Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Senate Committee Dramatically Changes Transformation Zone Bill

The Indiana Statehouse.

The Indiana Statehouse. (Photo Credit: Indiana Department of Administration)

A bill that would have permitted school districts to create “transformation zones” as a remedy for failing schools was gutted in a Senate committee Wednesday.

The bill would have allowed school districts to assemble a group of school and community members to help turnaround schools that receive an F six years in a row under the state’s A-F accountability system. 

During the Senate Education Committee meeting Wednesday, members approved amendments proposed by Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, which eliminated much of the transformation zone language and shifted the focus of the bill.

Shaina Cavazos writes for Chalkbeat Indiana what the bill looks like now:

But the bill now contains no mention of transformation zones and makes sure the Indiana State Board of Education would not be allowed to take control of an entire school district.

Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, said the biggest changes were proposed in amendments by Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary. When they were included, it changed the entire focus.

“There’s not much left in this bill after this amendment,” Kruse said.

The bill still includes a prohibition against schools offering potential students or their families gifts with a significant monetary value. It also would grant struggling schools a “safe harbor” provision where they could get an extra year to show academic improvement before the state would intervene.

Currently, turnaround schools are paired with a third party partner to help improve student performance, but after an Evansville school district found success with the transformation zone model, other districts wanted a chance to use that model.

The newly amended bill now goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee and then the full Senate. The House approved the original bill last month.

Two Indiana Colleges Create Scholarships For Undocumented Students

Brother Jesus Alonso is an administrator at Holy Cross College in South Bend, and advocates for resources to help undocumented students go to college.

Brother Jesus Alonso is an administrator at Holy Cross College in South Bend, and advocates for resources to help undocumented students go to college. (Photo Credit: Claire McInerny/StateImpact Indiana)

One afternoon on his way to work, Juan Constantino’s headlight went out.

“I had no idea,” Constantino recounts. “A cop pulled a U-turn, pulled me over he said, ‘do you know why I pulled you over?’”

If Constantino were like most students, it wouldn’t have been a big deal. He probably would have been let off with a warning and told to get his light fixed. But Constantino isn’t like most students. He’s undocumented and that means he didn’t have a driver’s license.

Constantino was charged with a misdemeanor. His family gathered the money quickly and posted his bail. Constantino went home, finished his homework and went to school the next day.

For undocumented students like Constantino, the threat of deportation is always present, and creates barriers to receiving an education.

For example, paying for college is almost impossible. Without legal status, their parents often work low wage jobs, and without a social security number the student can’t apply for federal loans.­­

Wabash College and Holy Cross College in Indiana are trying to tear down some of those barriers by creating scholarships specifically for undocumented students. Continue Reading

SBOE Approves IPS Transition Plan For Arlington And Emma Donnan

The State Board of Education approved a transition plan for two failing schools in Indianapolis Public Schools.

The State Board of Education approved a transition plan for two failing schools in Indianapolis Public Schools. photo credit: Indianapolis Public Schools

The State Board of Education today approved a transition plan for Arlington High School to return to Indianapolis Public Schools and for the district to partner with a charter school company to run a new K-6 program.

The Northeastside high school remains in state takeover due to years of chronic failure, but today the state board approved a plan for IPS to run the school starting this summer. Tindely Accelerated Schools has operated the 7-12 school since 2012 but announced last July it could not continue financially.

IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee had sought to fully recover the school from the state, but the board has remained unmoved to release its control.

Board member Tony Walker raised concern that IPS would not have a contract with the board, like other companies who oversee failing schools in state intervention. But board members pushed forward saying they trusted Ferebee. Continue Reading

State Board To Continue Testing Talks Wednesday

It’s only been a few weeks since the last State Board of Education meeting, but plenty has happened in that time to provide board members with topics for discussion.

One item sure to take center stage: testing.

The subject received a majority of the attention at the board’s March meeting – the first chance members had to discuss proposed contracts for the companies the Department of Administration recommended to create different parts of the state’s assessment system.

Members of the State Board of Education will meet Wednesday in Indianapolis. (Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Members of the State Board of Education will meet Wednesday in Indianapolis. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

The total estimated cost of those contracts – about $134 million – ruffled some feathers, and although State Superintendent Glenda Ritz generally agreed with board colleagues that the price tag was too high, it became evident that finding a compromise might pose problems.

In response, board member Sarah O’Brien released a proposal to cut costs and trim time off the test. She will present her resolution to the full board Wednesday, which she says will come in at around $86 million.

Ritz put out her own set of recommendations just a few days later, in an updated budget presentation for the Department of Education before the Senate Appropriations Committee. She told the group she could cut costs even further – down to about $75 million – with the elimination of IREAD-3 and other annual tests.

The board will need to decide Wednesday under what criteria they will authorize the development of the 2015-16 ISTEP+, a process that many would like to see happen as soon as possible to avoid the problems the state experienced this spring.

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Indiana Universities Speak Out On RFRA

After Governor Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law Thursday, criticism from Indiana residents, local businesses, and a number of national entities descended upon the state. Among those weighing in on the subject are Indiana universities and colleges. Below are portions of statements released by university leaders regarding the law that opponents say would allow legal discrimination particularly against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Purdue President and former governor Mitch Daniels has not commented on the law, and a spokesperson for Daniels said “it is a long-standing policy of our Trustees that institutionally, we are not to take part in public debates of this kind.”

Michael McRobbie, Indiana University President

“For its part, Indiana University remains steadfast in our longstanding commitment to value and respect the benefits of a diverse society. It is a fundamental core value of our culture at Indiana University and one that we cherish. Indeed, in 2014 the trustees of Indiana University reaffirmed our commitment to the achievement of equal opportunity within the university. Continue Reading

National News: More States Push Private Educational Options

Around the country, more states’ legislatures are discussing measures to give parents and students the chance to seek out alternatives in education – be they private schools, voucher money or charter schools. Meanwhile, Congressional efforts to rewrite the federal No Child Left Behind law this year have “opened a wider discussion about the federal government’s role in schools,” versus how much power belongs to the states and local schools. The conversation is further complicated by concerns about the widespread implementation of common academic standards and standardized tests.

Indiana currently has the largest voucher program in the county, in addition to a robust charter school presence.

A growing number of statehouses are considering measures that would allow school districts, parents and students increasingly to use taxpayer funds to explore alternatives to traditional state-backed public education. The flurry of new bills-which range from supporting private-school options to putting education dollars directly into parents’ hands-come amid concerns of increasing federal overreach in schools and a backlash against…

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How Much Should The State Be Involved In School Intervention?

Senate lawmakers continued an ongoing conversation Wednesday about how the state handles schools in jeopardy.

Right now, schools receiving six consecutive failing grades could face state intervention. (Photo Credit: amboo who/Flickr)

Schools receiving six consecutive failing grades could face state intervention. (Photo Credit: amboo who/Flickr)

The Senate Committee on Education & Career Development tweaked House Bill 1638, a measure which suggests a number of changes to the repercussions for failing schools.

Original bill language in would have allowed the state to take over entire school corporations, rather than just individual schools. Committee members approved an amendment to eliminate that section.

This is sure to please Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, who shared his concerns about this section with the Times of Northwest Indiana earlier this week:

Smith said Gary and Indianapolis schools are the only two corporations in the state that have had schools taken over.

“My concern is that if you have a school like Gary where there are three schools which have an A, and two other schools with a B and a C, why take over the whole district,” he said. “There is no great effort to get to the root of the problem or to assist. They just want to move forward and take over the entire district.”

Elements of the bill that remain intact include shrinking the timeline for state intervention. Currently, state officials must design a plan for any school receiving failing school accountability grades (D’s or F’s) for six consecutive years; the bill recommends bringing that number down to four.

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IN Supreme Court: School Buses Not A Constitutional Right

A case over whether or not families should pay busing fees in Franklin Township has made its way all the way to the state Supreme Court.

A case over whether or not families should pay busing fees in Franklin Township has made its way all the way to the state Supreme Court. photo credit: Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

The Indiana Supreme Court Tuesday upheld a trial court’s decision that the state constitution does not require school corporations to provide transportation for students to and from school.

The opinion ends a battle between parents and Franklin Township Schools over the district’s decision in 2011 to stop offering busses for students in wake of a $16 million budget shortfall.

Franklin Township Superintendent Flora Reichanadter said she does not expect schools to now drop transportation because they can. The judgement, she said, clarifies for schools what is and is not a constitutional right in public education.

“We just wanted to have the ability to resolve the whole issue ‒ if we were performing in an unconstitutional way or not,” she said. “I also think it provides clarity to school districts across the state because there are some districts, like Speedway for example, that have walk zones. It provides definition, if you have students walking to school in way to get there safely ‒ do you have to provide transportation in a climate where financial resources are limited.” Continue Reading

Messer Leading Effort For National Student Privacy Law

A Carpe Diem student logs into a computer in the school's "learning center," where each student has his or her own workstation.

A Carpe Diem student logs into a computer in the school’s “learning center,” where each student has his or her own workstation. photo credit: Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

As education moves into the digital age, so does data about the students using technology.

From homework and lessons on the web, Google Classroom and standardized tests moving online, a lot of information about a K-12 student lives on the Internet. That fact has long worried parents and educators, and now U.S. Rep. Luke Messer, R-Ind., is attempting to rectify it at the federal level.

Along with Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., Messer wrote a bill addressing the issue of student data privacy. Messer and Polis had planned to introduce the bill in the House Monday, but delayed following criticism that the bill doesn’t do enough to protect student data.

Currently, student data is protected under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a law enacted in 1974. It applies to institutions like schools and universities and the records they oversee, but doesn’t apply to the current system of education where third party companies hired by schools own student data.

When a school district hires online textbook companies or other ed-tech companies, those groups gain a lot of information about students. According to Fred Cate, Director of the Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research at Indiana University, there’s really only one reason a company would want access to student data.

“Nine times out of 10 the reason someone wants data is for marketing,” Cate says. “It’s really for targeting who you’re marketing to or what you’re marketing to them. So if I run a testing service or an online publisher or whatever and I can identify students by what they’re interested in, I can identify them by their proficiency, how well they do, I then know what to market to them.” Continue Reading

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