Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

What Does Ritz’s Campaign Move Mean For The 2016 Election?

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz announced late Friday that she is taking her hat out of the race for Indiana governor in 2016, instead focusing on a run for reelection to her current post.

“Now is not the right time for me to run for governor,” Ritz said in a statement. “My work is not finished, and my passion is stronger than ever.  I am resolutely dedicated to educators, students, and families from Pre-K to graduation.”

The politician’s decision came as a disappointment to some, and a wise move to others:

…but the announcement did not particularly surprise most political experts:

“This was maybe a little sooner than it was expected to be,” agrees Andrew Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at IPFW. “The announcement seemed to be an abrupt change in direction, but one that some people figured was going to be coming eventually.”

Downs points to low attendance at Ritz’s campaign-related events, especially in comparison to the education-related events she held as part of her regular superintendent duties, as well as the fact that she was unable to raise much money as warning signs the superintendent would likely pull out of the governor’s race.

Following her announcement, both of Ritz’s now former Democratic challengers – former House speaker John Gregg and current state Senator Karen Tallian, D-Portage – expressed their support for her decision.

And Downs says Gregg in particular should be thanking Ritz for her exit.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg (left) and Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike Pence. (Photo Credit: Brandon Smith/IPBS and Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg (left) and Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike Pence. (Photo Credit: Brandon Smith/IPBS and Alex Wong/Getty Images)

“It actually makes [the governor's race] a little bit easier for John Gregg,” Downs explains. “He still has a challenger in Karen Tallian, but he can begin to focus on his own campaign and what he needs to do to win with candidates who have lesser name recognition and at this point, a whole lot less money. He can begin to focus a little bit more on Mike Pence as the person he talks about, as opposed to needing to defeat another Democrat in the Democratic primary.”

In fact, Downs says, Ritz’s decision appears to bode well for her party in the superintendent’s race, as well.

“As far as the Superintendent of Public Instruction is concerned, it gives the Democrats an incumbent, and in Indiana, incumbents have a tendency to win. The Democrats really ought to be happy about that,” Downs says.

And we can expect that superintendent’s race to heat up a bit now that Ritz has declared her intent to run for reelection.

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Ritz Drops Bid For Governor, Seeks Reelection As Superintendent

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz announced Friday she is dropping out of the race for governor just a couple of months after kicking off her campaign.

Ritz says she’ll instead focus on seeking reelection to her current post.

The school chief’s gubernatorial campaign has been beset by problems since its start only two months ago, from an apparent lack of campaign staff to extremely poor fundraising totals, as well as questions about the legality of some campaign contributions.

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz will not seek the Democratic nomination for governor in 2016. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz will not seek the Democratic nomination for governor in 2016. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Ritz says while the state needs a new governor, now isn’t the time for her to run.  She says her work as superintendent isn’t finished and pledges to dedicate herself to students, educators and families.

“Under my leadership, I have brought the discussion of public education into the public discourse and have started to fundamentally change how we support schools,” Ritz said in a statement. “My work is not finished, and my passion is stronger than ever. I must continue to be 110 percent engaged in supporting public education.”

“I will continue to advocate for what is right to educate our children to improve our economy for all Hoosiers,” Ritz continues. “With the help of all of you, we will keep education the focal point of the gubernatorial race.”

“Glenda Ritz has always put the best interests of our school children first and this decision is another example of that,” said former House Speaker John Gregg, one of Ritz’s former opponents in the Democratic race, in a statement. “I look forward to supporting her re-election to the office of Superintendent and to working with her as Governor to further strengthen public education in our state.”

Ritz’s move leaves Gregg and just one other Democrat, State Senator Karen Tallian, D-Portage, in the gubernatorial primary.

“Superintendent Ritz has been a champion for students, parents, and educators and I know that she will continue her outstanding work to ensure all Hoosier students have access to a high-quality education in our state,” Tallian said in a statement.

Experts say a potential new challenger, former Evan Bayh aide Tom Sugar, could also join the race.

State Democratic Party Chair John Zody says he understands and respects Ritz’s decision, noting Hoosier families can still have confidence in her leadership at the Statehouse.

Academic Standards Highlighted Briefly in GOP Debate

School is just starting in many districts in Indiana and across the country – and it looks like many of the candidates for president are coming back from their own “summer break” of thinking about school, too.

The top ten Republican presidential contenders took to the stage in Cleveland Thursday night, introducing themselves to the nation in the first of many televised debates, hosted by Fox News.

Education was noticeably absent from much of the discussion – instead, topics including illegal immigration, national security and social issues took center stage.

The top ten Republican candidates for president, as determined by national polling data, took part in a televised debate hosted by Fox News Thursday night. (Photo Credit: scrolleditorial/Flickr)

The top ten Republican candidates for president, as determined by national polling data, took part in a televised debate hosted by Fox News Thursday night. (Photo Credit: scrolleditorial/Flickr)

But a question tossed to former Florida Governor Jeb Bush – the candidate with arguably the longest education résumé – at least started the conversation. A moderator asked Bush to address his stance on the Common Core State Standards, a system the politician has backed despite criticism from many of his opponents.

“I don’t believe the federal government should be involved with the creation of standards directly or indirectly, or the creation of curriculum or content,” Bush answered. “I’m for higher standards measured in an intellectually honest way with abundant school choice.”

Bush engaged his opponent and fellow Floridian, Sen. Marco Rubio, on the topic. Rubio pointed out he believes the federal government should stay out of standards decisions.

“We do need curriculum reform and it should happen in the state and local level. That’s where education policy belongs,” Rubio said. “The Department of Education, like every federal agency, will never be satisfied. They will not stop with it being a suggestion, they will turn it into a mandate.”

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Museums Face Access, Quality Challenges With Educational Programs

The options for Indiana’s youngest learners are expanding every day.

The hunger for preschool across Indiana continues to grow, fueled by initiatives like the state’s On My Way Pre-K pilot program and Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard’s Indy Preschool Scholarship Program, both initiatives targeted toward low-income families.

Momentum is so great that programs are popping up in places you might not otherwise expect them – like the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The IMA has offered summer classes and supplemental educational programming for years, but this is the first time it is hosting a group of young children for a year-long classroom experience. And like many of these other institutions, the IMA has a lot to consider in starting this type of educational program.

‘The arts is a great natural fit’

Children and adults alike have had opportunities to experience the IMA beyond its galleries and exhibits for years. The museum offers an array of courses ranging from creative indoor workshops to interactive adventure sessions at one of its many garden and outdoor facilities.

There is also plenty of programming for school groups, who often schedule their own field trips to the museum. Heidi Davis-Soylu, the IMA’s manager of academic engagement and learning research, noticed that one such local group took frequent advantage of these events, and decided it was worth forging a partnership.

Art supplies line the countertop in a preschool classroom at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Art supplies line the countertop in a preschool classroom at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

A toddler art program came out of that collaboration with St. Mary’s Child Center, which expanded and evolved into what has now become the IMA preschool.

“We learned a lot about working with toddlers in the art galleries – what’s the good ratio? How do we make this a space where they feel like they belong, but they also know how to be quiet in the hallways if we need to?” Davis-Soylu explains. “Bringing in the arts is a great natural fit for early childhood education.”

So beginning this week, just as the museum is opening to the public, a gaggle of three- and four-year-olds is leaving the building at the end of their school day. This group of seven makes up the IMA’s very first preschool class.

“As the largest art institution in the state and as in schools cutbacks are happening for art education are happening, we’re charged with that task to play that role,” Davis-Soylu says.

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Will Education Come Up In Tonight’s GOP Debate?

On your mark, get set, go!

The 2016 presidential race is well underway, and already crowded pools of contenders have emerged on both sides. Voters will have their first chance to see the Republican candidates side-by-side in an early round of debates tonight.

Photo Credit: WFIU / WTIU News

(Photo Credit: WFIU / WTIU News)

10 of the 17 contenders for the GOP nomination will square off at a debate in Cleveland, Ohio. Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Chris Christie and John Kasich were selected to participate based on national polling data.

It’s early, but already on the campaign trail candidates have touched on topics ranging from student debt to academic standards to teachers’ unions. Jeb Bush has made a political career largely based on his views on school matters, and a few other candidates have their own “pet” issues that could crop up, including charter schools (Rubio) and teacher tenure (Christie).

Allie Grasgreen of POLITICO’s Morning Education asked a few policy experts what, if any, education issues will make the cut tonight:

“With over 40 million people being crushed by student debt and parents identifying college affordability as their chief financial concern, I would be surprised if higher education didn’t come up,” Young Invincibles Executive Director Jen Mishory said.

But a senior policy analyst at the think tank Demos, which spearheaded the debt-free college idea, expects to see K-12 – namely, Common Core – emerge first. “It’s an issue that genuinely divides some of the candidates, and I would think that either Fox or the candidates themselves would seek to draw contrasts, particularly with such a large field,” Mark Huelsman said. If higher ed does get a mention, he added, it’d probably relate to President Barack Obama’s free community college proposal, Sen. Bernie Sanders’ call for free tuition, or vocational education and the private sector. [...]

But Catherine Brown, vice president of education policy at the Center for American Progress, wasn’t optimistic. “What voters and parents really want to hear is how our next president will help ensure that all students receive a high-quality education,” she said. “But based on what we’ve heard so far from the GOP presidential candidates, we’re instead likely to hear misinformed statements about the Common Core, attacks on teachers, and praise for voucher programs that would redirect badly needed resources away from public schools.”

Education Week‘s Lauren Camera watched the candidates’ forum hosted in New Hampshire earlier this week and says it provided the best preview for what we’re likely to see tonight…

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CTB Explains New Timeline For Receiving ISTEP+ Scores

CTB president Ellen Haley and Indiana Department of Education Assessment Director Michelle Walker address the State Board of Education Wednesday. CTB told the board it will take one extra month to score all of the state's ISTEP+ tests.

CTB president Ellen Haley and Indiana Department of Education Assessment Director Michelle Walker address the State Board of Education Wednesday. CTB told the board it will take one extra month to score all of the state’s ISTEP+ tests. (photo credit: Steve Burns / WTIU News)

Indiana students, teachers and schools will not see results from this past spring’s ISTEP+ likely until the end of this year, after testing vendor CTB informed the State Board of Education Wednesday there are issues with scoring that will delay results.

During Wednesday’s regularly scheduled board meeting, CTB President Ellen Haley spoke to the board and said CTB is behind in its scoring procedure because of new, technology-enhanced items that appeared on the test for the first time this year. The items allow students to fill in their own answer, and Haley says the problem is Indiana students entered answers that were correct, but not in CTB’s answer bank, so the online rubric marked it as wrong.

CTB now has to go back through the tests and double-check these answers so students can get credit for their correct work.

This upset many board members, including Vince Bertram, who said he was confused how the company was not prepared for this outcome.

“I would think that after years of experience and millions of tests that we would understand how a fifth grader may describe and come up with a correct answer for the perimeter of a rectangle,” Bertram said.

But Haley says Indiana is in this situation because we did not have time to field test these questions, since we developed the test so quickly after adopting new standards.

“Normally, this would all be done in your field test year when nobody was waiting for their scores, you’d have all the time in the world to look at the items, look at the rubrics, look at the student responses,” she said. “We’re doing it in the middle of an operational year.”

Because re-scoring will take more time, tacking an extra month onto the entire process, there will be delays in getting schools individual student scores.

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Comparing Apples & Oranges: State Board Talks Charter Funding

The “education session” was dominated by a lot of talk about money – discussions that have continued into the school year.

The Indiana General Assembly approved a significant shift in the state’s school funding formula, which made up a big chunk of the state’s new two-year budget. Another smaller part of that budget skated by relatively unnoticed at the time, but is now attracting much attention from the State Board of Education.

The board approved the eligibility requirements and application process for a new charter school grant and loan program at their regular business meeting Wednesday on the IU-Bloomington campus.

As we’ve reported, this initiative – approved as part of the newest biennial budget during the 2015 legislative session – consists of two parts:

  • A grant program (the Charter and Innovation Network School grant program) that gives charter schools $500 extra per student in state funding if they meet certain criteria. This money can only be used for capital projects, technology and transportation costs. That’s because the money is meant to act as a sort of “property tax replacement,” since charters are not able to propose referenda on local ballots like traditional public schools can.
  • A loan program (the Charter and Innovation School Advance Program) that allows charter schools to receive a loan from the state’s Common School Fund for up to $5 million, given they meet the same eligibility criteria. There is no limit on what the money can be used for, but schools must pay the state back in full.
State Board of Education members Byron Ernest (left) and Steven Yager chat during a break at the board's August meeting. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

State Board of Education members Byron Ernest (left) and Steven Yager chat during a break at the board’s August meeting. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Charters are eligible for both programs if they are in their first two years of operation, located in an innovation network or if they serve a population that is mostly made up of students with developmental, intellectual or behavioral challenges. “High-performing” charters (those earning an A, B, or C on the state’s school grading scale) automatically qualify, but those earning a D or F are only eligible if they perform as well as or better than the nearest non-charter public school.

Money is specifically not available for virtual charters, adult high schools, charters who won’t be serving students in the fall of the application year and those that have not been placed in the same or a better category than the nearest non-public charter for two consecutive years.

State legislators set aside $50 million for both programs over the next two years. John O’Neal, Government Relations representative for the Indiana State Teachers Association, told the board he’s worried about that amount, which he considers quite a large allocation for just one sector of the state’s school system.

“We’re funding basically, essentially three public school systems in this state – our community-based public schools, our voucher receiving schools, and our public charter schools,” O’Neal says. “We need to address the fact that these charter schools are funneling money and diverting tax dollars from our community-based public schools.”

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More Test Issues Will Lead To Delay In ISTEP+ Scores

Testing company CTB McGraw Hill informed state superintendent Glenda Ritz that there are issues grading this year's ISTEP+. (Photo Credit: James Martin/Flickr)

Testing company CTB-McGraw Hill informed state superintendent Glenda Ritz that there are issues grading this year’s ISTEP+ test. (Photo Credit: James Martin/Flickr)

Indiana has not yet seen an end to this year’s ISTEP+ testing saga or the state’s controversial relationship with testing company CTB-McGraw Hill.

CTB officials informed State Superintendent Glenda Ritz there is an issue with a batch of new technology-enhanced test questions included on the statewide ISTEP+ test for the first time this spring, which will lead to a delay in the release of those test scores.

In an email obtained by StateImpact dated Tuesday at 3:48 p.m., Indiana Department of Education staff informed State Board of Education members that they had learned of the issue late Monday afternoon.

“CTB-McGraw Hill informed us that there will be a delay in the delivery of the scores of the 2014-15 ISTEP+ administration,” the email reads. “This will require a change of the timeline for providing ISTEP+ results to the field.”

What exactly does this mean?

Since it will take longer to grade this year’s batch of ISTEP+ tests, it will take longer to set cut scores – the point that differentiates between those who pass and those who fail. And because ISTEP+ scores play heavily into the formula for calculating school accountability grades, the release of that data will now be delayed as well.

The State Board is still discussing options for 2014-15 A-F grades – they kicked around ideas at last month’s meeting, based on flexibility granted by the U.S. Department of Education for states in transition periods for academic standards and assessments – student scores are often low the first year an exam is introduced. We’ll have to wait and see what this latest development means for test scores, and whether or not that impacts the decision of what to do with grades.

The timeline for making that decision will surely be impacted. IDOE Deputy Superintendent Danielle Shockey had said the board would probably need to take action on accountability by October – once they have established cut scores for the current set of ISTEP+ tests – although it would be preferable to move sooner rather than later.

A-F scores matter for things like teacher evaluations and teacher pay.

After ditching the Common Core in early 2013, the state scrambled to create new standards, which led to the task of writing a new assessment last summer. At that time, the board discussed with many experts in the field how they would test the functionality of these items on such a short timeline. It was decided that rather than field testing the assessment, essentially giving students the test in the fall to just practice the technical side of it, they would administer an “operational field test.”

The IDOE assessment team said this operational field test meant students would take the ISTEP+ in the spring as planned, but extra questions would be added that would serve as the pilot questions.

The reason the IDOE and SBOE went with this option is because the assessment was still being created in late summer and early fall and wasn’t ready for field testing at that point.

The question now is whether field testing the items in the fall would have prevented this current issue, or if this situation was inevitable.

This is not the first issue Indiana has faced with CTB. Schools were forced to suspend testing for multiple days in 2013 when tests malfunctioned; the company blamed it on server problems. Some districts faced similar interruptions yet again this spring.

CTB’s contract with Indiana ended this spring. British testing company Pearson has been tapped to form the new version of the test for the 2015-16 school year.

CTB president Ellen Haley will attend Wednesday’s State Board of Education meeting to answer board questions and present additional information. That meeting will be live-streamed beginning at 9 a.m.

IPS Partners With Indy University To Train Future Principals

Indianapolis Public Schools is partnering with Marian University to train IPS teacher to be future principals.

Indianapolis Public Schools is partnering with Marian University to train IPS teacher to be future principals. (photo credit: StateImpact Indiana)

Marian University and Indianapolis Public Schools are joining forces to create more school principals. Marian University President and former State Board of Education member Daniel Elsener and IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee announced a program to train current IPS teachers to become principals and administrators.

Ferebee says IPS is committing $250,000 over the next five years to enroll upwards of 30 teachers per year in Marian University’s Academy for Teaching and Learning Leadership.

“We knew we needed a strong succession plan to ensure that we had great leaders to step up and go into those positions and what we see today is a realization of that vision,” Ferebee says.

Elsener says properly training school administrators creates a trickle down effect in a district and individual schools.

“If you don’t have great leadership in there it’s hard to attract great teachers, it’s hard to support them and keep them, and at the end of the day the students do not succeed without a great school so it’s a strategic priority,” Elsener says. “If you get the principal right, a lot of things are going to go right.”

Sixteen IPS teachers are already enrolled and pay one-third of their own tuition costs, IPS and Marian University cover the rest. The program is also being funded through an anonymous $1 million donation from an Indianapolis family.

Network Indiana contributed to this report.

State Board Will Discuss Details Of Charter School Grant Program

State Board of Education members Steve Yager, Sarah O'Brien and Byron Ernest at the June meeting.

State Board of Education members Steve Yager, Sarah O’Brien and Byron Ernest at the June meeting. (Photo Credit: Claire McInerny/StateImpact Indiana)

The State Board of Education will meet Wednesday for its regular business meeting, and the biggest agenda item will be the discussion around the new law that gives charter schools access to state funded grants and loans.

The Charter School Grant and Loan Program, which Governor Pence signed as part of the biennial budget, allows public charter schools access to state funds to pay for capital projects, technology and transportation costs they previously did not receive from the state.

The money is being allocated to charter schools because they do not have access to property taxes, which on average total around $3,000 per student for traditional public schools.

The grant program will give charter schools $500 per student for those purposes, but will only get the money if they meet the following criteria:

  • Receive an A, B, or C grade on the state’s A-F accountability system.
  • In their first or second year of operation.
  • Serve mostly special education students.
  • Located in an innovation network.
  • Don’t qualify for the A-F system, and therefore don’t receive a letter grade.

In addition, a school receiving a D or F is still eligible as long as the nearest traditional public school is performing the same as or worse than the charter school.

Charter schools will receive the grants in two installments of $250 per student, with the first payment going out immediately based on projected enrollment and the second once the official count is taken. Continue Reading

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