Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Indiana Colleges Launch Push For More Minority STEM Degrees

The Campus Center at IUPUI's downtown Indianapolis campus. (Kyle Stokes)

The Campus Center at IUPUI’s downtown Indianapolis campus. (Kyle Stokes)

A group of six Indiana colleges will launch an initiative to double the number of students of color graduating with science, technology, engineering and math degrees.

The Indiana STEM Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation will begin in December to increase Indiana’s STEM minority pipeline. The $4.8 million project is funded by the National Science Foundation.

Participating schools include Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, IU Bloomington, Ball State University, IU Northwest, IU South Bend and Ivy Tech Community College Indianapolis. Over five years, they hope to double the number of STEM degrees awarded to students of color from 295 during the 2015-16 school year to 590 by the 2020-21 school year.

“It is attainable, you just need to put in the work,” says Pamella Shaw, associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion at IUPUI. Shaw led a similar 2013 project out of Purdue University.

To do so, the schools will look to future generations. They plan to enroll high school students in college level classes to prepare them for college.

The project, which includes Ivy Tech Community College, also will work to transfer students into 4-year undergraduate programs.

“Transition them here to IUPUI and other institutions because they have a large number of diverse students,” Shaw says. Continue Reading

Superintendent Candidates Clash On Management And Communication

State superintendent Glenda Ritz and Jennifer McCormick, the candidates for state superintendent.

State superintendent Glenda Ritz and Jennifer McCormick, the candidates for state superintendent.

On Election Day, past the presidential race on your ballot, past the governor, Indiana voters will decide Indiana’s top education official.

Democratic incumbent Glenda Ritz and Republican Yorktown superintendent Jennifer McCormick, have many things in common.

On policy, they’re pretty parallel, which was clear during mid-October’s superintendent debate. They share similar ideas on the state’s school ranking system, which currently labels schools A-F: they want rankings to say more.

“Our schools are more than a test score,” Ritz says.

And from McCormick, it’s a similar response.

“One grade does not tell the story of a building,” McCormick says. “One grade does not tell the story of a district.”

And on who should create the state’s teacher evaluations?

“I am very much a local control person,” Ritz says.

McCormick is, as well.

“I too, agree the power of local level,” McCormick says.

They agree an exhaustive study should examine how the state’s private school voucher program affects public schools. Both want to expand preschool and think the ISTEP needs to be replaced.

The are some differences in the fine details, though.

Ritz has been a louder critic of vouchers. And she wants free, state-funded preschool available statewide by 2020.

“We absolutely have to have high quality pre-K in all of our communities,” Ritz says.

But McCormick wants a slower expansion that at first, targets only “at-risk” students. It’d be an expansion of the state’s On My Way Pre-K program. That’s currently in five counties and serves about 2,200 children.

Both candidates want to rate schools on a handful of different measures — but Ritz wants a “dashboard” that has information. McCormick wants a “report card.”

So for those keeping an eye on this race: you might wonder, where do the candidates disagree?

Well, largely, on management and communication.

It’s been one of the largest critiques of the Ritz administration over the past four years: that the State Department of Education could be run more smoothly. And McCormick says that’s a reason she decided to run.

“I’ve been receiving communications from the department of education for nearly 20 years,” says McCormick. “I know what’s good and I know when we are struggling and we are struggling.”

The Department of Education helps schools by giving guidance, making sure they follow laws and delivering state test scores.

McCormick says communicating is important. Not just how much communication, but the quality of it, too. And she says she will improve the quality.

“Educators know it, educational leaders know it, people who are tied to schools know that the situation is not good,” McCormick says.

Ritz points to several of her department’s practices she says are successful — traveling to multiple districts in an average week, weekly and monthly newsletters, and new positions.

“I actually have designated my deputy superintendent with any question,” Ritz says. “My outreach, I have outreach coordinators all over the state of Indiana.”

Outreach coordinators relay information between local educators and the department. Jeff Hendrix, executive director of the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents, says, under Ritz, the department communication efforts have ramped up.

“I believe the outreach program that superintendent Ritz put in with the regional coordinators was a step to try to improve communication throughout the state,” Hendrix says.

But, he says one of the major challenges for the job, is, well, politics.

“There’s politics in way too many things and education has become one of those as well,” Hendrix says.

Ritz, as superintendent, has been the only statewide elected official that’s Democrat. And that’s made things challenging — from political quarrels with Gov. Mike Pence to trouble creating policy with the state board of education.

Yet, getting politics out of education is another thing both McCormick and Ritz agree on.

It’s an argument made by the candidates from each political party.

English Learners Prioritized Under New Federal Education Law

Frankfort teacher Anne Lanum works with English learner students.

Frankfort teacher Anne Lanum works with English learner students. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting). 

The Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, directs more attention to English Language Learners. This new federal education law replaced No Child Left Behind last December, and it could mean a big change for ELL students and the schools that educate them.

One ESSA provision dictates states move English learner instruction from Title III, the program it used to live under, to Title 1. Title I has more prominence and money.

The law also dictates that ELL proficiency be part of the criteria that states use to hold schools accountable.

Indiana is not currently counting ELL proficiency in school A-F grades. Under No Child Left Behind, these evaluations where largely tabulated with student ISTEP+ scores. But ESSA gives states more options.

Elementary schools are measured with student academic proficiency (how a child performs on a test), academic growth (if a child improved from year to year on a test), language proficiency for English Language Learners, and an indicator of the state’s choice. In high school you add graduation rates to this list.

As we’ve reported, states get to choose what the final academic indicator. A few examples a state could use are school climate, technical training certificates earned by students, access to a variety of courses, chronic absenteeism or disciplinary action. The challenge with these indicators is making sure they are measured correctly and are tested, so one school cannot simply say it has a great school climate to help its grade.

States, including Indiana, are currently creating a plan to use these various criteria. It’s up to a state to decide how much weight to put on each of these factors. For example, a state could decide to make academic growth worth 30 percent of the grade and academic proficiency 15 percent. Or they could flip it.

Rebecca Vonderlack-Navarro, a senior policy analyst at the Latino Policy Forum, says the addition of the ELL proficiency into the calculation gives states a tricky decision.

“You don’t want it to be weighted too much and have a state with a real concern to just re-designating kids and moving kids out of services,” Vonderlack-Navarro says. “But at the same time you don’t want it so low that it doesn’t matter at all.”

She says a reasonable amount to weigh this factor would be around 10-15 percent of the overall grade.

In Indiana, this could could be a challenge. Many of the state’s English language learners are concentrated in specific school districts, while most school districts have a very small population of these students.

As we’ve reported over the last year, resources for educating these students is already sparse, and it changes from district to district.

“What’s been perennial in education is that we haven’t been preparing all teachers for English learners, and it’s been a huge issues because most teachers didn’t expect to be teaching these kids, and now are,” Rebecca Vonderlack-Navarro says. “I think we need to redefine what good teaching is in this country, and good teaching needs to be being responsive to language and cultural differences and it needs to be a key part of teacher preparation.”

Resources will undoubtedly be the challenge. But Department of Education spokesperson Daniel Altman says the DOE has already begun trying to increase resources for these students.

“Superintendent Ritz and her team were successful in doubling state funding for ELLs during the previous budget session,” Altman say. “This increase in state funding provides direct supports, materials, training, and staffing of EL programs across the state with the aim of ensuring equitable access for all ELs.”

The Indiana Department of Education is currently working on its plan for how to comply with ESSA, and plans to submit it to the federal government in March.

Supreme Court Will Take Up Transgender Bathroom Case

The White House released guidance to public schools saying they must allow transgender students to use bathrooms that match their gender identity. (Pixabay)

The White House released guidance in May to public schools saying they must allow transgender students to use bathrooms that match their gender identity. (Pixabay)

The Supreme Court announced last week it will take up the case of transgender students using bathrooms that match their gender identity.

NPR reports the case centers around a high school student in Virginia:

Gavin Grimm, a 17-year-old senior in Gloucester County … came out as transgender when he was a freshman in high school. The school principal allowed him to use the boys’ bathroom, until some parents complained, and the school board adopted a policy that required students to use the bathroom that corresponds with their biological sex, or a separate single-stall restroom office.”

So Grimm, who has been taking hormones and has grown facial hair, sued the school board. In April, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit agreed that his case could proceed. Gloucester County then petitioned the court, and in August, the justices ruled 5-3 that the school board did not have to follow the lower court’s order. Justice Stephen Breyer said he voted to stay the lower court order as a “courtesy” to maintain the status quo while the court considered whether to hear the lawsuit.

Earlier this year, the Obama administration released guidelines to schools saying schools must allow transgender students to use the bathroom of the gender they identify with.

We reported on that guidance and how schools around the state were reacting.

The Supreme Court will hear the case sometime next year.

New Teacher Licenses Increase For First Time In Three Years

Fourth grade math teacher Larysa Euteneur helps students with an exercise at Evans School. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/StateImpact)

Fourth grade math teacher Larysa Euteneur helps students with an exercise at Evans School. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/StateImpact)

The Department of Education announced Monday the number of new teachers receiving licenses from the state saw a huge increase this school year.

Last school year, the Department issued 3,843 licenses to new teachers, the lowest of the last six years. This school year, 4,552 licenses were issued — an 18 percent increase.

The number of licenses issued to new teachers in Indiana dropped every year since 2012, and this is the first year since that there’s been an increase.

“With a majority of school corporations reporting a teacher shortage in their district, now more than ever, Indiana needs more individuals to choose teaching as a profession,” said state superintendent Glenda Ritz in a statement. “While today’s numbers do not fully solve the shortage, they reflect our strong state commitment and work to support the education profession over the past four years.”

After the lowest drop in new licenses issued in the 2013-2014 school year, the state started addressing what they are calling a teacher shortage. It was discussed during last year’s legislative session and state superintendent Glenda Ritz created a panel of educators to discuss how to better the profession in the state.


Letter To ISTEP Panel From Superintendents: Don’t Rush The Process


A group of superintendents from around the state wrote a letter this week criticizing the way the process of re-writing the state assessment is being handles.

The Indiana Urban Schools Association issued the letter, which is aimed at legislatures and the state’s ISTEP panel. The panel, created during the 2016 General Assembly, charged a group of educators, parents and state policy makers to create a recommendation for how to replace the ISTEP.

This panel has met for the last six months, and has a Dec. 1 deadline to issue the recommendation, but hasn’t come up with concrete plans.

The letter expresses concern that this panel is trying to create a test without working along with a similar group establishing the state’s updated A-F system.

IUSA Executive Director Hardy Murphy says he hopes the letter reminds legislators and the panel about how important this decision is, and why it’s valuable not to rush anything.

“What could happen is we replicate the very unfortunate experience that we’ve had so far with the assessments and we don’t think those experiences were good for anyone,” Murphy says.

The ISTEP panel next meets Nov. 15.

10 26 16 LettertoAssessmentAccountability by Indiana Public Media News on Scribd

McCormick Aims To Pull Politics Out Of State Superintendent Job

One of the few races all Hoosiers get to vote for this election is for superintendent of public instruction. The state superintendent runs the Department of Education and chairs the State Board of Education. In the second of a two-part series looking at the candidates in this race, we look at Republican new-comer Jennifer McCormick.

At a recent meeting of the Yorktown School Board, there’s a lot of smiles and even some laughs.

Held in a small room in the district office in the center of Yorktown, the monthly meeting is a far cry from the Indiana Board of Education, which has now seen four years of tumultuous political debates.

In just 22 minutes, the five members and Superintendent Jennifer McCormick approve the district budget unanimously and review many of the mundane issues a local board like this oversees.

McCormick, noting the light agenda, admits meetings for the A-rated Yorktown district are less exciting than those happening just 15 miles to the east in Muncie where management of the school budget is a charged issue.

Why would McCormick, a former special education teacher turned top administrator, seek the office of the state superintendent of public instruction, an elected position that has drawn heated Statehouse debates and national scrutiny?

“You know I was very frustrated for the last couple of years,” she says. “So it was one of those moments we teach our own children and we teach our own students, that if you’re going to change something you either need to step up and try to fix it or at some point keep your mouth shut.”

McCormick claims the Indiana Department of Education has become too political and needs better leadership. She cites her career as a teacher, elementary school principal and the past 10 years as an assistant superintendent and superintendent as why she makes a good candidate.

“It is broken,” she says.

She faults State Superintendent Glenda Ritz for poor communication to school districts and politicizing the office. She says Ritz has caused rifts with local school leaders and her actions have lead lawmakers and the governor’s office to ignore her input.

“For me this is not about a party, it’s not about a true party alignment for me it’s about the party of students,” she says.

But Ritz supporters don’t believe McCormick’s position. Continue Reading

As She Battles For Re-Election, A Look At Glenda Ritz’s First Term

One of the few races all Hoosiers get to vote for this election is for superintendent of public instruction. The state superintendent runs the Department of Education and chairs the State Board of Education. In the first of a two-part series looking at the candidates in this race, we look at Democrat incumbent Glenda Ritz.

When Glenda Ritz first ran for state superintendent in 2012, she was the underdog.

She faced Republican incumbent and school reform advocate Tony Bennett. He praised charter schools, supported the creation of the voucher program and new ways to hold teachers and schools accountable for low test scores.

His campaign outspent Ritz’s 5 to 1. But Ritz was an educator, and she had the support from the state’s teachers, a strong grassroots campaign. And on Election Day, she received more votes than any other candidate on the ballot, including Governor Pence.

Many who opposed the school reform strategies of Republican leaders saw Ritz as a solution. But the fact that she disagreed with the Pence administration – became a problem.

Conflict Plagued Ritz’s First Term

This manifested the most at the State Board of Education meetings.

“This is the part of these meetings that I hate,” former SBOE member Andrea Neal said at a particularly combative meeting. “It’s unnecessary tension, my stomach starts churning the night before.”

The boiling point came when Ritz abruptly ended a board meeting before the agenda was complete.

She later filed a lawsuit against board members for communicating with each other outside of meetings, via email, saying they violated proper meeting procedures.

Because of all this, education became one of the biggest political issues in the state. This included verbal sparring between Ritz and Pence.

“Yes there were politics going on, but I figured out really quickly that I don’t need anyone’s permission at the statehouse to serve children,” Ritz says. “And the politics is sometimes just the politics, and I have work to do.”

Of course, some of the conflict was rooted in Ritz’s outsider status. She is currently the only Democrat in a statewide elected position, and she opposed the brand of education reform republicans started rolling out under the Daniels administration.

But as state superintendent Ritz and her administration had to implement all of those changes, and it was sometimes a rocky transition.

For example, after Pence abruptly made the state leave Common Core, the State Board of Education and Department of Education had less than a year to write a new test.

Testing experts say that is too short of a timeline, and warned the state board it would be a long assessment. But when parents and teachers complained about the length, Pence blamed it solely on Ritz.

“Look I don’t want to make it personal, but the Department of Education is in charge of crafting the test and conducting the test in the state of Indiana,” Pence said a press conference after signing an executive order to shorten the 2015 test. “That is their responsibility.”

This political drama dominated most of Ritz’s first term. She even launched a short-lived campaign for governor last fall, to oppose Pence. Continue Reading

Nation’s Report Card: Indiana Students Boost Science Scores, But Gaps Remain

We want to know your thoughts on the new standards and assessments.

Indiana students are showing gains on a national test, but achievement gaps remain. (Fort Worth Squatch/Flickr)

Indiana students are showing gains in fourth grade and eighth grade science scores, and continue to exceed the national average on a closely watched national test.

Despite gains, large achievement gaps remain between white students and their black and Hispanic classmates, according to results released Thursday. While some gender gaps have closed nationally, they are not closing as quickly in Indiana.

Those takeaways come from 2015 scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress’ standardized science tests. NAEP, which has gauged student achievement since 1969, is the country’s most consistent measure of K-12 progress.

It’s often referred to as the nation’s report card.

“Our fourth and eighth grade students have improved their performance in science since 2009,” says John King, U.S. secretary of education, on a phone call with reporters. “It is especially encouraging that nearly all racial and ethnic groups have made gains over the last seven years. ”

Nationally, 37 percent of fourth graders and 33 percent of eighth graders were rated proficient or higher. In Indiana, 42 percent of fourth grade students and 36 percent of eighth grade students scored proficient or higher on the 2015 science test, outscoring national averages.

And nationally, many achievement gaps have lessened.

But while a gender gap has vanished for fourth grade students nationally, Indiana boys still score higher than Indiana girls: an average eight points higher in eighth grade and two points higher in fourth grade.

And Indiana has the largest gender gap in the nation on the eighth grade public school science scores. And it has the 11th largest gap between male and female fourth graders.

“I think that there is more to be concerned about than excited,” said Adam Maltese, associate professor of science education at Indiana University, in an email. “While students from all groups showed gains, there are still really large gaps between various racial/ethnic groups that shouldn’t be ignored.”

According to the data, Indiana white fourth grade students scored 33 points higher than black students and 21 points higher than Hispanic students. White eighth grade students score 37 points higher than black students and 23 points higher than Hispanic peers.

But it’s not all negative.

Scores are up, on average, across the state and nation. More students are now rated proficient in science than in 2009.

“There have been some shifts in the standards in IN (and in other states) during this time,” Maltese said. “Also, there’s the chance that students are learning more through improved teaching and materials.”

In a phone call with reporters, U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. says it’s hard without further research to pinpoint exact causes. He credits the nationwide growth to a variety of factors.

“Significant investments in pre-K, and quality early learning, to be exposed to the STEM field through clay and developmentally-appropriate experiences,” King said. “Certainly having high learning standards matters, having well prepared teachers matters.”

Report: Indiana’s Voucher Program One Of Most Expansive In Country

Indiana University researchers found that Indiana's school voucher program has the most students attending a private school using state money that have never attended a public school.

Indiana University researchers found that Indiana’s school voucher program has the most students attending a private school using state money that have never attended a public school. (photo credit: Abhi Sharma / Flickr)

A group of researchers at Indiana University released a report comparing the mechanics of school voucher programs in a handful of states, which featured Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program.

The Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at IU wanted to compare the school voucher programs in Indiana, the District of Columbia, Arizona, Louisiana, Ohio and Wisconsin — all places with a similar voucher program (the researchers’ criteria was a program that is available to all types of students, because many programs are for children with special needs only).

CEEP researcher Molly Stewart says the report found that Indiana had by far the largest number of students attending private schools using state money that had never attended a public school in the first place.

“More than 50 percent of current voucher recipients in Indiana have not attended a public school in the past,” Stewart says. “That is a huge number.”

Stewart says this number is also so large compared to the other states because Indiana doesn’t have a cap on how many vouchers it gives out. The only limit that exists in the Indiana program comes from available spots in private schools.

The report also compares how these states study the fiscal impact of these programs. Indiana is one of two in the study that do not require audits of the program. Stewart says some of the other states must complete audits every year, which is written in their law.

Stewart did say the Department of Education in Indiana collects data about the program that is available to the public, which not every state does.


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