Latasha Marshall and her three daughters Deanna, Ashley and Janae are planning on moving from East Chicago after finding out their apartment is in the most lead-contaminated part of the city. The three girls will have to transfer schools mid school year. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting).
Latasha Marshall waits for a cab. She sits in the lobby of a Hilton Garden Inn, which serves as her living room this week. The Environmental Protection Agency put her up for the week so the agency can deep clean her home; it tested for high levels of lead.
“The other night when we first got here, I went to sleep and I woke up and I was at ease,” Marshall says. “I haven’t been sleeping like that at home.”
Once it’s clean, she can return with her daughters, ages 11, 16 and 17, but not to stay. Her housing complex sits on a superfund site, where the soil contains lead levels over 100 times higher than what the EPA says is safe. This is especially hard for Marshall, because this home was the first she could afford in several years. She moved here after living with relatives in Chicago, Illinois.
“It’s hurtful,” she says. “I wake up sometimes and am just like ‘man, what’s the next step, what are we going to do?’”
The cab arrives at the hotel to get Marshall, who doesn’t have a car. Her youngest daughter used to walk to Carrie Gosch Elementary School, which was right next to her apartment. The school the taxi takes her to is the new Carrie Gosh. It was an empty, former middle school a few months ago.
The old Carrie Gosch Elementary School building sits right next to the West Calumet housing complex, so it’s also on the Superfund site.
The Decision To Move Hundreds Of Students
One section of soil at the old building tested at dangerous lead levels. So superintendent Paige McNulty decided to move the hundreds of students to a former middle school located across town.
McNulty says she made this decision quickly, just nine days before school started, when she found out about the contamination.
“We made the decision on a Saturday and school started the following Monday,” McNulty says. “So we literally had about five days to move the school.”
And McNulty faced a bigger problem:
“It was a middle school, and the school we were moving was a pre-K through sixth grade so I had little, little-bittys moving to a middle school arena,” McNulty says.
In less than a week, contractors worked 18-hour days to lower water fountains and toilets, put the IT infrastructure back in the school and get the kitchen up to code. The district received a $3 million loan from the state this month to pay for these costs plus future construction to make the building an elementary school.
When Carrie Gosch Elementary decided to move into an old middle school, the district had to make adjustment to accommodate the younger students. Toilets, counters, and other structures within the school had to be lowered, but the district didn’t have enough time and money to get all of the work done before school started. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting).
McNulty is also trying to make the students feel safe at school. For example, Marshall’s sixth grade daughter, Ashley, had no idea what lead was until she heard it was under her home.
“I’m kind of like ‘what is that?’,” Ashley says. “Then they mentioned it was poison and of the ground and it’s been in there for over 40 years and they didn’t tell us.”
To help kids like Ashley, McNulty says they’re bringing the discussion into the classrooms.
“So the teachers got together and wrote lesson plans on water, air, lead, soil so that the kids feel like they’re getting some sort of education in their lives so it’s not a scary unknown thing,” McNulty says.
With Lead Contamination Comes A Logistical Nightmare
Now that students are settling in, and the district received the loan to address construction costs – McNulty is struggling with other logistical problems that come with moving the school to a new building.
“One of our biggest challenges is we were not anticipating busing all those students because those students had been walkers,” McNulty says. “Now we had to bus 450 kids to a school that we had not anticipated. We did not have enough bus drivers or buses, and we still don’t. We’re having to double and triple up routes.”
She’s also concerned about how fast her enrollment is dropping. So far this year, 200 students switched schools because of the lead, whether it was to attend another East Chicago school or because their family left the town because of the lead. This is harmful to the district as a whole, because the way school funding works in Indiana, the money follows the student. When students leave, the district loses money, and McNulty is watching her state funding dwindle.
“We get $7,200 person student so we’ve already lost about $1.5 million,” McNulty says.
Latasha Marshall and her daughter Janae get into a cab, paid for by the EPA, to pick up her other daughters from school. She doesn’t have a car, and her kids used to walk to school, so when the EPA put them up in a hotel, a cab was the only way to get the girls to and from school. ( photo credit: Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting.)
To try and combat this, the district is offering to bus any kid who leaves East Chicago to attend school in neighboring towns back to their East Chicago school.
But leaving East Chicago and the school district – is exactly what Marshall is thinking about doing. She moved to East Chicago from inner city Chicago, Ill.
“I wanted to leave Chicago,” Marshall says. “I didn’t want to be there with all the violence and everything going on– kids are not safe. And that was my big issue so I wanted to bring them to a better environment, and apparently not.”
So now, Marshall is hoping her voucher from the The U.S. Housing and Urban Development agency to move covers the cost of moving back to Chicago, but to the suburbs this time.
The committee established a set of recommendations this Tuesday that it hopes will become law.
Lawmakers say tougher measures could protect the state’s children from predatory school employees. Under new recommendations, educators convicted of certain felonies would automatically lose their licenses. The department of child services would be required to notify a school if any employee is involved in an active case. And every district would need to background check every employee every 5 years.
Republican representative Bob Behning says continued checks on the same people are necessary.
“Sometimes a lot of these offenses don’t get reported back to districts,” Behning says. “The district may not be aware.”
Current law only requires background checks for fully licensed staff, like teachers and principals, once, when they’re hired.
Lawmakers will present these recommendations during the 2017 General Assembly, which begins in January.
When it comes to measuring and rating teachers, Indiana school districts vary widely in their practices. Yet, for the past three years almost all Indiana educators have been rated effective. (Alex McCall/WFIU News)
What makes a good teacher? Indiana schools have over 200 different answers.
Indiana school districts, in fact, use 242 separate methods to evaluate their teachers, according to a StateImpact Indiana analysis of state data. It’s a messy process that’s led to concerns about erratic practices, inconsistent implementations and incomparable results.
“Teacher evaluation is the very core of improving student outcomes,” says Sandi Cole, co-director of Indiana Teacher Appraisal and Support System (INTASS), a research group studying Indiana’s teacher evaluation systems. “When it’s done well, that’s how teachers improve, how instruction improves and, ultimately, how students improve.”
Data show that almost all Indiana teachers consistently score highly on evaluations year after year after year. But INTASS directors have concerns.
Many districts can demonstrate effective structures. But, on a statewide basis, districts have wide-ranging interpretations of law, varied evaluation models and a monitoring system that experts say gives districts little incentive to improve evaluation. Continue Reading →
The panel that is re-writing the ISTEP+ met for the fifth time Tuesday, and many members are frustrated at its progress. (photo credit: David Hartman /Flickr)
After Tuesday’s ISTEP+ panel meeting produced few concrete ideas for re-writing the new test, many committee members left feeling frustrated at the panel’s progress.
This is the fifth of seven opportunities the panel has to draft the plan for a new state assessment.
The 2016 General Assembly passed a law that gets ride of the ISTEP+ in its current format, after its 2017 administration. It also created a panel of educators, lawmakers and state agency employees to draft a more desirable test. The legislation, authored by Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, gave the panel a Dec. 1 deadline to make its recommendation to the legislature.
As that deadline approaches, members are reflecting on the progress made so far, and many are disappointed. After Tuesday’s meeting, morale on the panel dipped.
State superintendent Glenda Ritz, a member of the panel, sent out a statement earlier this week addressing that.
“I am frustrated by the lack of progress being made by the ISTEP Replacement Panel,” Ritz’s statement said. “Families and educators have made it clear that they want to get rid of the punitive, pass/fail ISTEP test.”
Her statement continued to say she will provide a plan for a new test for the panel to consider.
The Disappointment Of Educators
But the biggest disappointment in the group’s work has been expressed by its members who are educators. They constitute more than 50 percent of the panel. The 2016 General Assembly planned this composition to give them their long requested voice in the debate over standardized testing.
Many legislators applauded the panel as the opportunity for teachers, parents and school administrators to take seats at the table and decide the future of ISTEP+.
“We’re at the table but that’s about it,” says Callie Marksbary, a panel member and third grade teacher in the Lafayette School Corporation.
Marksbary says she was very excited when appointed to the panel because she felt the group of educators, alongside policy makers, would finally create a testing system teachers would like. Continue Reading →
The ITT Technical Institute campus in Canton, Michigan is one of more than 140 locations closing as a result of the for-profit college chain\’s collapse. (Wikimedia Commons)
Indiana’s Republican congressional delegation has filed legislation to help veterans who were students at ITT Technical Institute when the for-profit college suddenly shut down last week.
U.S. Rep. Luke Messer says the intent is to fully restore GI Bill educational benefits to students attending a college or university that closes.
Student veterans could then apply to a new school with full benefits.
The bill would apply to the nearly 7,000 veterans who were enrolled at ITT Tech when it shut down. In Indiana, an estimated 300 student veterans were enrolled in one of six ITT campuses when the college-chain closed.
“Thousands of veterans invested their time and educational benefits to attend ITT Tech, and now they are left without a degree or path forward,” Messer said in a statement. “As part of our enduring commitment to America’s veterans, we must be ready to assist the servicemen and women who use their benefits to pursue a degree at an institution that has failed.” Continue Reading →
Carrie Gosch Elementary School in East Chicago. (Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)
East Chicago, Indiana’s school district has received a $3 million state disaster relief loan to make an abandoned middle school suitable for elementary school students.
After dangerous levels of lead and arsenic were found next to Carrie Gosh Elementary School, district officials relocated about 450 students from the school to a former middle school that had been empty for one year.
“It was not in any way shape or form ready for school to be open in that building,” says Paige McNulty, School City of East Chicago Superintendent.
The northwest Indiana district will use the $3 million loan to pay for renovations that took place before school started and remaining construction, remodeling and repair, including:
$750,000 for classroom renovations, including updating classrooms to accomodate special needs students and dismantling two former computer labs.
$670,000 for exterior modifications, like new signage, ramps and electrical updates.
$500,000 for lowering toilets and sinks, to make bathrooms “elementary friendly.”
$20,000 for “insect remediation,” throughout the school building.
Much of the disaster relief funding will also cover the first renovations the district performed in the five days before the start of the school year.
Although most of Carrie Gosch Elementary School’s grounds were marked safe, district officials wanted parents to have confidence that their children were at a safe facility — and they looked to the recently vacated middle school across town.
McNulty says the district already worked with staff, volunteers and contractors to renovate the bathrooms, install necessary equipment and clean out the abandoned building.
The modified bathroom in the new Carrie Gosch Elementary School. (Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)
“We had ten moving trucks literally working day and night,” McNulty says. “We moved every piece of furniture out of that building.”
In a matter of five days. With little sleep.
“We all took turns resting, it was a very stressful time,” McNulty says. “We wanted to make sure that school was looking good and ready for the first day of school. And it was.”
Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, and Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, are legislative members on the ISTEP+ panel. Behning authored the bill creating the panel. (photo credit: Elle Moxley / StateImpact Indiana).
After one of the last meetings of the ISTEP+ panel, it seems unlikely the group of educators and policy makers will draft a plan for a new state assessment.
When the 2016 General Assembly created the panel through legislation, it charged the group with creating a recommendation for a new test by Dec. 1. The vision was to have educators and other stakeholders craft a plan with elected officials that would then be written into law.
Through the panel, the legislature appointed teachers into the conversation about the future of testing, something many educators have desired for a long time.
Tuesday’s meeting was the fifth of the seven meetings before the Dec. 1 deadline. The previous four focused on ‘creating a test.’ Panel members heard from national experts and engaged in general discussions about what they want to see.
Now, as the deadline looms, with only two planning meetings left, some of the panel members are disappointed there won’t be time to have as much influence over the new test as they originally thought.
“Perhaps what that means is we become more general in our recommendation to the state,” says superintendent of Blackford Schools and panel member Scot Croner. “We won’t be able to be as specific as some individuals, including myself, would have liked to have been in the proposal.”
Representative Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, authored the bill that eliminated the current ISTEP and created the panel. He says the lack of forward mobility comes from the fact that most of the panel don’t usually work in creating an assessment from scratch. He made this statement after the Tuesday meeting, where panel members asked questions about tests at different grade levels and how they work.
“There’s a lot of people who, even on this panel, that are assessment illiterate,” Behning says.
When asked if he would take the panel’s final recommendation seriously or build a plan with other legislators?
“Obviously these people are getting educated,” Behning says. “But I think it’s just reflective of the environment we’re in, you hear a lot of noise about assessment but when it comes down to it a lot of these people don’t have a clue about assessments, how they’re used and what it really means.”
So far, the group has not voted on or put forward any concrete set of parameters for the new test.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the Department of Education announced to the panel that they independently contacted testing vendors (companies like Pearson, CTB, ACT, etc.) to ask for proposals on a new test.
This is known as a Request for Information (RFI), and it’s a document of questions sent to companies, asking how they would create a test meeting Indiana’s requirements. The DOE created this document in conjunction with the governor’s office, to bring something concrete back to the panel.
State superintendent Glenda Ritz says this move will ensure the panel has a solid recommendation before December, since the panel wasn’t sure what kind of things to ask of the legislature.
“We need more information?” Ritz says. “Fine, that’s what the whole purpose of the RFI is – what’s out there that we actually can do.”
The proposals from testing companies are due Sept. 30 and will be presented to the panel at the October meeting, with company names redacted.
With only two meetings left, the panel has yet to discuss a state assessment for grades three through eight.
This year’s students and teachers are currently using the ISTEP+, but that will not be the case in spring 2018, according to law. The current version of the ISTEP+ was voted out by a bipartisan group of lawmakers last session.
Behning previously said the state might elect to prolong this test and the contract with testing company Pearson.
Kendra Bowden and her son Wyatt, 3, on their porch. Wyatt has had cochlear implants for most of his life. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)
Public schools in Indiana serve about 2,400 students who are deaf or hard of hearing. Of those students a growing number now use cochlear implants, small medical devices that stimulate nerves in the inner ear and give a sense of hearing.
As technology develops, and cochlear implants become more common, many public schools are still working to catch up.
“I like to think that it’s not malicious, it’s just that most of these smaller districts don’t have the training and the knowledge to really be able to understand what these kids need,” says Ellyn McCall, family liaison at hearing loss advocacy group Hear Indiana.
As the number of students with cochlear implants grow, advocates like McCall say there’s often a disconnect between services schools offer and services these students need.
Brandy Hauser, of Spencer, IN, had never been more excited. She was a brand new mom. Like all Indiana parents since 1999, she watched as doctors took her newborn daughter Grace for a hearing screening.
Then a nurse came back.
“She [gave] me a little card and said that your daughter didn’t pass the infant hearing screening test,” Hasuer says.
Grace has mondini dysplasia, an inner ear malformation that results in profound deafness.
“After that it was like a whirlwind of ‘What do we do?,’” Hauser says.
For communication, the options can come from two schools of thought.
There’s the well-known route: use sign language. Or the newer option gaining popularity: cochlear implants and spoken language.
Hauser chose the second. At 18 months, Grace had an implant surgically attached to her skull.
“She was sitting in her little car seat stroller. We had her sitting up in there, and they turned her on. It was just like the shine of a Christmas light in her face when she, you know, clapped and she looked,” Hauser says. “It was the first time that I knew, ok, she looked. Ok, we’ve got this.”
Brandy Hauser plays with her cat on the porch of her Spencer, IN home. She says the rural location of her home has made getting services for her daughter difficult. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)
But when Grace got to school, things became complicated. Hearing with cochlear implants is not traditional hearing. It takes time to ‘learn to hear.’
“When sentence writing started coming around, and the structure of sentences.. [It] was very hard for her to make a sentence that would be correct,” Hauser says.
Hauser says that’s largely because services from the school district weren’t geared for deaf kids who, through technology, were also learning to hear and speak.
Instead, the focus was American Sign Language, where grammar is different.
Students like Grace are already outliers in the state. She’s one of nine deaf or hard of hearing students in the Spencer-Ownens Community Schools district of 2,600 students. That’s one-third of one percent of the entire student body.
That’s typical for most Indiana school districts. Public districts, outside of the Indiana School for the Deaf, have eight deaf or hard of hearing students, on average.
Melissa Lancaster heads the organization that provides special education for Grace’s school district, Spencer-Owens Community schools.
“We look at what they’re needing and what services can we provide to meet that,” Lancaster says. “The only challenge is making sure that we’re up to speed on the cochlear implant and what’s needed with that.”
Challenges — and debates — around educating students who are deaf and hard-of-hearing are nothing new to Indiana. Indiana is home to the Indiana School for the Deaf — an institution that specializes in giving students who are deaf and hard of hearing an American Sign Language and English bilingual education.
It’s goal? Provide information regarding all communication opportunities to families, from American Sign Language to spoken language.
Naomi Horton, executive director of hearing loss advocacy group Hear Indiana. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)
Deaf or hard of hearing students bring their districts about $8,000 each in extra state funding, but advocates say that amount doesn’t necessary cover expensive services that help students with cochlear implants, like therapy, closed-captioning and teacher microphone systems.
“That has to cover lot’s of things,” says Naomi Horton, executive director of hearing loss advocacy group Hear Indiana. “It’s not enough money in most cases to cover the special education costs.”
But there’s a catch. Under federal law, school districts are obligated to provide all students with a free and adequate education. In other words, they can’t say a necessary special education accommodation is beyond their budget. And she says, that can put cash-strapped schools in a tricky position.
Ellyn McCall, the family liason at Hear Indiana, says it makes a big difference when services are tailored for children with cochlear implants. She says it has made a big difference for her son Seth.
Ellyn McCall and her son Seth 8 at the Hear Indiana offices. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)
Today, Seth is 8 years old. He’s in a traditional classroom, and says he learns things like the definition of “busybody.”
“‘Busybody’ is when you’re being nosy and you’re listening to someone else’s conversation,” Seth says.
Because there is evidence that early services can mean big results for students like Seth in the long run, some parents don’t want to wait for their districts to provide them.
Kendra Bowden’s son Wyatt has cochlear implants. On his third birthday, Bowden says he still had the language skills of a child half his age.
Bowden lives in Terre Haute, but she decided to send Wyatt to St. Joseph Institute for the Deaf, a private school that specializes in educating children with cochlear implants. It’s in Indianapolis. An hour and a half away.
The Bowden family. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)
“We didn’t want to actually send him because it’s far for us, it’s far for him it’s hard on him it’s hard on us, he’s our baby he’s never even been to daycare,” Bowden said. “But that school is only there for preschool.”
It’s almost seven hours total of driving there and back, to and from school each day. But Bowden hopes it will be worth it after preschool.
“I think it’s gonna be worth it in the long run,” Bowden said. “It’s not forever, it’s maybe a couple of years.”
Studies show getting children with cochlear implants specialized services early can be worth if for the state financially, too. The state can save over $200,000 per student that would otherwise go to state services, like special education and auditory rehabilitation.
According to data from the U.S. Department of Education, even though non-white students make up close to 30 percent of enrollment in all Indiana public schools, only 19 percent of that demographic is enrolled in gifted education. (A&M/Flickr)
It’s no secret. Across the nation, non-white students are underrepresented in accelerated learning programs. Indiana is no exception.
According to data from the U.S. Department of Education, even though non-white students make up close to 30 percent of enrollment in all Indiana public schools, only 19 percent of that demographic is enrolled in gifted education.
In addition, data show two more inequalities.
First, schools with majority students of color are less likely to provide accelerated classes.
Second, schools that offer accelerated learning programs are likely to be whiter than your typical Indiana school - with an average of 25 percent students of color.
DGilman Whiting, a Vanderbilt University African-American studies professor who spoke at a recent Purdue symposium on gifted education, says more still needs to be done to reassure students of color that they belong in gifted classes.
“Once we get them in here, do we have the adults, do we have the facilities, do we have the training, do we have the care and concern to help them feel that it’s their alma mater as well?” Whiting says.
State education officials say that local districts determine their own criteria for students and teachers in accelerated learning programs.
“Decisions regarding program offerings and enrollment are made at the local level,” Samantha Hart, Indiana Department of Education woman, said in an email.
Whiting says, for one, that means hiring more non-white teachers and educating all teachers to be more attuned to issues of class, race and culture.
“In city schools, that population can be up to 70-80 percent black or Hispanic,” Whiting says. “And you are more likely a white female coming from a very homogenous setting. You are ill-prepared to work for the population you’re in front of.”
Vanderbilt’s Whiting says, at many schools, future teachers can travel all the way up the higher ed ladder and graduate with a PhD without ever taking a class on multicultural education – classes he calls “education about difference.”
Whiting says educating future teachers, recruiting more teachers of color and focusing on the inclusion, retention and self-confidence of non-white students can help narrow persistent achievement gaps.
Donald Trump outlined a plan to fund more options for students to choose between traditional public, charter and private schools. If elected, he says he would allocate $20 billion toward school choice scholarships. (photo credit: Barbara Brosher/WTIU News)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump announced Thursday a financial plan to expand school choice in all 50 states. In many ways, it is similar to what governor Mike Pence created in Indiana and funding formulas created by the Indiana legislature.
In a speech Thursday, Donald Trump said he would allocate $20 billion to states to support school choice opportunities. This money, along with state funding, would be used to create a “scholarship” that each student receives, and then the family decides whether to send the child to a traditional public school, a public charter school or a private school.
“Specifically, my plan will use $20 billion of existing federal dollars to establish a block grant for the 11 million school age kids living in poverty,” Trump said in his speech. “We will give states the option to allow these funds to follow the student to the public or private school they attend. Distribution of this grant will favor states that have private school choice and charter laws, encouraging them to participate.”
One part of his plan mirrors Indiana’s school funding formula - that the money follows the student.
Indiana’s current funding formula does exactly that. A student receives the same amount of state funding whether he or she attends a traditional public or charter school. Rather than funding a school directly the state allocates the money per child.
But Trumps plan would extend this idea to include private schools as well – for all students – so state money could follow any student to any type of school. While, in Indiana, state money only follows students to private schools if they qualify for the state voucher program.
“If the states collectively contribute another $110 billion of their own education budgets toward school choice, on top of the $20 billion in federal dollars, that could provide $12,000 in school choice funds to every K-12 student who today lives in poverty,” Trump said.
In a statement released by the Trump campaign, Pence praised the plan:
“The school choice proposals unveiled today by Mr. Trump are a bold set of policies that will increase accountability and lead to better results for our nation’s children.”
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