Democrat John Gregg, left, responds to a question during a debate for Indiana Governor, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016, in Indianapolis. Libertarian Rex Bell and Republican Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb also participated in the debate. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings, Pool)
The Monday’s town hall-style gubernatorial debate focused on education, and took place at Indianapolis’ Lawrence North High School, in front of an audience of students, teachers and administrators.
It featured questions from Indianapolis high school students and moderator Laura Merrifield Albright, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Indianapolis.
Republican candidate Eric Holcomb, Democratic candidate John Gregg and Libertarian candidate Rex Bell faced questions on standardized testing, Indiana’s teacher shortage, youth job availability and higher education. They laid out similar policy positions on almost all issues.
On almost all issues, Holcomb and Gregg walked similar lines: both called the ISTEP+ standardized test a broken test (the test is currently being replaced), both refrained from committing to in-state tuition at public universities for students living in the country illegally, and both were quick to say they honor the performing arts.
Bell stood out from the group by continually advocating for local control over issues — even suggesting that school districts would be better off if each had their own test. Parents, he says, not the state, should hold schools accountable for doing a good job.
The most substantive differences between candidates emerged when they spoke about education in the context of the larger economy.
Holcomb says education is improving in Indiana. He credits the economic recovery ushered in under the former Gov. Mitch Daniel’s administration, of which he was a part.
“We ushered in Indiana’s comeback,” Holcomb says. “We turned this state around.”
But Gregg challenged Holcomb’s economic claims, pushing the Republican candidate on the cost of the recovery. He says the middle and working class are still struggling.
“The reality is that Hoosiers are working harder and harder, and taking home less and less,” Gregg says, comparing Indiana’s economy to a broken house.
“When I have a leaky roof, I fix it,” Gregg says.
The candidates also clashed briefly over Indiana’s teacher shortage. Gregg says the state bears the blame for the shortage.
“It’s teaching to the test, it’s the flat salaries, it’s the total lack of respect — I mean blaming teachers, basically, for society today,” Gregg says. “I do think once we give them a seat at the table and a modicum of respect, that will help with retention.”
Holcomb acknowledged the shortage, but called it a national problem, not a local one.
“It is not just Indiana-centric, this is a national issue,” Holcomb says. “There are 60,000 positions that look to be unfilled across the entire country. So it’s not just an Indiana issue.”
Bell blamed state testing for driving teachers from the profession. He says local control and local tests would remedy the shortage.
Gregg and Holcomb have laid out separate education plans that call for differing expansions of state-funded preschool and have different views of school choice, like vouchers and charter schools. No questions were asked specifically on those topics, but both candidates weighed in.
Holcomb wants to expand the state’s existing preschool pilot program. It offers state-funded preschool to families within certain income limits. He also says he will continue to advocate for a school funding formula where state money follows students and many families are allowed to choose between public, charter and private schools.
Gregg supports state-funded preschool options for all families in the state, regardless of income. He says the state has funds that could be used to roll that out over the course of three years.
The Indiana GOP’s gubernatorial ticket — Eric Holcomb and running mate State Auditor Suzanne Crouch at an Indianapolis news conference on Aug. 1, 2016. – Brandon J. Smith / Indiana Public Broadcasting” credit=”
Republican gubernatorial candidate Eric Holcomb unveiled his education plan this morning during an annual meeting of Indiana school boards and local superintendents.
Hundreds of educators listened quietly to the lieutenant governor just minutes after they’d given a standing ovation to his Democratic challenger John Gregg who pledged to “end the war” on public eduction.
Gregg has made education and his relationship with Superintendent Glenda Ritz a centerpiece of his campaign.
But so far, education has been a low-profile issue for Republicans ahead of the November election. Just last week the GOP candidate for state schools chief released a detailed plan.
Holcomb proposed boosting funda for special education and English language learners during a short speech at the Indianapolis Convention Center. Deciding how to pay for any new programs would be hashed out in the upcoming legislative session when the next two-year budget is set, he said later.
Holcomb also pledged to find solutions to some of the issues that plunged the state’s education oversight into political fights and caused unease and anger from classroom teachers.
“Anyone can come up with a plan, but the difference is how you execute it,” he said during the Indiana School Board Association/Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents 67th annual conference. “So please know this plan is much more than words on a paper but a to do list.”
He described his approach as layered — from building on Pre-k to collaborations with state colleges and businesses to boost high school STEM learning and retrain out of work adults for new jobs.
Holcomb become lieutenant governor in March after Sue Ellspermann stepped down to be the president of Ivy Tech Community College. He was a top aide to former Gov. Mitch Daniels.
The Indiana State Board of Education will have a new member soon. (Alexander McCall/WFIU News)
When Maryanne McMahon began teaching in 1985, she loved it. When someone recommended she consider administrative roles, she balked.
“I looked them square in the face and said ‘I am never leaving the classroom,’” McMahon recalls. “But never say never, I guess.”
Now, she is the newest member of the Indiana State Board of Education. Gov. Mike Pence appointed McMahon to the position last week. She brings nine years experience as a classroom teacher and over 20 years experience in administrative roles in MSD Decatur Township and Avon Community School Corporation.
Maryanne McMahon. (courtesy)
Her biggest priority on the board, she says, is making sure the board follows the rules.
“Just staying focused on what the law requires the board to do, is of importance,” McMahon says.
Beyond that McMahon is less specific about what vision or priorities she will bring to the board.
“I have a steep learning curve ahead of me,” McMahon says. “My mode of operating is to get informed.”
The state board will be in charge of implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the nation’s new federal education law. The law transfers much power in creating, implementing and enforcing education policy from the federal government to state government. In Indiana’s case, that’s the State Board of Education.
“I need to get perspective on where the board is with that right now,” says McMahon, referring to ESSA.
Indiana policymakers and educators are currently developing a new standardized test to replace Indiana’s ISTEP+ exam. ESSA gives state education agencies more power to change the nature of their standardized test.
“I do believe that the assessment and testing piece — I see the ramifications of the decisions on our students locally,” McMahon says. “I just want to make sure that it’s a fair process for all and it’s giving us the information that we need to know.”
Most of McMahon’s professional career has taken place in Avon Community School Corporation. For 17 years McMahon has served in various administrative roles, currently as an assistant superintendent.
“Throughout her career as an educator, Maryanne McMahon has distinguished herself as an innovative leader who works hard advancing the best interests of students, families and teachers,” said Gov. Mike Pence, in a statement.
Pence credits her work as superintendent, where she secured math and science partnership grants worth more than $500,000 and led an efficiency task force that saved the district $350,000, as assets to the board.
McMahon says there are other subjects the board oversees that she’s looking forward to learning about.
The state board of education annually approves school letter grades, the state’s method of ranking schools. The system has come under controversy in recent years. Tests that inform those letter grades were deemed inaccurate, prompting the state to allow schools and school districts to retain former rankings, if their rating fell.
“I know that there are schools that are in different places with levels of accountability,” McMahon says. “I know that the ramifications of what the board decides and how they move forward has impact way beyond my current experience. So I want to understand that more deeply.”
McMahon replaces former state board of education member Sarah O’Brien. O’Brien, a first grade teacher, also works for Avon Community School Corporation.
McMahon will begin serving on the board at October’s State Board of Education meeting.
A seventh grader works on a laptop owned by her school in the classroom. (photo credit: Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana)
What do engineering and fitness have to do with each other? Sometimes, a lot. And a middle school program that brings those two topics together, created by researchers at Purdue University, just got a boost.
Alka Harriger, a researcher at Purdue University, received $2.5 million from the National Science Foundation to introduce a simple concept in schools: get young people, especially young women, to see possibilities in computing and engineering jobs.
She also wants them thinking about exercise. So she’s trying a fun approach.
“Building fitness games that are supported with technology,” Harriger says.
That means teaching middle schoolers how to build and wire sensors for games that see how far someone jumps. Or how fast someone runs. It teaches them the science and skills behind technology, but also gives the middle school students a fun reason to get active.
“[It's] computing and automation done within the context of fitness,” Harringer says.
In select Indiana schools, middle school students could see these concepts seep into elective classes, existing curricula and after school programs.
Using funds from the NSF grant, Harriger and fellow researchers hope to expand and build off an existing afterschool program. Students in that program learn engineering skills, create games and participate in fitness activities.
Harriger says the concepts students learn can actually introduce them to a new style of thought: computational thinking.
“The whole idea with computational thinking is to really get people to focus on how they go about solving problems,” Harriger says.
And, according to leading school technology and computer science organizations, computational thinking gets kids’ brains working in unique ways, including:
Formulating problems in a way that enables us to use a computer and other tools to help solve them.
Logically organizing and analyzing data
Representing data through abstractions such as models and simulations
Identifying, analyzing, and implementing possible solutions with the goal of achieving the most efficient and effective combination of steps and resources
Generalizing and transferring this problem solving process to a wide variety of problems
Over the next school year, Harriger and fellow researcher Brad Harriger, will train middle school teachers to teach classes that focus on these skills. It will introduce computer science to students early so they don’t rule it out as a career choice, Harriger says.
“We wanted to get to as young of an age group as we could,” Harriger says. “The reason that it’s not younger than middle school is that we actually have kids working with power, electricty, wiring and so on.”
A total of 165 teachers and around 2,800 students in grades six through eight will be involved. Two schools have already agreed to partner on the effort: Lafayette Sunnyside Intermediate School and Winamac Middle School in Winamac. The researchers are currently searching for middle schools to be involved.
Classes and curricula based on the concepts are expected to reach middle school students during the 2017-18 school year. The afterschool program will continue this year.
Yorktown Superintendent Jennifer McCormick and GOP state superintendent candidate talks on Sept. 21, 2016 at the Old National Building in Indianapolis. (photo credit: Eric Weddle / WFYI Public Media)
Jennifer McCormick, the GOP candidate for state superintendent of public instruction, released a detailed plan Wednesday on how she would manage education and attempt to influence state policy if she ousts incumbent Glenda Ritz in November.
McCormick echoed similar policy shifts championed by Ritz — like a more robust grading system for schools instead of the current A-to-F rating — but also offered starkly different approaches, such as opposition to universal state-funded preschool and support for some school choice policies during a press conference.
While the Yorktown superintendent said she agreed with some legislation passed during the past eight years, such as the focus on teacher evaluations, she also explained that rhetoric “from several areas” painted teachers as unprepared and unworthy of pay raises.
“Teachers want to feel like there is a purpose. As a state, we done a pretty good job on beating up on the profession,” McCormick said. “That needs to stop. We need to make sure that we are holding our educators to the highest esteem.”
Part of making that stop, McCormick said, is by the the state superintendent working with both political parties to pass policies that benefit educator and schools and communicating better with school leaders.
McCormick claims that Ritz’s adversarial relationship with the Republican governor’s office and Statehouse majority has caused prevented all sides from hammering out policy details.
“For one, you have to have a state superintendent who will verbally commit to working with the governor and working with those lawmakers. That has to happen,” she said. “For us to be known across the nation as that is a state with a relational problem — that is unacceptable.”
The state’s Commission for Higher Education and polling organization Gallup released a new website Wednesday that tries to explain the value of attending an Indiana college.
The Indiana College Value Index doesn’t rank the 16 state-funded college and university campuses. Instead, it’s suppose to help students and their families answer questions about choosing a college, says higher education commissioner Teresa Lubbers.
“We know there are other rankings out there, U.S. News and World Report and Princeton Review, but we think for Hoosier students this provides much more information,” Lubbers says.
Information includes how long it takes to graduate at each school and survey results from students and alumni about their degree and overall experience.
Indiana’s private and non-public schools are not included yet but could change by next year.
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 →
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