets a lot more complicated.

The state constitution says that the state can’t collect more than one percent of a homeowner’s gross assessed value in taxes. It’s what’s commonly referred to as property tax caps.

Owners of farmland or rental property won’t pay any more than two percent of the property’s value in taxes. Any other type of property — notably, commercial property — gets capped at three percent.

So what’s that mean? Well, for schools in areas where property values aren’t super high, that means a lot less funding for schools. And even when property values are high, the property tax cap limits their school funding, too.

Here at StateImpact we previously estimated that the caps saved Indiana property owners a total of $704 million on their tax bills in 2013. But it also meant big losses for schools relying on property taxes to fund schools.

The caps prevented school districts from collecting more than $245 million in property taxes in 2013.

Former StateImpact Indiana reporter Kyle Stokes made a video and great explainer laying out how this all works.

Be sure to keep an eye on the NPR Ed Team, their series and a national discussion on school funding over the next few weeks. Follow us on Twitter or follow the conversation online with #schoolmoney.

Indiana’s New Science Standards Require Computer Science

A student at Crawfordsville's Hose Elementary uses a computer in the school's media center. The district has zeroed out its technology fund and made other cuts to make up for revenues they lost because of Indiana's property tax caps.

For the first time, Indiana’s science standards include computer science standards for kindergarten through eighth grade student. (photo credit: Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana).

The State Board of Education approved new sciences standards for K-12 students Friday. For the first time, computer science will be required for elementary and middle school students.

The Indiana Department of Education is required to update standards every six years. Jeremy Eltz, Assistant Director of College and Career Readiness for the DOE, oversaw the re-write of the science standards and says regular updates are especially important for science. He says, with scientific discoveries happening all the time and new technology being developed, it’s important to stay up to date.

The most notable change between the old science standards and the newly adopted ones is the addition of computer science for kindergarten through eighth grade. Eltz says the biggest focus for the re-write was wanting to change the standards from what they call ‘concrete standards’ (ex: know the parts of a cell) to ‘literacy standards’ (students learning how to think critically).

“They’re a little more broad, so you’re able to implement them in the physical, life and earth science content standards,” Eltz says.

To illustrate what he means, take a look at these computer science standards for sixth through eighth graders: Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 2.19.33 PM For a student to master “troubleshooting strategies to identify and solve routine hardware and software problems” they don’t need to be in a computer science class. This can be mastered while using computer programs in any subject, and that’s what Eltz means by ‘literacy standards’.

“Students have skills, proficiencies, and are capable of understanding and achieving certain things in all subject areas,” Eltz says. “So we want to see the computer science standards embedded in English class, math class, social studies, music, things like that. Those should be taught across the board, not just in your science class.”

The new standards also include engineering standards, which are also flexible enough to be taught in other classes.

(View all of the standards and compare them to old science standards here.)

“It’s going to take infrastructure and access and resources for kids to really be able to experience that and learn it as much as they can,” says DOE spokesperson Samantha Hart. “Going forward, we’re going to need to be working with the General Assembly to make sure that the resources are there at the local level.”

Elton says these resources include teacher training.

“This summer and over the fall we’re going to provide a substantial amount of professional development, support and resources,” Eltz says.

SBOE Moves Forward With New Growth Model For A-F Grades

State Board of Education members Steve Yager, Cari Whicker and Vince Bertram listen to the presentation about the growth tables at Friday's meeting.

State Board of Education members Steve Yager, Cari Wicker and Vince Bertram listen to the presentation about the growth tables at Friday’s meeting. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

The State Board of Education voted Friday to finalize the new A-F system for schools. Their changes include a new growth measure to the accountability system.

Currently, A-F grades for elementary and middle schools are mostly calculated using ISTEP+ scores. Friday’s re-write diversifies the rubric.

(High school students only take the ISTEP+ in one grade level, so multiple factors contribute to those A-F grades.)

The new rules include student growth on the ISTEP+ in the elementary and middle school and high school calculations. This means, if the student’s final ISTEP+ score is a failing grade, but they improved from their score last year, the school will accrue positive points.

And calculating this growth requires a statistical formula, which is what the SBOE voted on Friday. The board voted unanimously to add the growth formula into the new A-F system.

This table represents the percentile ranges that will be used to calculate growth in A-F school accountability grades.

This table represents the percentile ranges that will be used to calculate growth in A-F school accountability grades. The ‘target range’ column shows the percentile range a student’s score may fall into, and how many points the school will earn from that grade. Students whose scores fall in failing percentile ranges can still earn points for their school. If a student’s score on a test puts them in a new category (the far left column) he/she is considered ‘high movement’. If their score stays steady in a certain percentile range, they get the points in the ‘standard movement column. If a student does worse, and receives a lower score than the previous year, they get points awarded in the ‘low movement’ column.  (photo credit: Indiana State Board of Education)

Judy Demuth of the Indiana Urban Schools Association testified before the vote, encouraging the SBOE to postpone its vote on the growth table. The IUSA opposes the growth model because they say it creates “winners and losers” by using percentiles to classify student grades.

“This method of determining student growth forces a comparison of students against each other,” DeMuth said. “Which is contrary to Indiana Code 20-31-8-5.4 prohibiting peer to peer comparisons.”

But Cynthia Roach, Senior Director of Assessment and Accountability for the SBOE, says the Attorney General’s office and the board’s legal staff already addressed this concern.

“They determined it to be legal within requirements of [the law],” Roach said. “All student progress is judged to their growth.”

She says students aren’t being compared to other students, this year’s score is being compared to last year’s score.

Board member Cari Wicker echoed this sentiment. She says the calculation doesn’t need to be easy to understand to be valuable.

“Simplicity is not the goal,” Cari Wicker, “The goal is to be more fair.”

School A-F grades will be calculated using this new system in 2016.

The state accountability system may also change once federal negotiations around the new Every Student Succeeds Act are finalized. The new federal law requires state accountability systems to include multiple measures outside of test scores. The U.S. Department of Education will issue guidelines to states in the next year and a half.

As English Learners In Indiana Grow, How Is The State Preparing?

A growing number of Indiana’s public school students are English learners, EL students, where English isn’t their native language. These students receive additional language instruction at school, in addition to taking their normal classes.

Over the last five years, the number of students classified as English Learners in the state grew by ten percent. And the population is not only growing, it is also diversifying.

“Often there’s a misconception that all of our English Learners are Spanish speakers,” says Nathan Williamson, who oversees all English Learner programs in the state for the Department of Education. “We have 259 different languages, including students with additional needs like refugees or recent immigrants. We also have our migrant students who are moving consistently to find temporary seasonal agriculture work.”

Across the country, EL populations are leaving other states, their first homes (often California, Texas or Arizona), and moving to places like Indiana.

Williamson says, compared to ten or 15 years ago, the population in Indiana has grown exponentially, causing the DOE to ramp up their efforts to assist these programs. But what makes an English learner program successful?

“The best practices start with a very well prepared staff,” says Delia Pompa, a Senior Fellow on Education Policy at the Migration Policy Institute. She says many districts that see a sudden influx of English learners often struggle to meet their needs.

“It doesn’t mean they don’t try to serve them well,” Pompa says. “It means that that’s the number one resource a district would need, personnel, who know how to teach these students and have experiences with them.”

And hiring trained personnel takes money, and this is something the Indiana legislature is starting to notice.

During the 2015 legislative session, lawmakers doubled the fund that helps English learner programs around the state from $5 million a year to $10 million a year. Williamson says this increase helps the DOE provide more training sessions and outreach.

But the state budget simultaneously reduced the amount of money given to students that need free/reduced priced lunch, special education services and English learning services– which can include teachers and support staff for EL parents. For districts with large populations of English learners, that cut was significant.

We reported on the effects of this funding change when we visited Goshen Schools, a district with 30 percent of students classified as English learners.

While Goshen is currently an exception in Indiana, there are now more than 57,000 English learners in the state. This is 5.5 percent of Indiana students, and this population continues to grow.

Pompa says a successful EL program needs to have a clear goal for students. And Williamson says, from the state’s perspective, the goal is clear: Get all non-native speakers proficient in English. But he says it can’t happen with just qualified EL teachers, everyone in a district has to believe in the goal.

“The only way we can achieve that goal in a reasonable amount of time is if every member of that school is on board,” Williamson says. “So that takes our general education homeroom teachers, it takes your counselors, it takes your support area staff– not just your EL staff alone. Because we know that in order to develop English you have to have appropriate support and time throughout the school day.”

SBOE Will Address Failing Schools And A-F Growth Tables

The State Board of Education meets Friday for its monthly meeting. It will decide the fate of seven failing schools.

The State Board of Education meets Friday for its monthly meeting. It will decide the fate of seven failing schools. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/StateImpact Indiana)

The State Board of Education meets Friday for its monthly meeting, and will address the plan for a few turnaround schools and cast a final vote on the A-F growth tables.

The board will address intervention at seven failing schools: Arlington, George Washington, Emma Donnan, Emmerich Manual, T.C. Howe and Broad Ripple Magnet schools in Indianapolis Public Schools as well as Theodore Roosevelt in Gary.

WFYI’s Eric Weddle covered a public meeting in Indianapolis Wednesday, where SBOE members heard from students, parents and district officials. Many testified they want to see the schools returned to IPS.

Follow him tomorrow on Twitter for updates on the turnaround discussions.

Another significant vote will be about the growth proficiency table. The vote comes after discussion last month and a 30 day public comment period.

Currently, A-F grades for elementary and middle schools are mainly calculated using the passing rate from the ISTEP+. But an overhaul of the school grading system last year made student growth on the test a bigger part of the calculation.

The vote Friday centers around how the Department of Education will calculate growth, and last meeting they chose Table 24 in this document. Tomorrow the board will cast an official vote on this method.

The board will also decide which of its members will serve on the new ISTEP+ panel, a group of educators, lawmakers and other stakeholders that will design the new version of the state assessment.

$50 Million State Voucher Program Continues To Grow

The Department of Education released its annual choice scholarship program report Thursday, showing participation in the scholarship continues to grow, with almost three percent of students statewide using the scholarships to attend a private school. More than 32,000 students now use scholarships, up from around 4,000 students the first year, 2011-2012.

The choice scholarship program passed the General Assembly in 2011, and the 2011-2012 school year was the first time scholarships were awarded. The scholarships, funded by the state, allow low income students to enroll in private schools.

The 2015 General Assembly allocated up to $50 million for the program for the next two years.

Below are the seven ways a student can qualify for a scholarship. During the first year of the scholarship, the first two ways were the only choices. For the 2012-2013 school year, the legislature added the third. The 2013-2014 school year was the first year all seven pathways were available.

The income requirements are based on free/reduced lunch levels. For a family of four, the 150% level is $67,294 a year and the 200% level is $89,725.

1. After attending a public school for two semesters before receiving scholarship. Family must have an income equal to or below 150% of what it takes to qualify for free/reduced lunch.

2. Received a scholarship from a different state approved organization. Family must have an income equal to or below 150% of what it takes to qualify for free/reduced lunch.

3. Received a choice scholarship previously (doesn’t have to be consecutive). Family must have an income equal to or below 150% of what it takes to qualify for free/reduced lunch.

4. Student received a choice scholarship the previous year. Family must have an income equal to or below 200% of what it takes to qualify for free/reduced lunch.

5. Student requires special education classes and has an individualized education plan. Family must have an income equal to or below 200% of what it takes to qualify for free/reduced lunch.

6. The public school the student would be required to attend has an F on the state accountability system. Family must have an income equal to or below 150% of what it takes to qualify for free/reduced lunch.

7. Student has a sibling that received a choice scholarship the previous year. Family must have an income equal to or below 150% of what it takes to qualify for free/reduced lunch.

The scholarships pay for either 50 percent or 90 percent of tuition, depending on the family’s income. For the 2015-2016 school year, 69 percent of the participants received a 90 percent voucher and 31 percent received a 50 percent one.

 

State Of Higher Education Address Focuses On Internships And Jobs

Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers  says universities need to make a bigger effort to help students find internships while in school.

Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers says universities need to make a bigger effort to help students find internships while in school. (photo credit: Claire McInerny).

Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers delivered the fourth annual State of Higher Education Address Wednesday, highlighting the goals for the Commission for the next year.

Lubbers says higher education is more important than ever for Hoosiers and says the Commission’s focus remains on making sure more Hoosiers receive credentials past high school, and making sure those credentials are meaningful.

The Commission’s goal is to get 60 percent of Hoosiers to earn some sort of credential past high school by 2025. Currently, that number sits at 36 percent, 41 percent if you count certifications.

Lubbers says going into the next year, the Commission will focus on making sure a degree or credentials earned from an Indiana institution has value.

She says rather than earning a degree based on credits, the Commission wants to work with employers to make sure credits earned also means earned knowledge about practical job skills. To do this, she says universities must make a bigger effort to help students get internships while in school.

“We know that internships are the number one college experience that leads to a job. And one of the best and most effective ways to reduce Indiana’s brain drain,” Lubbers said. “Yet too too few college programs include an internship as part of earning a degree.”

Lubbers also shared early findings from the Gallup-Indiana survey, a college graduate satisfaction survey, a new poll looking at the satisfaction of public Indiana universities.

The survey asked alumni from Indiana’s private and public universities about their experience at these schools, with what Lubbers calls “well being” questions.

Early results of 8,000 alums show overall satisfaction with their experience, but Lubbers wants to address areas like finding jobs and internships for those that were unsatisfied.

“It shows that the value to a graduate in Indiana is higher than the national average,” Lubbers says. “We’re going to align the Gallup results with our strategic plan.”

Full results from this report are not yet available.

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