Indiana

Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Students Demand ‘Sanctuary Campus,’ Immigrant Support At Indiana University

The Undocuhoosier Alliance wants Indiana University to join the ranks of Indiana's "sanctuary campuses." Sanctuary campuses are colleges that pledge not to share student citizenship information with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, regardless of students' immigration status. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

The Undocuhoosier Alliance wants Indiana University to join the ranks of Indiana’s “sanctuary campuses.” Sanctuary campuses are colleges that pledge not to share student citizenship information with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, regardless of students’ immigration status. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

A group of Indiana University students are urging university staff to not share student citizenship information with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, regardless of their immigration status.

The move comes as President Donald Trump pledges to cut federal grants to “sanctuary cities” — locales that don’t cooperate with immigration authorities. The student group, Undocuhoosier Alliance, would like to see Indiana University become a “sanctuary campus” and pledge its support to immigrant students who fear deportation.

“It is a commitment by the school to say that our law, our policy, is that we will protect [them] over federal law,” says Aaron Barati, executive member of Undocuhoosier. “[Immigration authorities] can do what ever they want to do, but we’re not going to help them.”

There are about 50 sanctuary campuses in the country, including Notre Dame. Undocuhoosier wants Indiana University to join the ranks, especially as Trump has pledged to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which temporarily shields students who were brought to the country illegally as children.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security data show more than 9,500 people living in Indiana are enrolled under the policy. Continue Reading

How An Indiana High School Gets Refugees, English Learners To College

Hser Muh Htah and Na Da Laing are two Burmese refugees who attend East Allen University, a college prep public high school in Ft. Wayne. The school is located in a neighborhood where many refugee students live, meaning the school is changing its tactics to help English learners get through the program and to college. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Hser Muh Htah and Na Da Laing are two Burmese refugees who attend East Allen University, a college prep public high school in Ft. Wayne. The school is located in a neighborhood where many refugee students live, meaning the school is changing its tactics to help English learners get through the program and to college. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Shannon Eichenauer stands at the front of her classroom, explaining an assignment to her junior English class. Groups of students will debate each other over frequently banned books.

“You’ll be graded on how well did you argue that your book shouldn’t be banned or should be banned,” she tells her class at East Allen University.

Na Da Laing’s group is assigned Animal Farm, and so far, she’s read about half of it.

“I know conflict will arise, because the leader, Napoleon, is going to break the rules of killing someone. I think the animals are going to go against him,” Laing says.

Laing’s ability to analyze a piece of literature is expected in this class – it’s dual credit, meaning students earn both college and high school credit. But for Laing, it’s a huge accomplishment to be here, because a few years ago, she couldn’t speak English. She’s Burmese, and came to the United States eight years ago after living in a refugee camp.

She started school when she arrived in the country, and says it was hard.

“I struggled in elementary school because I was different from other students. I couldn’t speak English at all,” Laing says.

She was put in an English learner program in elementary school, and is now considered proficient in the language. And in Fort Wayne, there are hundreds of kids like Laing.

In the early ’90s, Fort Wayne was a federal refugee resettlement area for refugees from Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. The Burmese refugee community population in Fort Wayne is in the thousands, making it one of the largest in the country.

One Of The State’s Few All Dual Credit Schools

Burmese refugees are present at all of the schools in Fort Wayne, but the high school Laing attends, East Allen University, is a little different.

EAU is a public high school, anyone can enroll, but it focuses on college prep and getting high school students college credit.

“Students can earn their high school diploma and an associate’s degree in a four-year period,” says Principal Doug Hicks.

Doug Hicks is the principal at East Allen University in Ft. Wayne, a public high school that allows students to receive 60 college credit hours by the time they graduate. Because of where this high school is located, many refugee students  attend the school.

Doug Hicks is the principal at East Allen University in Fort Wayne, a public high school that allows students to receive 60 college credit hours by the time they graduate. Because of where this high school is located, many refugee students attend the school. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Hicks says the program at his high school offers dual-credit classes starting freshman year, and when most students graduate, they earn an associate’s degree or have around 60 college credits to put toward a degree. He says the district started this program five years ago to help with college preparedness. The program is located in one of the poorest parts of the city, where many of the refugee students live.

Burmese refugees account for around 20 percent of the student population, and Hicks says, they are some of his best students.

“They have all of the indicators that they shouldn’t be making it,” Hicks says. “They don’t speak English in their household, the poverty piece, they didn’t live in the country from day one, they have all the strikes against them that we would think, as educators, would keep people from achieving. Yet, they continue to do it.”

The Challenges Of Getting English Learners To College

But their academic success doesn’t come without struggle. First, even if they are proficient in English, there are cultural hurdles in the classroom. Eichenauer, Laing’s English teacher, says plagiarism is one issue.

“Typically, in a lot of other countries that our students are coming from, like Thailand, it’s a compliment to share another’s words and not necessarily cite it,” Eichenauer says.

Eichenauer also says the books she teaches in her English class prompt interesting conversations between refugee students and American-born students. Like when she teaches The Great Gatsby, and explains the characters are drinking alcohol during prohibition, the American students don’t think twice about it.

“Then you have some Burmese students who don’t understand. To them, why would you break the law?” Eichenauer says.

Staff and administration at East Allen University say the dual-credit structure is especially helpful in navigating this obstacle – and others. Many of the Burmese parents have no understanding of the American college system.

But this program was designed with a robust college counseling program, tutors, and teachers with college level teaching experience. These staff members are crucial in helping the refugee students understand how college works.

Principal Hicks says with refugee students, even the simplest parts of a college application can be tricky.

“One thing we’ve run into here is social security numbers and how old they are and that type of thing,” Hicks says.

When she graduates high school next year, Laing will be the first in her family to have career options. Her parents left school before eighth grade to start labor jobs back in Myanmar, which means at her house, there’s a huge emphasis on succeeding in school.

“I kind of feel a little pressure, because I’m going to be the first person to go to college,” Laing says. “I’m scared that I’m going to mess up on my way, since there’s no one to really look up to.”

After graduation, her plan is to attend Indiana University-Purdue University at Fort Wayne, and work part time to support her parents. As for academics?

“I want to major in education and communication, bachelor’s degree,” Laing says.

She wants to teach high school English.

Teacher Background Check Proposal Passes House Committee

Currently, state law only requires that districts background check school personnel as they are being hired. (flakeparadigm/Flickr)

Currently, state law only requires that districts background check school personnel as they are being hired. (flakeparadigm/Flickr)

All Indiana teachers would have to undergo a criminal background check every five years under a legislative proposal gaining momentum at the Statehouse.

On Tuesday, the House Education Committee unanimously approved House Bill 1079 which tightens policies on background checks.

Rep. Jeffrey Thompson (R-Lizton) sponsored the bill.

“Current law says it must be done in a three-month window,” says Thompson. “We are going to change that to say it must be done before the school year starts.”

But there will be exceptions. Thompson says teachers hired right before classes start could begin working while a background check is conducted.

The bill would also require the Department of Child Services to tell schools if staff or volunteers have been cited for child abuse or neglect.

Local school districts will decide whether the teacher or corporation will pay for background checks.

Lilly Endowment Invests $9 Million In School Counseling Programs

During the 2013–2014 school year, Indiana’s four-year high school graduation rate was 87.9 percent. One year later, during the 2014-15 school year, the graduation rate was down to 87.1 percent. (Chris Moncus/Wikimedia)

Lilly Endowment Inc. gave more than 200 schools grants totaling $9 million, to improve school counseling programs around the state. (Chris Moncus/Wikimedia)

Lilly Endowment Inc. is investing more than $9 million to help school districts improve their counseling programs. The grants went to 284 school districts and charter schools across the state.

The point of the grants, according to Lilly Endowment, is to make sure Indiana schools are equipped to help students succeed outside of academic areas. School counseling programs vary greatly around the state – some struggle to afford one counselor, while others have a large team focused on student academic and emotional needs.

Lilly Endowment spokesperson Judith Cebula says the grants will enable the more than 200 schools across the state to study their current programs, or lack of one. The goal isn’t to use the money and just hire a counselor, but evaluate how counseling fits into the entire school.

“Really these are planning grants,” Cebula says. “We’re helping schools and school corporations figure out, what is comprehensive counseling? How are we doing? Are we doing it? Are we doing it well? Do we need to try new ideas? Where are our greatest needs.”

Cebula says the grants, which range from $8,000 to $50,000, can be used to hire consultants, travel to other school districts in the state or country to view other counseling models, or conduct research about a current program.

The grants last five years, and Lilly Endowment hopes districts find a way to sustain the program once the funding runs out.

To Prevent Sex Crimes, Lawmakers Want More Background Checks For School Staff

Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, has authored two bills expanding teacher background checks. The bills are currently being considered by the Indiana House Committee on Education. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, has authored two bills expanding teacher background checks. The bills are currently being considered by the Indiana House Committee on Education. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

As Indiana lawmakers consider measures to strengthen the school background check laws, the Indiana Department of Education is investigating 85 cases of alleged educator misconduct, according to department officials.

Of the 85 licensed educators currently under investigation approximately 40 involve at least an allegation, if not charges, of sexual or inappropriate contact with a student.

“Teachers and employees at public schools, and other schools for that matter, are having wrongful relationships with the students,” says Sen. Dennis Kruse (R-Auburn).

Recent headlines:

In response, Kruse, chair of the Indiana House Committee on Education, is recommending proposed changes to Indiana background check laws.

In proposed legislation, all employees, would be required to get background checks every five years.

“After a period of five years, things may have happened in your life,” Kruse says. “You may have made some wrong decisions and the school doesn’t know about it.”

While districts do give new employees – from teachers to cafeteria staff to school aides – background checks within three months of starting, that law took effect in 2009. So plenty of staff hired before then, never have had a background check.

Under Kruse’s proposed changes, all employees would be checked for criminal history and allegations, in- and out-of-state.

Most Cases Are ‘People Without Any Prior Criminal History’

Over at the Indiana Department of Education, Kelly Bauder is a department staff attorney.

“One of my main responsibilities is to work on teacher license, suspensions and revocations,” Bauder says.

Since 2013, the department has revoked 48 educator licenses for misconduct. All 48 cases included sex offenses, which could include child seduction, sexual misconduct with a minor and child molestation.

Of those, 13 eventually pled to a lesser offense or were not charged with a sex crime. Actions like sexting aren’t necessarily criminal.

“We get a lot of cases that we see that didn’t rise to the level of being charged criminally, but were inappropriate,” Bauder says. “And sexting is probably one of the biggest ones that I get.”

Bauder says extending background checks is a good first step.

“I think it just can’t hurt,” Bauder says. She says it will allow the cadre of Indiana educators hired before 2009 to get background checks.

But the education department isn’t counting on lawmakers to fix the problem.

“We don’t wait, here at the department for the legislature telling us that we should be doing things,” Bauder says.

She says, prevention measures, like trainings around ethical and professional behavior, are more important than checking someone’s past.

“The majority of the cases that I see are people without any prior criminal history,” Bauder says.

Meaning, background checks wouldn’t have stopped them from getting into schools in the first place.

To address the issue, the department offers video trainings and runs a school safety academy to help staff identify signs of misconduct.

Volunteers Could Be Left Out Of Legislation Changes

While the proposed changes to the law would now check all school employees, each district would still make its own rules for volunteers, including some coaches.

And that concerns the department, because, Bauder says, if a volunteer coach is let go for sexual misconduct, but not charged with a crime, he or she could get a job elsewhere. They’d have no criminal record.

“Until someone takes responsibility, for it and is willing to require that coaches have a license that could be revoked so they can’t move from school to school, that will be a continuing problem that the department simply can’t address, if they’re not a licensed teacher, as well,” Bauder says.

Now some districts, do require background checks for volunteers. Jeff Hendrix, head of Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents, says there’s no statewide standard – individual districts make their own policies.

“If they’re paid by the school corporation, they’re going to have the check,” Hendrix says. “If they’re coaches or volunteers – we have done, in the past, limited criminal history checks as well.”

None of the three background check bills currently being reviewed by Senate and House committees on education include volunteers – it’d still be up to individual schools and districts.

Bills currently under consideration:

    • SB 34: Provides that school corporation, charter school or nonpublic school conduct expanded criminal history checks and expanded child protection index checks on each employee every five years. Employees are responsible for the costs.
    • SB 298: Requires an individual to have a completed expanded criminal history check and expanded child protection index check before beginning employment. (Current law allows individuals to be employed for up to three months before the checks are completed)
    • HB 1079: Requires an individual to have a completed expanded criminal history check and expanded child protection index check before beginning employment. Provides that school corporation, charter school or nonpublic school may conduct expanded criminal history checks and expanded child protection index checks on each employee every five years.

We’re following this issue. Have a story you’d like to tell or tip for following up on misconduct? Reach reporter Peter Balonon-Rosen at pbalonon@indiana.edu.

What’s Going On In The Legislature With Pre-K Expansion?

The State Board of Education voted Nov. 16, 2016 to express support for legislation that would expand preschool in that specific manner, following a blueprint set by state’s current preschool pilot program. (Barnaby Wasson/Flickr)

Expanding state-funded pre-K is one issue that will take center stage in 2017.(Barnaby Wasson/Flickr)” credit=”

We’re a few weeks into the 2017 legislative session, and there isn’t much progress on one issue that legislators promised would be discussed: state-funded preschool.

State legislators on both sides of the aisles support the idea of expanding the state’s current pre-K program, which gives scholarships to around 1,700 kids in five counties. But the question this session will be how much more money the General Assembly decides to give the program.

At last night’s State of the State address, Gov. Eric Holcomb echoed his support for expanding the program.

“Our most vulnerable children deserve a fair start too, so I’ve called for us to double the state’s investment in pre-kindergarten to $20 million annually,” Holcomb says.

There is one bill filed right now that addresses expanding the state-funded preschool program.

House Bill 1004 is authored by Rep. Bob Behning, Chair of the House Education Committee, and co-authored by representatives from both parties. This bill increased the counties eligible to receive the scholarships from five to 10, adjusts the amount of money in a scholarship, and would increase the providers that accept students with a scholarship.

The bill hasn’t been heard yet by a House committee or the full House.

As we’ve reported before, the discussion among legislators likely won’t be on whether the program should expand, but how much money they are willing to allocate to the expansion.

Ritz: Trump’s Voucher Plan Would Hurt Public Schools

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz reads through a report drafted by her colleagues on the 2015 Blue Ribbon Commission. Ritz lost her re-election bid to Republican Jennifer McCormick in November. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz reads through a report drafted by her colleagues on the 2015 Blue Ribbon Commission. Ritz lost her re-election bid to Republican Jennifer McCormick in November. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Education is at the forefront of the news today, as Betsy DeVos begins her confirmation hearing for Secretary of Education. Former state superintendent Glenda Ritz penned an op-ed in The Washington Post, criticizing DeVos’ strong school choice stance and Trump’s plan to build private school voucher programs across the country. Ritz writes the voucher program in Indiana should serve as an example of how voucher programs hurt public schools:

We did not hear much about education during the presidential campaign. But one thing that President-elect Donald Trump made clear in the months leading up to his election was that he would spend billions of dollars on vouchers for private schools rather than investing in public education.

On Jan. 17, Trump’s pick for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, a longtime champion of “school choice” policies and voucher programs, faces the Senate during her confirmation hearing. She will be one step closer to making Trump’s school choice agenda a reality.

While “school choice” might make for a good sound bite, the details of school choice and voucher programs are far less appealing. Trump’s plan will gut our public education system in an attempt to privatize and deregulate the education of millions of American children. I’ve already witnessed it in Indiana.

Over the last four years, I have seen firsthand how the school choice ideology hurts our public schools and our students. As Indiana’s superintendent of public instruction during Vice President-elect Mike Pence’s tenure as governor, I spent my term fighting for public education. While my goal was to build a high-quality, equitable public education system, Pence sought to privatize education whenever and wherever possible under the auspices of “school choice.”

Read the full op-ed by Ritz at Washington Post

Listen: Fresh Air Discusses School Segregation In The U.S.

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(photo credit: LA Johnson/NPR)

Sixty-three years after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, many schools across the country either remain segregated or have re-segregated.

Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross that when it comes to school segregation, separate is never truly equal.

“There’s never been a moment in the history of this country where black people who have been isolated from white people have gotten the same resources,” Hannah-Jones says. “They often don’t have the same level of instruction. They often don’t have strong principals. They often don’t have the same technology.”

Listen to the entire episode via NPR Ed. 

Indiana High School Graduation Rate Rises Slightly In 2016

The percentage of Indiana students graduating high school rose in 2016.

Barely, just barely, but it rose.

Indiana’s overall four-year high school graduation rate rose to 89.1 percent in 2016. That’s up from 88.9 percent in 2015. Those rates include students who received waivers from completing certain graduation requirements.

The 2016 rate for students without waivers is 82.36 percent, down from 82.8 percent in 2015. As we’ve reported, the 2015 rates were a drop from the year before.

“It is also important to note the progress Indiana has made over the past ten years,” said Amanda Eller, a spokesperson for Indiana state superintendent Jennifer McCormick, in a statement.

In the past decade, the graduation rate increased over 10 percent. The Indiana four-year graduation rate was 78.2 percent in 2006 and rose to 89.1 percent in 2016.

This week, the Indiana Department of Education released statewide, district and school data as part of its annual reporting.

(Indiana Department of Education )

(Indiana Department of Education )

Eleven school districts reported a 100 percent graduation rate.

They include Flat Rock-Hawcreek School Corp., Rossville Consolidated School District, South Henry School Corp., North Knox School Corp., Tri-Township Cons School Corp., Eminence Community School Corp., Randolph Southern School Corp., Southwestern Consolidated School District, North Spencer County School Corp., West Lafayette Com School Corp. and Signature School Inc..

Indianapolis Public Schools saw an uptick to 76.9 percent, from 72.1 percent in 2015.

Ft. Wayne Community Schools, the state’s largest district, also saw a graduation rate jump to 89.2 percent – an increase from 86.8 percent in 2015.

East Gibson School Corporation, a small district in southwestern Indiana, saw the state’s largest graduation rate increase. The district moved from 77.1 percent in 2015 to 98.1 percent in 2016.

Legislation Filed To Repeal ISTEP With Yet-To-Be Decided Replacement Test

Proposed legislation from the Indiana House’s top education lawmaker would end the state’s controversial ISTEP+ exam in 2018 and pave the way for a yet-to-be determined replacement.

This may sound familiar.

Last year, lawmakers voted to eliminate the assessment following outcry from teachers, parents and lawmakers over the length, makeup and roll out of the test.

The hope was a new exam could be in place soon. But lawmakers said this month it could take two years to create it.

Now they and Indiana’s education leaders have to figure out what new test will take its place as they debate House Bill 1003.

The bill calls for a new statewide assessment program named ILEARN — Indiana’s Learning Evaluation Assessment Readiness Network — to replace ISTEP in spring 2019. Continue Reading

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