Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Indiana Hasn’t Heard The Last Of Former Supt. Tony Bennett

We at StateImpact have many recurring education stories that will presumably continue for some time to come: standardized testing, teacher evaluations, school accountability…the list goes on.

Former state superintendent Tony Bennett delivers a speech in Indianapolis. (Photo Credit: Kyle Stokes/StateImpact Indiana)

Former state superintendent Tony Bennett delivers a speech in Indianapolis. (Photo Credit: Kyle Stokes/StateImpact Indiana)

One storyline we never expected to continue for as long as it has: the recurring presence of former state superintendent Tony Bennett

As we reported last summer, an ethics case against the former state official resulted in a $5,000 fine. The State Ethics Commission approved the settlement regarding allegations that Bennett used state resources during his 2012 re-election campaign, as discovered in a series of emails obtained by the Associated Press in 2013.

The exchanges also revealed that Bennett and his staff may have altered Indiana’s A-F school grading formula to benefit Christel House Academy, an Indianapolis charter school founded by one of Bennett’s supporters. Inspector General David Thomas cleared Bennett of charges for that accusation.

Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry said Friday that the state will not file criminal charges in connection with either portion of the ethics case.

“No evidence was presented to justify criminal charges, and prosecution on each of these issues is declined,” Curry said in a statement. “I would note that submission of the same Inspector General materials to the U.S. Attorney’s Office likewise did not result in any Federal criminal charges.”

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Music Program Cuts Worry Some IPS Community Members

Changes to school funding statewide are forcing many Indiana school corporations to reevaluate how they spend their money, but families supporting those districts don’t always support their decisions.

This week, Indianapolis Public Schools announced it is cutting back on some of its music program offerings – and not everyone is happy about the changes.

Photo Credit: Loyola Fine & Performing Arts/Flickr

(Photo Credit: Loyola Fine & Performing Arts/Flickr)

The shift comes as a result of tweaks to the district’s staffing system. Right now, many IPS schools share music educators, who split their time between multiple buildings. This means some schools – specifically those with lower enrollments – don’t have a dedicated, full-time music teacher.

The new “model” seeks to streamline this, giving each school its own full-time music teacher. It’s a change taking place at the elementary school level only.

IPS spokesperson Kristin Cutler says no school will lose music entirely, but some may lose specific classes based on who they keep on for the full-time position.

“Some people are licensed to teach general and vocal music education, some people are licensed [for] instrumental music education, some people are licensed for both, so that would be the determining factor in if the offerings at a school change,” Cutler explains. For example, she adds, a school may keep its general music classes, but lose a band or orchestra program if the teacher is not certified in instrumental education.

Schools with higher enrollments will also be given an additional financial allocation that can be used to hire a second music teacher to support programming and scheduling needs. Cutler says that decision will be left up to individual school principals.

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Indiana’s New Test Vendor Finds Itself In Hot Water

Indiana education officials have agreed to sign a contract with Pearson to operate the ISTEP+ beginning in the 2016 school year. (Photo Credit: Robbie/Flickr)

Indiana education officials have agreed to sign a contract with Pearson to operate the ISTEP+ beginning in the 2016 school year. (Photo Credit: Robbie/Flickr)

Testing company Pearson – slated to run Indiana’s statewide ISTEP+ tests beginning in 2016 – is facing criticism over security of assessments it handles in other states.

Education officials in Minnesota canceled statewide science exams Thursday after an apparent cyberattack on Pearson’s system Wednesday. This is the second time testing has been suspended due to hacks in less than a month.

POLITICO‘s Caitlin Emma summarizes the state’s response to the situation:

Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius is now questioning whether Pearson can adequately serve as vendor.

“It is simply unacceptable and unfair to subject students and teachers to this kind of uncertainty in a high-stakes testing environment,” she said on Wednesday. “After the April 21 suspension, Pearson added additional security measures to prevent this type of disruption. Given the need to suspend testing today, I have questions about Pearson’s ability to follow through on their assurances.”

Cassellius said her department will talk to districts today about next steps.

Pearson representatives said in a statement that student data had not been compromised.

The Minnesota Department of Education is evaluating options that include exiting their two-year testing contract with Pearson early, and possibly even pursuing further legal action, according to reports from local television station KARE.

The state’s contract with Pearson costs about $33.8 million. Estimates for the company’s agreement with Indiana run about $38 million.

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Indy Pre-K Scholarship Program Holding Lottery This Week

Indianapolis' preschool scholarship program will hold a lottery this week to award scholarships to 1,300 eligibable three and four-year-olds.

Indianapolis’ preschool scholarship program will hold a lottery this week to award scholarships to 1,300 eligible three- and four-year-olds. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

The lottery for the Indy Preschool Scholarship Program (Indy PSP) happens this week, and approximately 1,300 of the more than 5,000 families who applied for the program will be chosen to receive a scholarship for their three- and four-year-olds to attend a Level 3 or 4 program on the state’s Paths to QUALITY ranking system.

Jason Kloth, the city’s Deputy Mayor for Education, says his office did not expect this many applicants, especially considering there is an estimated 6,000-12,000 eligible children in the city who qualify for the program.

“To see that kind of response in a fairly short window of time for a program in the first year of its inception is just exceptional,” Kloth says. “It’s just a testament to the great work of the United Way of Central Indiana and the Indiana Neighborhood Resource Center.”

Selected families will receive a letter next week, at which point they will have two weeks to accept the scholarship and until July to select a qualified provider.
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NCLB Update: See Why It’s Difficult for a Bill to Become Law

Congress is in the process of overhauling No Child Left Behind – the nation’s cornerstone education law – and has been since the beginning of the year. The process of taking an idea from a bill to a law is long and arduous, as lawmakers working on NCLB have discovered – they currently find themselves at an impasse. See if you could endure the task: test your skills with EdWeek’s “Choose Your Own Legislative Adventure” game.

Lawmakers in both chambers of Congress have been trying to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act since the beginning of January. So far, it’s the most serious attempt to overhaul the law since it was last rewritten back in 2001 and branded as the No Child Left Behind Act, the current iteration of the federal K-12 law.

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The Way You Do The Things You Do: How Indiana Schools Find Funding

This school year has certainly been one for the books.

Photo Credit: 401(K) 2012/Flickr

Photo Credit: 401(K) 2012/Flickr

The Indiana General Assembly just wrapped up its 2015 “education session,” complete with administrative overhaul and biennial budget talks. Ten school districts around the state put 17 separate referenda on their local ballots – 12 of which passed. On top of all that, schools are still in the midst of regular end-of-the-year ISTEP+ testing, final exams and graduation.

All that craziness can really take its toll on students, teachers, and especially administrators – the people tasked with making sense of statewide programs and mandates for individual school districts.

One of the biggest items for them to tackle: finances.

Like many families, Indiana schools piece together budgets of their own. Instead of paying for groceries, they set aside funds for school lunches; rather than save up for a new car, they count pennies for transportation costs. But unlike the average household, a school district rarely sees a regular income – that number depends on a number of changing factors, including whether voters approve a referendum agreeing to pay extra taxes, or how the state legislature decides to calculate state funding.

What challenges does that create for schools already dealing with tight budgets?

Case Study: Brownsburg Community Schools

All nine schools in the Brownsburg Community School Corporation have received an “A,” the top state ranking, over the past three years. The district has also remained at the top as far as performance on the state standardized ISTEP+ test, and teachers say their relationships with students and families remain positive.

The district is doing so well, in fact, that people have expressed interest to Brownsburg Superintendent Jim Snapp about moving to the area simply for the schools.

“We’re going to continue to do great things, it’s just going to be a little bit harder on the facilities,” Snapp says.

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Bloomington Students Create Electricity By Walking On Tiles

Every time someone steps on a Pavegen tile installed at Bloomington High School South, the kinetic energy from the footstep creates a few watts of energy.

Every time someone steps on a Pavegen tile installed at Bloomington High School South, the kinetic energy from the footstep creates a few watts of energy. photo credit: Harrison Wagner / WTIU News

Bloomington High School South is the only public school in the country creating electricity every time their students walk through the hallway.

Thanks to a new installation of tiles from London-based energy technology company Pavegen, every time a student walks over the tiles, the kinetic energy from their footsteps creates a few watts of energy. Right now, that energy powers the television that displays how many watts are stored on the battery, as well as two lit display boards.

BHSS students are using the new tiles to create educational opportunities for their classmates as well as younger students. AP Environmental Science teacher and Pavegen Project Coordinator Amanda Figolah says her students have already used the tiles for science and math lessons with more than 100 elementary school students.

“They’ll actually move through stations learning about solar power and wind power. There are demonstrations at each of those stations and also just about how we produce energy now in Indiana, which is primarily coal and fossil fuels,” Figolah says. “A second piece the other rotation is working on our Pavegen tiles to experience inquiry learning.”

Figolah’s students created these lesson plans based on state math and science standards, so students create graphs and practice the scientific method by writing a hypothesis such as, “will walking or jumping on the tiles create more energy?”

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IPS Addressing School Safety Policies And Social Media Responses

Indianapolis Public Schools wants to give consequences to students who post videos of fights online, which could lead to legal issues around the First Amendment.

Indianapolis Public Schools wants to give consequences to students who post videos of fights online, which could lead to legal issues around the First Amendment. (Photo Credit: Witer/Flickr)

After a fight between two students last week at Northwest High School in Indianapolis, Indianapolis Public School officials are meeting Monday with district principals to review student safety policies and procedures, including consequences for students who post videos of fights to social media.

Video of a fight last week between a male and female student was uploaded to YouTube, and according to IPS’s website, an updated version of the Student Code of Conduct will address students who take photos or videos of altercations between other students.

A press release on IPS’s website explains the district’s stance on taking videos of fights and posting them to social media:

[IPS Police Chief Steven Garner] said that when it comes to cell phone video and social media, there are some disturbing trends that he cautions our students to avoid. Posting video of a fight on social media is not illegal, but it could lead to legal trouble if those involved were planning the video on purpose.

“If there were suggestion the fight was staged and recorded,” said Chief Garner, “we could perhaps petition the prosecutor to consider a conspiracy to commit battery.” In that case, the photographer could face conspiracy charges as well.

Chief Garner also stressed that video of an incident is not needed to file legal charges, either. Many cases are successfully prosecuted based on witness accounts and other evidence regularly.

The release also says the new Student Code of Conduct allows for the school to suspend a student who posts a fight video to social media. But from a legal standpoint, Frank Lomonte, Executive Director of the Student Press Law Center, says this policy raises concerns about free speech protected under the First Amendment.

“I feel much more confident that a school could legally tell you not to shoot the video in the first place than they could tell you what to do with it afterward,” Lomonte says. “In other words, if the school has a policy that says ‘don’t have your phone out during school hours’ or ‘don’t be using it as a video camera during school hours’ they can probably enforce that.” Continue Reading

Data: IREAD-3 Passing Rate Dips From Last Year

The number of students passing the state’s third grade reading assessment, the IREAD-3, dropped to 84 percent from last year’s passing rate of 86 percent.

This is a preliminary rate, as students who failed can retake the test this summer.

The test has been administered since 2012, and if students don’t pass they retake third grade versions of the ISTEP+ and IREAD exams the following school year, which state officials say will likely lead to them being held back from entering fourth grade.

Search through our sortable tables that list the passing rate for individual schools as well as entire districts.

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