Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

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

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.


(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

State Board Of Education Releases 2016 School District A-F Grades

Over 150 schools saw their rating dip, with 90 percent of Indiana schools receiving a B or C rating. (Biologycorner/Flickr)

More than 150 schools saw their rating dip, with 90 percent of Indiana schools receiving a B or C rating. (Biologycorner/Flickr)

The state board of education released district A-F grades Wednesday for the 2015-2016 school year. More than 150 schools saw their rating dip, with 90 percent of Indiana schools receiving a B or C rating.

Only 23 school corporations received an A rating. Gary Community Schools in northwest Indiana received the state’s single F rating.

As we’ve reported, the 2016 grades reflect an unexpected jump in the number of schools receiving Bs or Cs, and a sharp decrease in schools receiving As or Fs.

In 2015, 46 percent of district received A ratings. In 2016, only 7 percent received A ratings.

Jennifer McCormick, the new state superintendent of public instruction, says seeing the decrease is frustrating.

“There’s not much credibility placed on those grades right now,” McCormick says. “But you have a lot a lot of important accountability hanging on that, including teacher pay.”

McCormick says restoring faith in the state-produced grades begins with fixing the state’s standardized ISTEP test, which largely determines school district grades.

“It’s our goal, coming out of it in the spring, to get that assessment piece right,” McCormick says.

A new formula uses test scores in a variety of ways to determine a school’s grade. Districts are rated on how many students pass, and now, for the first time, how students have improved on tests.

The 2016 grades reflect the first time in two years that Indiana districts were allowed to receive lower grades than the year before.

In 2015, the education board voted to change how they awarded A-F grades, after ISTEP+ scores across the state dropped dramatically. They enacted a “hold harmless” provision, meaning a school district’s score wouldn’t change if their 2015 score was lower than their 2014 score.

In 2016, schools were awarded whatever score they received.

Below, find your district’s 2016 score, 2015 “hold harmless” score and 2015 actual score.

McCormick’s Department Of Education Lays Off 34 Employees

Jennifer McCormick speaks with the press on Nov. 8, 2016. (Eric Weddle/WFYI)

Jennifer McCormick speaks with the press on election night, after defeating Glenda Ritz for state superintendent. (photo credit: Eric Weddle/WFYI)

The Indiana Department of Education fired 34 employees this week, as the department transitioned to a new administration under state superintendent Jennifer McCormick. The IDOE employees 250 people, making the this a 14 percent reduction in staff. Those fired were low, mid and high-level employees in all departments within the IDOE.

Incoming Communications Director Molly Deuberry says some of the terminations were because of shifting priorities in the department. Some part of those priorities were influenced by surveys the new administration conducted with school districts across the state, asking about how their needs were met by the IDOE. Some of this feedback influenced the terminations.

In a statement, Chief of Staff Lee Ann Kwiatkowski said this is normal.

“As with any government transition, we have some staff turnover. Yesterday 34 people across a number of divisions were impacted,” Kwiatkowski said.

Deuberry says the money that funded the 34 positions may be reallocated to other positions.

McCormick officially became state superintendent Monday after her official swearing in ceremony.

Report: Indiana’s Teacher Evaluation Law Needs Update

In a new report, Indiana University researchers recommend that Indiana's teacher evaluation law be changed. They want it to focus on new teachers, separate teacher pay from evaluations and include measures to take students living in poverty into consideration. (Alex McCall/WFIU News)

In a new report, Indiana University researchers recommend that Indiana’s teacher evaluation law be changed. They want it to focus on new teachers, separate teacher pay from evaluations and include measures that consider the number of students living in poverty. (Alex McCall/WFIU News)

Researchers studying Indiana methods for evaluating teacher performance say districts should develop clearer and more consistent reviews.

As part of an ongoing project to help schools meet a state law that changed teacher evaluations in Indiana, a research group spent the last four years studying how districts measure and deliver feedback to their teachers. The group is based at the Center on Education and Lifelong Learning at Indiana University and led by researches Hardy Murphy and Sandi Cole,

In a new report, they recommend the law be changed to focus on new teachers and separate teacher pay from evaluations. They also recommend lawmakers tweak the formula to take student poverty into consideration.

“When you look at different teacher ratings, there seems to be a strong association there with the percentage of students on free- and reduced-lunch in classrooms,” Murphy says.

Murphy says, more than any other factor, larger numbers of students on free- and reduced-lunch correlates with lower teacher evaluations. Continue Reading

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