Indiana

Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

State Republicans Say Education Will Be Priority In Next Session

Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis

Brandon Smith / IPBS

Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis

House Republicans announced their legislative priorities for the upcoming session on Tuesday, and education issues took center stage.

House Speaker Brian Bosma said the legislature wants to invest more in public school funding by “fixing” the funding formula.

“We have great disparity with some schools as low at $5500 per students in state and federal funds and some schools as high as $9,500 per pupil,” Bosma says.

To help close this gap, Bosma says he hopes to see the state’s economy grow by two percent over the next two years, because most of that would go toward education. Continue Reading

State Board Holds Off On Release Of 2014 A-F School Grades

The Indiana State Board of Education voted Wednesday to hold off on releasing 2014 A-F school accountability grades until their November 5 meeting.

The scores were sent out on an embargo Tuesday, but will now not be released for a few weeks.

Multiple board members expressed concern that data calculation errors for a handful of schools would compromise the integrity of the board.

“We’re being told that the comparative analysis is not done, we’re not ready,” said board member Brad Oliver. “I would rather have accurate data on November 5th than to just do this knowing we don’t have key pieces. These grades are going to be scrutinized by everybody. We’re trying to get it right.”

“It’s so important to them that we need to ensure that the data is accurate,” added board member David Freitas.

Prior to discussion of the timeline, the board heard appeals from three schools with atypical configurations. Those schools included Christel House Academy, Indiana Math and Science Academy and Carpe Diem.

Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader? Indiana’s ISTEP Will Push Kids

This spring, Indiana students will take a new version of the ISTEP.

biologycorner (flickr)

This spring, Indiana students will take a new version of the ISTEP.

There’s an old phrase, nothing’s sure in life except for death and taxes. We could probably make an argument for standardized tests as well (even Harry Potter took an annual exam in his mythical, made up school year).

These tests carry important consequences for teachers, schools and students, and in Indiana this year, students will take a new version of the state’s standardized test, the ISTEP+.

Simply put, the test will be harder. The content of the questions is the same, but the format will look different. For one, there won’t be as many multiple choice questions. Another change is that students will have to explain how they got to their answer.

Why are we changing the test?

When Indiana passed its own academic standards this spring, Michele Walker, Director of Assessment for the Indiana Department of Education, and her team were charged with creating a test to match the new standards.

An assessment matching the new standards was also a requirement to receive a No Child Left Behind waiver extension.

Walker says another change the IDOE wanted to make to the test, is adding a more focused writing prompt. Rather than asking students to write about something inconsequential like whether the cafeteria should add cake to the menu, students will be asked to read a passage and write a paragraph or essay on a related prompt, using the passage for evidence. Continue Reading

Charter School Board Denies Bloomington Classical School Charter

The Indiana Charter School Board decides Tuesday whether or not to add a classical charter school to Monroe County schools.

pedro reyes alejandre / Flickr

The Indiana Charter School Board decides Tuesday whether or not to add a classical charter school to Monroe County schools.

Updated, 4:47 p.m.:

The Indiana Charter School Board has denied a charter to the Seven Oaks Classical School in Monroe County.

The board finalized its decision Tuesday at a meeting in Indianapolis.

Board members peppered Seven Oaks leaders Lindsey Weaver and Matt Wolf with questions about their initial charter application. Among the concerns:

  • Alignment of the school’s proposed discipline policy with its mission of “training minds and improving hearts. Board member Karega Rausch called the policy “consequence-heavy” and commented that it seemed “disconnected” from the school’s proposed classical model.
  • The school did not have plans to offer a lunch program for students. Wolf told board members the group had not initially budgeted for a lunch program, but said they had are discussed possible options in the case the budget did allow for it in the future.
  • The Seven Oaks board’s financial expertise. The group did not include any members with experience that charter school board members found significant for effective management.
  • The Seven Oaks board’s lack of K-12 experience. Although a number of group members have been involved in education activities – including homeschooling and classroom teaching – board staff took concern with their collective lack of operational experience.

Board staff did commend Seven Oaks leaders’ passion and dedication, as well as their plans for the school’s special education services and technology.

Ultimately, board members accepted their staff’s recommendation to deny the charter. Board member Karega Rausch says the deficiencies he and his colleagues saw from Seven Oaks outweighed the strengths at this point in time.

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Funding Still A Roadblock For Ballard’s Pre-K Plan

The Indianapolis community continues to make small steps in supporting Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard’s pre-k initiative, but the program has yet to reach full funding.

Pre-k is an important issue in Indiana this year. Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard is just one of the state's policymakers who is attempting to make moves for the city's youngest students.

Rachel Morello / StateImpact Indiana

Pre-k is an important issue in Indiana this year. Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard is just one of the state's policymakers who is attempting to make moves for the city's youngest students.

The City-County Council approved $1.7 million in funding for pre-k during their meeting Monday night. The money is part of the city’s $1 billion budget for 2015.

Pre-k funds will come out of the local homestead tax credit, which was overfunded by $2 million. Ballard had wanted to eliminate that credit outright to add $5 million a year toward his $50 million pre-K plan. Council Democrats voted that idea down.

As John Tuohy of the Indianapolis Star reports, the future of Ballard’s program relies on other donations as well:

Ballard had sought $5 million a year, which would have triggered a $2 million gift from the Lilly Foundation and a commitment to find $8 million more in private donations.

With just a third of the money potentially in the pipeline, a foundation official declined to say whether Lilly would still make a grant if the $5 million isn’t reached.

“We haven’t even gone that far in our discussions yet,” said Michael O’Connor, director of state government affairs. “This (the $1.7 million) is a positive indicator, but there are a lot of moving parts still.”

Earlier this month, the Lilly Endowment pledged $22.5 million to support two early childhood education initiatives – Early Learning Indiana and the United Way of Central Indiana. Both of those organizations plan to use the money to strengthen current preschool programs as well as build new ones.

Although policymakers generally accept the goal of Ballard’s initiative, not everyone agrees on how the program should be funded.

Ballard’s initiative is similar to, but separate from the state’s new pre-k pilot program. Marion County was one of the five counties selected to participate in that program, which is also scheduled to launch in early 2015.

What To Watch For At Wednesday’s State Board Meeting

What’s on your calendar this week?

Indiana’s State Board of Education meets Wednesday, and they’ve put together what looks to be a pretty packed schedule. They’ll revisit some recurring issues (school turnaround), look to take final action on others (elements of the pre-k pilot program), and undoubtedly get into some back-and-forth on controversial issues (presumably good ol’ A-F school grades).

Let’s take a look at some of the items on the agenda:

Glenda Ritz and members of the Indiana State Board of Education will meet on October 15.

Elle Moxley / StateImpact Indiana

Glenda Ritz and members of the Indiana State Board of Education will meet on October 15.

  • Approval of proposed rule language on Pre-K Accreditation. Preparations for the state’s pre-k pilot program are well underway, and a key element of implementation is helping providers in the five participating counties get ready. The board will look at new legal language describing which providers have the proper credentials to actually participate in the program. Remember that providers also have to qualify as a Level 3 or 4, the top two levels on the state’s Paths to QUALITY rating system. Public hearings on the proposed language will be held in late November and early December.

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Report Revisits Controversy Over Charter Schools In Indiana

This is an update from a story we posted on Thursday, October 2. You can find the original story here

According to a pro-charter school advocacy group, Indiana’s public charter school sector is among the best in the nation.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools released its inaugural report last week of what it considers the “healthiest” charters. The District of Columbia and Louisiana topped the list; Indiana came in at number seven.

The report looked at characteristics like growth, innovation and quality – but critics say those measurements are flawed because researchers did not accurately compare charters and traditional public schools. 

In an article for Governing Magazine, reporter Chris Kardish explains the dissenting view of the NAPCS report: 

[T]o critics, the rankings do little more than build on the Alliance’s previous work, indicating how friendly a state is to charter schools but not enough about which is truly the best in terms of academic quality. They also argued the rankings set a low bar for academic quality by comparing charter schools with local public districts, many of which are struggling urban schools, rather than with top-performing schools elsewhere.

Indiana enacted its public charter school law in 2001.

Indiana serves close to 35,000 students in charter schools statewide.

Getty Images

Indiana serves close to 35,000 students in charter schools statewide.

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Future Of Arlington High School Still Up In The Air

The State Board of Education’s Committee on School Turnaround has been traveling the state recently, getting input from different school corporations on the future of their lowest-performing schools.

State Board of Education members Sarah O'Brien, left, and Tony Walker sit on the board's school turnaround committee, along with Dan Elsener. The group has been gathering input from various turnaround operators, most recently in Indianapolis.

Elle Moxley / StateImpact Indiana

State Board of Education members Sarah O'Brien, left, and Tony Walker sit on the board's school turnaround committee, along with Dan Elsener. The group has been gathering input from various turnaround operators, most recently in Indianapolis.

Thursday, the SBOE heard about the takeover efforts at Arlington High School in Indianapolis. The state took over the school in 2012, after it received a string of ‘F’ school letter grades six years in a row.

Back then, the state chose Tindley Accelerated Schools, formerly known as EdPower, to operate the school. Tindley told the state board earlier this summer that they might not have the money to keep Arlington going, but with some help from IPS and the city of Indianapolis they agreed to push through the current school year.

As far as what will happen beyond that, it’s up in the air. Tindley has made it clear that they wish to hand over control of the school, but the organization did not send a representative to Wednesday’s meeting. IPS has offered to step in, as has Charter Schools USA, a management company that operates three other takeover schools in the city.

Here’s a quick look at the ideas different stakeholders tossed around for the future of Arlington:

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We’re Close To A New A-F Grading System, But How Is It Different?

The State Board of Education will vote on the proposed plan to change the current A-F model at its October 15 meeting.

The State Board of Education will vote on the proposed plan to change the current A-F model at its October 15 meeting.

When it comes to a math test or an English paper, an A-F grading system is pretty simple: get a question right, get a point. Don’t include a topic sentence, lose some points.

This series of mistakes and successes accumulates into a letter grade, telling a student their score on the assignment.

The Indiana Department of Education uses a similar process to grade schools and school districts, using the standardized test scores of students.

But after criticism of the system’s complexity fueled by the Tony Bennett scandalthe General Assembly mandated the State Board of Education and IDOE change the process to assign these grades.

So last week, the A-F panel presented to the State Board of Education a new way to calculate these grades, and below are some of the main takeaways of this new system.

It’s important to note however, this is still just a proposal. The SBOE didn’t vote on this plan, but expects to make a decision at its October 15 meeting before getting approval from the legislature.

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Districts Pursue Referenda For Construction And (What Else) Pre-K

It’s that time of year again: put on your good citizen hat and rock that vote. It’s election season.

Two Indiana school districts will pursue referenda this Nov. 4: the East Noble School Corporation of Noble County, as well as the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation.

Two Indiana school districts will pursue referenda during this November's elections.

Lee Creighton / Flickr

Two Indiana school districts will pursue referenda during this November's elections.

The former hopes to raise money for construction of an entirely new middle school building, as well as mechanical and roof improvements at the district high school. East Noble school officials will ask for 35 cents per $100 of assessed valuation to cover about $37 million in building costs between budget years 2020 and 2032.

According to the project’s website, over the last year or so, district officials held community forums and met with several local groups to solicit input. Leaders considered renovating the current building, but decided to pursue funds for an entirely new facility on the ballot.

Should voters pass the measure, the ENSC School Board will move forward with securing an architect for floor plans and formalizing the purchase of the land.

Over in Bartholomew County, the question is something residents have heard before and one plenty of districts in Indiana are thinking about right now: pre-k.

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