Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

National Labor Board Will Look At Grad Student Unionization

Graduate students at Purdue want to form a labor union, and a similar movement is happening around the country at private universities.

Graduate students at Purdue want to form a labor union, and a similar movement is happening around the country at private universities. (photo credit: Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana)

Last week, we wrote about a group of Purdue graduate students petitioning to be considered university employees so they could create a labor union. The students want to form a union so they can collectively bargain benefits, wages and grieve unfair labor practices.

Our story found that students at Purdue, and any state university in Indiana, might have a hard time organizing a union because of a state law that prohibit state employees from collective bargaining.

NPR’s Yuki Noguchi did a story this week looking at a movement from graduate students at private universities in New York City to form labor unions. Her reporting found the National Labor Relations Board will reconsider its previous decision that wouldn’t allow them to form such unions.

With respect to private universities, the National Labor Relations Board has flip-flopped in its policy. For decades, it held that students were not employees, then ruled in favor of students in a case in 2000. Under a new administration, the board reversed itself again four years later. Now, students at Columbia and The New School are petitioning for another change.

John Logan, a labor and employment professor at San Francisco State University, says the shifts are tied largely to the political makeup of the board.

“When we get a new administration and the composition of the board changes, then sometimes you get this process of policy oscillation where the pendulum swings from one side to the other,” Logan says.

Meanwhile, he says, grad students’ interest in unionization continues to grow.

Aaron Nisenson, counsel at the American Association of University Professors (which has an affiliated union), argues that unions in higher education are increasingly necessary, as universities — like private corporations — rely more on cheaper labor.

“Everybody starting in a professional career can get some experience at a new job, but that doesn’t make it not a job,” Nisenson says. “Universities more broadly have been pushing a lot of the work towards contingent faculty, towards graduate assistants and towards other non-tenure track faculty.”

The National Labor Board didn’t say when it would make its decision, but it is only determining whether students at private universities, not public, can form unions.

IU Class Teaching Prisoners And Undergrads Won’t Continue

An IU class offered to undergraduate students and prison inmates will not continue after this semester.

An IU class offered to undergraduate students and prison inmates will not continue after this semester. (photo credit: Barbara Brosher/WTIU News)

A public speaking class at Indiana University-Bloomington that enrolled undergraduate students and prisoners at the Monroe County jail will not continue after this semester.

The class is part of a national program, called Inside Out, which trains university instructors to work in prisons and jails. The class can be in any discipline as long as a main focus of the class is a social justice issue in the local community.

The Inside Out classes at IU were public speaking and Deliberative Democracy, a class focused on politics and community organizing. Lindsey Badger, a Ph.D candidate in the Department of Communication and Culture, taught these classes after being trained by the national Inside Out team. She says her students have looked at social issues in Bloomington including police practices and fair housing practices for people with criminal records. The students choose a big issue and try to find a tangible way to address the issue.

“We stage public meetings, we have students go to city and county council, we have them put together packets to distribute to local non-profits,” Badger says. “They hold community meetings both in the jail and out in the communities that are topical.”

Because Badger is a graduate student, the College of Arts and Sciences can only fund her teaching this class for up to four years, which is why this specific section of public speaking won’t be offered after the current semester.

But College of Arts and Sciences spokesperson Deborah Galyan says it doesn’t have to end long term. Another graduate student who completes the Inside Out training could apply for funding.

“It can’t be taught by just any graduate student associate instructor, and at the moment, there are no graduate students who have proposed to teach this course or a similar course,” Galyan says. “The College would certainly take such a course proposal under consideration, just as it would other proposals from its graduate student associate instructors.”

Inside Out founder and Temple University criminal justice professor Lori Pompa says continuing this class helps an entire community. She says the students living outside jail gain a new perspective on their community, but the students in the jail often gain confidence. She says many had a negative experience with school, and this class helps change that perspective on education.

“So what they have is this incredible educational experience through the Inside Out program and it enlivens people,” Pompa says. “It gets people in touch with how smart they are, how capable they are how creative they can be.”

Editor’s Note: Although the program at Indiana University in Bloomington is expected to end this semester, ongoing Inside-Out programs are taught by regular full-time faculty members at at least 7 other Indiana universities.

After A Failing School Receives An “A”, How Do They Stay On Top?

First grade teacher Lindsey Heisler works with students at the Evans School in Evansville, IN. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/StateImpact)

First grade teacher Lindsey Heisler works with students at the Evans School in Evansville, IN. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/StateImpact)

Four years ago, test scores at the Evans School, in Evansville were low. So low, the elementary school qualified for a three-year federal grant for almost $6 million.

In the grant’s final year, something big happened. Evans catapulted from an F to an A in the state’s ranking system. Current principal Helene Blum was with students when she found out.

“So I very calmly tried to finish with them and then as soon as they left, went to the assistant principal and just screamed,” she said. “Literally, just screamed and to say we’re an A.”

But then a new reality set in.

“After a turnaround new challenges begin,” Blum says. “Now, it’s sustainability.”

So what did the $6 million dollar grant pay for? Largely, people. More teachers per grade. A social worker. An after school program, books and software.

Now that they aren’t a failing school they no longer receive that money, but they are trying to maintain the same programs.

“It’s a lot of looking at how can we achieve the same thing without the money to pay for it,” Blum says. “It’s a lot of creativity.”

Principal Helene Blum at the Evans School. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/StateImpact)

Principal Helene Blum at the Evans School. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/StateImpact)

One program they want to continue helps students focus on skills they are struggling to learn. Students are split into small groups based on how they score on a test the school gives every few weeks.  Continue Reading

No Child Left Behind Update Will Soon Come To Indiana

There’s a new federal education law coming to town. It’s the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the updated version of George W. Bush’s federal education law, No Child Left Behind. Since ESSA was introduced, states have been waiting to learn how it will affect local schools, and it looks like that time is soon.

After Congress passed an updated version of the No Child Left Behind law, called the Every Student Succeeds Act, states have been waiting on the details to know how it will affect local testing and accountability measures.

If you recall, No Child Left Behind, passed in 2002, was the education law that mandated standardized testing exist for students in grades three through eight and once in high school. It also created the current accountability system for schools and teachers.

When Congress set out to re-write those regulations, they aimed to write a law that gives states more control on how they test students and hold them accountable. A lot of the major criticisms of No Child Left Behind, like annual testing and high stakes accountability measures, are still in place. But now, states could have more flexibility to determine what testing and accountability look like in their state.

The exact logistics are still up in the air. In the last few weeks, educators from around the country convened to work with the U.S. Department of Education to create solid guidelines for states.

These discussions led the USED to release a draft Friday of regulations having to do with testing and federal education funding.

In terms of testing, EdWeek’s Politics K-12 blog summarizes some of the draft regulations proposed by the USED:

Computer-Adaptive tests: Under the regulations, computer-adaptive tests used for accountability would have to be able to determine whether a student is on grade level. The department released similar language ahead of the negotiations.

Eighth grade math tests: Under the proposed regulations, students who take a higher-level math test for accountability purposes (say, an Algebra test, usually given to high schoolers) must be given access to accommodations if they are English language learners, or students in special education. What’s more, the state has to show that all students have the opportunity to be prepared for and take advanced math in middle school. It’s unclear how that will fly with negotiators. Some, including Tony Evers, the state superintendent in Wisconsin, worried that requiring states to make sure everyone has access to advanced math might be too big a burden.

Local high school assessment: ESSA allows districts to substitute a “nationally recognized test” for accountability purposes at the local level, instead of the state exam, but the law doesn’t say what a nationally recognized test is, exactly. The draft regs define it as any test used for college entrance (i.e. the SAT or ACT) or any test that’s been designed for the purpose of college placement. That would seem to allow PARCC and Smarter Balanced tests, federally-funded tests aligned to the Common Core State Standards, to be part of the mix. States would also have to ensure appropriate accommodations for students in special education and English-language learners,something states using the ACT and SAT for accountability have struggled with. (Negotiators really stressed this issue during discussions late last month.)

Tests for Students with Disabilities: Under ESSA, states can give alternative tests for students with the most-severe cognitive disabilities to 1 percent of special education students. It’s not clear how this will work on a district-by-district basis, so the proposed regs outline circumstances where a district might go over the cap. (For instance, if health programs and schools in the area have noticed a lot of kids with severe cognitive disabilities.) ESSA also allows states to seek a waiver from that requirement, and proposed regs make it clear what steps states need to go through to get that waiver. (A state can’t, for example, start really ramping up the number of alternative tests it gives, and expect to get a waiver unless its population has changed significantly.) What’s more, the proposed regulations open the door for a subcommittee of negotiators to define “severe cognitive disabilities”—something that generated controversy among negotiators.

Tests for English-Language Learners: The proposed regulations say states need to come up with a common test to measure English-language proficiency. And states need to make it clear that they must do more to spell out how they are developing tests for students in their native languages.

The other area with new regulations is called supplement-not-supplant. This means USED want funds given to schools with disadvantaged students, to supplement state funds, not be the sole funding source.

The regulations around this topic let states choose how to report how they distribute federal funds, say states must allocate its own money to students with disabilities and English learners, and give discretion on the timeline for reporting.

The group of local educators working with the USED to create ESSA regulations reconvenes Wednesday.

While this summit is happening, a few other education conferences are meeting in D.C. this week, and ESSA implementation is a major agenda item. This includes the Council of Chief State School Officers’ meeting (state superintendent Glenda Ritz is attending) and the National Association of State Boards of Education (which SBOE member Byron Ernest is attending).

Here are a few people tweeting from these conferences, if you want to follow along the next few days:


Indiana Students On State Financial Aid Keep Pace With Stricter Eligibility Requirements

A rising number of Hoosier college students with financial need are on track to graduate in four years, according to a report from the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.

Indiana’s 21st Century Scholar program offers income-eligible Hoosier students up to four years of full tuition at certain Indiana colleges. In 2014-2015 school year, the number of 21st Century Scholars taking and completing 30 credit hours per year increased by 23 percent at four-year colleges and 24 percent at two-year colleges.

The increase in students taking and completing 30 credit hours comes two years after legislation went into effect with tougher requirements. Under the law, to keep financial aid at the maximum amount, students must complete 30 credits by the end of their freshman year and in each additional year.

Commissioner of Higher Education Teresa Lubbers said there’s only so much state financial aid money available.

“You always have limited state dollars, so you want to spread those as broadly as you can to benefit the largest number of students,” Lubbers said.

That means requiring that students who get aid take 30 credit hours, an average 5 classes a semester, or lose that money. Lubbers said it keeps students on track to graduate in four years.

State law says that after four years, students are no longer eligible for state aid.

“You’re on your own,” Lubbers said. “I always say it’s a little bit of tough love, but at the end of the day, it’s love.”

Lubbers dismisses critics who say that the requirements don’t give low-income students dependent on aid the same time or flexibility that wealthier peers may have.

“The best answer to that is that their money is going to run out,” Lubbers said. “If they’re taking more than the 4 years to graduate they will get no financial aid. That is not helpful for a poor student at all.”

For students outside of the program, the average debt of graduates in Indiana is $29,222, according to The Institute for College Access & Success. The Indiana Commission for Higher Education estimates every additional year students spend in college costs them at least $50,000 in tuition, fees and lost wages.

State Board Denies “Lifeline” To Gary Charter School

Tony Walker, a new member of the Drexel Foundation for Educational Excellence Inc., and Earl Phalen address the Indiana Charter School Board about Thea Bowman Leadership Academy on Tuesday, March 29, 2016 at the Indiana Government Center South. (Eric Weddle/WFYI)

Tony Walker, a new member of the Drexel Foundation for Educational Excellence, and Earl Phalen address the Indiana Charter School Board about Thea Bowman Leadership Academy Tuesday at the Indiana Government Center South. (Eric Weddle/WFYI)

The fate of Gary’s Thea Bowman Leadership Academy is in flux after the Indiana Charter School Board voted down its change of sponsor request Tuesday.

It’s the latest development for the 1,300-student school as it faces possible closure this summer, after Ball State University said in January it would not renew the charter for the two school K-12 system because of ongoing failures by the school’s governing board.

Thea Bowman leaders had hope that Tuesday’s announcement of a total restructure of its board, coupled with a partnership with Indianapolis-based Phalen Leadership Academy to manage the schools, would be met by support and a new charter.

But at the end of the two-hour hearing, ICSB members voted 5-2 to deny the request for one of the state’s oldest charter schools, citing concerns over the new governing board’s capacity to oversee the schools.

“The standard I have is not to give folks a chance. I think it has to be: are all parts of the plan solid, so that we have great confidence that this will be an awesome experience for kids and families,” ICSB board chairman Karega Rausch said after the vote. “In my estimation, some of the challenges in governance didn’t meet that criteria.”

The denial now creates an opening for school leaders to patch things up with its current sponsor Ball State, or for a parent-led organization to take reins of the school with the help of another Gary charter operator.

Even Rausch referenced the possibility of the school remaining open under Ball State before the board voted to reject the application.

“If you believe some media reports, that could be viable,” Rausch says. Continue Reading

Purdue Students’ Attempt To Form Labor Union An Uphill Battle

The Purdue Bell Tower on the West Lafayette campus.

The Purdue Bell Tower on the West Lafayette campus. (photo credit: Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana)

A group of graduate students at Purdue are attempting to form a labor union so they can collectively bargain benefits, wages and grieve unfair labor practices.

Michelle Campbell is a doctoral student in literary studies at Purdue, and says many graduate students work for the university teaching undergraduate classes or work in research labs. Campbell says the doubling of responsibilities makes being a graduate student employee confusing.

“When you’re in that position — where you’re boss might also be your adviser — that creates a lot of gray area about what are your rights as a student versus your rights as an employee,” Campbell says. “We definitely know that we’re learning as students. But we’re also employees, and it’s important to have contracts, rights and responsibilities, not only for the employee but for the employer. Currently those types of protections are not available.”

She also says a union would help the large number of international students working on graduate degrees at Purdue. Many international students are able to come to the United States under a student visa, and would be deported if they lost that visa. Because of that, she says many international graduate students don’t want to confront a boss they work for at the university in fear of losing a place in a program.

But creating a union would be hard for this group, according to Joe Varga, assistant professor for labor studies at Indiana University.

A law enacted under former governor Mitch Daniels prohibits state employees from collective bargaining. If the Purdue students got their status changed from students to workers, they would then be considered public employees because Purdue is a state university.

“They really don’t have much legal ground to stand on,” Varga says.

While graduate student unions are a common practice in other states, including neighboring Illinois and Michigan, Varga says they had an easier road than public university students in Indiana will.

“Most graduate student unions are in public universities in states where they don’t have laws restricting whether they can do that,” Varga says.

Campbell says she and other interested students will spend the summer having general union meetings and planning before launching a full membership drive in the fall.

Program Offering Free STEM Training To Dual Credit Teachers Sees High Demand

Dual credit teachers teaching STEM classes can take free graduate level classes at private universities in the state, thanks to a new grant from the Independent Colleges of Indiana.

Dual credit teachers teaching STEM classes can take free graduate level classes at private universities in the state, thanks to a new grant from the Independent Colleges of Indiana. (photo credit: Elle Moxley / StateImpact Indiana)

Indiana educators teaching classes in science, technology, engineering or math have the opportunity to take free graduate or undergraduate classes through a grant from the Independent Colleges of Indiana.

The ICI grant provides more than $2 million in tuition for teachers to take STEM related undergraduate or graduate courses and workshops at private universities in Indiana.

ICI President Richard Ludwick says the organization wanted to give dual credit teachers a cost effective opportunity to meet new requirements put forth by the Higher Learning Commission.

The Higher Learning Commission, an accreditation group that works with many states, changed requirements for dual credit teachers last year. It now requires these teachers to have a masters degree and at least 18 credit hours in the subject area they teach.

These requirements affect thousands of teachers in Indiana teaching high school classes that double as college credit. Ludwick says his organization wanted to help some of these dual credit teachers because it is a costly requirement change from the HLC.

“We consider it a socially responsible cause,” Ludwick says.

The ICI asked the state legislature to fund the grant, and received the $2 million last year. This funding is expected to last about four semesters, but Ludwick says he is already looking for ways to make it a sustainable program.

“We’re approaching foundations to say this is a real need that our communities have, and we’re providing a cost effective solution,” Ludwick says.

The program started this past semester, and Ludwick says it’s already enrolled more than 300 teachers. There is high demand, with the summer courses already on a wait list, meaning future semesters will likely have an enrollment cap.

Study: LGBT Youth Left Out Of Suspension, Expulsion Reduction Efforts

Students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender are largely left out of efforts to address the overuse of suspension and expulsion for student groups, according to a new report. (flakeparadigm/Flickr)

Students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender are largely left out of efforts to address the overuse of suspension and expulsion for student groups, according to a new report. (flakeparadigm/Flickr)

Students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender are largely left out of efforts to address the overuse of suspension and expulsion for student groups, according to a new report.

The report, released Monday by The Equity Project at Indiana University, says schools suspend or expel LGBT students more often than their heterosexual peers. In order to address the disparity, the report says more data is sorely needed.

“[Data collection] gives us the opportunity to see where the problems are, to act on the problems, and to monitor change over time, in fixing that,” said Russ Skiba, director of the Equity Project. “Because there are no data collected at the individual level on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, we don’t have the same opportunity.”

Federal law requires schools to collect data on suspension and expulsion for students based on race and disability, but not based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

“We have responsibilities as educators to protect students in our schools,” Skiba said. “What this comes down to, is saying, ‘Let’s make sure we have the data we need to identify the extent of the problem.’”

A handful of studies have tracked how school discipline plays out for LGBT youth. The numbers are telling.

A national study found that adolescents reporting same-sex attraction were 1.4 times more likely to be expelled from school than their heterosexual peers. A separate 2010 study found that while LGBT youth don’t display more illegal or dangerous behaviors, they’re at greater risk stopped by police or expelled from school than heterosexual peers. In a county-wide study, LGBT youth were more than twice as likely as heterosexual students to report that they had been suspended from school.

“Kids who are suspended or expelled are more likely to become disengaged from school, have lower achievement or eventually drop out of school,” Skiba said. “And they’re at increased risk for contact with the juvenile justice system.”

The U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights collects school data every other year of every school and district in the nation. Dan Losen, director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at UCLA’s Civil Rights Project, says that he hopes they begin to collect data on student sexual orientation.

“That would require that they actually have some way of students self reporting that information,” Losen said. “That way when those students are suspended or expelled we would know about it.”

There could be other options, too. A new federal education law is set to take effect in September 2017. That law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, moves some of the responsibility for data collection from the federal to the state level.

“We’re hoping that at least some states will start to collect this information, so that way we can see what we hear is happening. We have some hard data to demonstrate this is an issue,” Losen said. “Because demonstrating that there really is a problem, that’s the first step in seeking a remedy.”

California is one state that already uses surveys to monitor the well-being of students. The California Healthy Kids Survey tracks sexual orientation and gender identity, plus experiences with suspension.

Indiana doesn’t collect discipline data along sexual orientation or gender identity lines.

In general, suspensions are high and disproportionate along race lines. While almost one in 10 Indiana students experienced suspension or expulsion in the 2012-13 school year, one in five black students experienced a suspension or expulsion that year, according to the Indiana University Center for Evaluation & Education Policy.

How Do New Teachers Balance School And Personal Life?


First year teacher Gabe Hoffman is working to find balance between his duties as a teacher and coach, as well as making time for himself, his girlfriend and his family. (photo credit: Peter Balonon-Rosen).

It’s been a taxing few weeks for the Gabe Hoffman and his third graders at Nora Elementary School in Indianapolis.

“We just got done with ISTEP, we just got done with IREAD, we have ISTEP one more time,” he says. “So there’s a lot of stress in being a third grade teacher at this time in the year.”

The majority of Gabe’s class have special learning plans or are English Language Learners. At the beginning of the year, he spent 12+ hours at school, and time on the weekends grading and preparing lessons. He says, after a semester of that, he needed a change.

“My New Year’s Resolution was not to stay at school past 5:30.”

He wanted to watch sport again, go to Pacers’ games and make more time to see his girlfriend – who is also a teacher. Chelsea Brothers is an Algebra 1 teacher at Southport High School, also in Indianapolis.

They’ve been together for six and a half years, mostly long distance, but this year, both living in Indianapolis, has been one of the hardest. They’re navigating their first years in the classroom, and often, doing it together.

“We do grading together, planning together,” Brothers says. “If we can do that together it helps us have more time together.”

Then he made his new year’s resolution, became more efficient, and started leaving school earlier. Gabe says this winter they got in a rhythm and were seeing each other more than ever.

“Then I decided to coach a month and a half ago, and now we’re back to never seeing each other again,” he says.

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