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 →
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.”
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.
The number of Indiana educators leaving the profession dwarfs most other states. (Sofia/Flickr)
Indiana has one of the lowest teacher retention rates in the country. Almost one in five educators will leave their jobs at the end of any academic year.
Indiana’s average educator retention rate, which includes both teachers and administrators, is around 82 percent. In other words, Indiana schools keep 82 percent of their educators from school year to school year.
This week, Kara Kenney from RTV6 took a close look at the state of Indiana’s teacher retention. According to the report, the concerns impacting teacher recruitment are public perception of teaching, compensation, standardized testing, job demands and stress.
In her investigation, Kenney finds – not only is Indiana among the worst states at keeping teachers in their jobs, the state doesn’t know the real reasons teachers actually leave.
The state of North Carolina tracks the reasons why every single teacher leaves and puts out a report to their legislature.
Call 6 Investigates surveyed the 10 largest school districts in central Indiana and found only one, Perry Township, that appeared to track the specific reasons why teachers are leaving their classrooms. Those reasons included health, family needs, performance or a new job opportunity.
Indiana does not require schools to track this information, nor does it put out a statewide report on teacher turnover.
Indiana State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz told Call 6 Investigates in order track the reasons why teachers leave their classrooms, Indiana would have to enact a law like North Carolina’s.
“I supposed it could be proposed in the General Assembly, which is where that would need to happen in order to get required information like that,” said Ritz.
The report profiles teachers who left the profession for different reasons (stress and pay), deconstructs a national report on teacher retention and looks at Indiana districts succeeding and struggling to retain teachers.
The largest takeaway? A lack of information. Districts and the state education department don’t have enough data on why teachers are departing — just that they are.
A partnership between Indiana Black Expo, Indiana University and the Indiana Commission for Higher Education will identify, enroll and help students complete requirements for the 21st Century Scholarship program. (James Martin/Flickr)
A new initiative plans to enroll 500 new high school students in a state-sponsored college scholarship program for low-income students.
The partnership announced Monday between Indiana Black Expo, Indiana University and the Indiana Commission for Higher Education will identify, enroll and help students complete requirements for the 21st Century Scholarship program.
The program provides low-income students up to four years of undergraduate tuition at participating public colleges or universities.
“Indiana’s 21st Century Scholarship program has helped more than 30,000 low-income and first-generation Hoosier students gain the life-changing benefits of a college degree,” said Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers, in a statement. “Indiana needs more partnerships like this one in every corner of the state.”
In addition to enrolling more students in the program, the partnership plans to bring at least 200 high school students to visit IU Bloomington campus. Visiting a college campus is a requirement for high school students enrolled in the 21st Century Scholars program.
The organizations will select students who qualify for the 21st Century Scholars program from Indianapolis Public Schools, Warren Township, Wayne Township and Archdiocese of Indianapolis Catholic schools. The partnership will also provide food and transportation for IU Bloomington visit.
“This partnership has the power to transform the lives of hundreds of students who may not have pursued higher education on their own or even considered it an option for their future,” said Emil Ekiyor, Vice President of the Indianapolis Chapter of Indiana Black Expo, in a statement.
In a recent Harvard University study, Marion County was ranked among the country’s worst county for upward economic mobility. Limited access to to quality education and affordable college were listed as one of the barriers.
“The likelihood of a child moving from the bottom fifth of income into the top fifth in Marion county have become almost impossible, according to the research,” said Ekiyor, in an email. “The [initiative] is one of many paths towards upward mobility.”
It also comes at a time that colleges and universities across the nation work to diversify their student bodies.
Two units in IU’s Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs will work with participating organizations and students.
“There’s a misconception that college is only accessible to certain people, but that isn’t true,” said Yolanda Treviño, IU assistant vice president of strategy, planning and assessment, in a statement. “This partnership allows us to connect students with IU and make them aware of programs like 21st Century Scholars that provide financial support to program participants.”
This November’s election isn’t only about voting elected officials into office. There’s a lot at stake for seven of Indiana’s public school districts.
But why, you may ask? Let us explain.
School districts can ask voters through a ballot referenda process to raise property taxes to help fund their schools. Basically, the ballot question asks voters to pay more in property taxes so the schools have more funding.
This November, seven districts will pose nine different ballot questions asking voters to fund construction projects or contribute to the district’s general fund. (Nine questions because MSD Washington Township and School City of Mishawaka will ask both types of questions).
The districts presenting referenda on the November 2016 ballot are MSD Washington Township, New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corporation, School City of Mishawaka, Clinton Central School Corporation, Gary Community Schools Corporation, Monroe County Community School Corporation and Northeast Dubois County School Corporation.
After the 2008 property tax caps were put in place, there was an upsurge in the consistency of school districts creating referenda for additional funds, to varying success. In recent years that’s changed.
Before May 2011, about 40 percent of the referenda passed, but since then, about two-thirds have passed. In May, eight of 10 proposed school referenda passed.
We take a look at what each district will request from voters, and how they would spend that money, below:
MSD of Washington Township
Purpose: Renovate 14 district schools.
Prjoect cost: $185 million
Rate: Up to $0.2828 per $100 of assessed value. For a home valued at $100,000, about $100 per year.
New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corporation
Purpose: Construct two new school buildings and renovate seven existing schools.
Project cost: $87 million
Rate: Up to $0.21 per $100 of assessed value. For a home valued at $100,000, about $75 per year.
School City of Mishawaka
Purpose: Renovations, restorations and upgrades at 11 district buildings.
Project cost: $13 million
Rate: Up to $0.16 per $100 of assessed value. For a home valued at $100,000, about $60 per year.
School Tax Levy Referenda:
Clinton Central School Corporation
Purpose: Fund and maintain current educational program, class sizes and employees.
Referenda length: seven years following the vote
Rate: Up to $0.15 per $100 of assessed value. For a home valued at $100,000, about $55 per year.
Gary Community Schools
Purpose: To fund teaching positions, staff positions and education programming.
Referenda length: seven years
Rate: Up to $0.475 per $100 of assessed value. For a home valued at $100,000, about $170 per year.
MSD of Washington Township
Purpose: Maintain academic staff and programs, and fund operating costs of new school facilities.
Referenda length: seven years
Rate: Up to $0.11 per $100 of assessed value. For a home valued at $100,000, about $40 per year.
Monroe County Community School Corporation
Purpose: To maintain funding for teachers, resources and educational programs. The rate was originally approved by voters during a 2010 referendum.
Referenda length: six years
Rate: Up to $0.115 per $100 of assessed value. For a home valued at $100,000, about $40 per year.
Northeast Dubois County School Corporation
Purpose: To fund courses required for graduation, class sizes, extracurricular activities and employees.
Referenda length: seven years
Rate: Up to $0.18 per $100 of assessed value. For a home valued at $100,000, about $65 per year.
School City of Mishawaka
Purpose: Fund new technology hardware and software, implement new educational programs, adjust class sizes, raise employee compensation.
Referenda length: seven years
Rate: Up to $0.2434 per $100 of assessed value. For a home valued at $100,000, about $90 per year.
Purpose: Fund academic programs and maintain class sizes.
Referenda length: seven years
Rate: Up to $0.20 per $100 of assessed value. For a home valued at $100,000, about $70 per year.
State Superintendent Glenda Ritz. (Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)
Fourteen Indiana schools will receive a total of $16 million dollars to raise student achievement at their schools.
Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz awarded the grants Wednesday, to the schools, which all have “D” or “F” grades in the state’s school rating system.
“As I travel the state, I see school leaders and educators working every day to improve instruction and outcomes for Hoosier students,” said Ritz, in a statement. “That is why I am pleased to award more than $16 million in School Improvement Grants today to support this important effort.”
School improvement grants are given to schools who say they need more funds to raise measures student achievement, often test scores. Schools receive funds over five years.
Of the 14 schools, Lena Dunn Elementary will implement an early learning model, while the other 13 will implement models to transform their schools. Continue Reading →
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)” credit=”
Federal officials announced this week the national high school graduation rate reached an all-time high of 83 percent for the 2014-2015 school year. But while the rate is up nationally, Indiana’s graduation rate decreased for the first time since 2010.
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.
It’s a less than a percentage point drop from the year before – but it’s a difference of about 1,400 students graduating high school within four years.
Indiana Department of Education spokeswoman Sam Hart says graduation rates can change year to year. She says it’s important to note the graduation rate today is still higher than it was four years ago.
The candidates for State Superintendent of Public Instruction held their first and only debate in Fort Wayne Monday.
The candidates have similar viewpoints on policy issues, but differ on how they would lead Indiana’s Department of Education.
Republican Jennifer McCormick criticized the way her opponent, Democratic incumbent Glenda Ritz, communicates with Indiana schools.
“It’s becoming very splintered, it’s not timely,” McCormick says. “At times it’s not meaningful, it’s not manageable.”
But Ritz says she gives weekly updates and travels the state every week to talk to school officials.
McCormick says she would like to see more transparency in how Indiana calculates its disbursement of federal dollars. As an example, she cited last school year, when some schools received fewer Title I funds for low-income students because of a miscalculation by the Indiana Department of Education.
Ritz says this happened before she became state superintendent, and said the Department of Education was transparent in fixing the problem.
“The calculations are online, so the calculations are out there and have been out there,” Ritz says. “In fact, they’re required to be out there.”
The two candidates agreed on many policy issues, including expanding the state’s pre-K program, changing the way schools and teachers are evaluated, working to attract and retain teachers, and replacing the standardized ISTEP exam.
The IN Region 4 Migrant Preschool Center, a free preschool for migrant children ages 2 to 5, teaches students in English and Spanish. The goal is to prepare migrant children for school, wherever it may be. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)
Depending on the season, Indiana farms employ between 2,000 and 20,000 migrant farm workers. When workers migrate, often their families do, too.
Children in this mobile lifestyle can face interrupted schooling, cultural and language barriers, and social isolation — factors that inhibit a child’s ability to do well in school.
A public preschool for migrant children in Vincennes, the IN Region 4 Migrant Preschool Center, works to combat that. The preschool teaches migrant children, ages 2 to 5, in English and Spanish. It aims to prepare them for future instruction, wherever they may go.
“We like to do all the basic preschool things with math skills, language skills, letters, numbers,” says Debbie Gries, migrant education coordinator for the Region 4 Indiana Migrant Regional Center. “But our end goal, when they’re five, is to have them ready for kindergarten.”
The sun hasn’t risen, but 4-year-old Ximena is full of energy.
It’s Monday, 6 a.m..
Clad in a pink hoodie, Ximena sprints back and forth in the trailer her mother, Anayeli Camacho, rents on farmland in Oaktown, Indiana.
Camacho is a member of a largely invisible population: the thousands of migrant farmworkers that plant, cultivate, pick and pack fruits, vegetables and nuts in Indiana each year. For a decade, Camacho has migrated between farms in Florida and Indiana, following work. Right now, she works picking pumpkins.
At 6:30 a.m., a knock.
Ximena’s bus to preschool sits rumbling, in the dark, on the gravel road outside. On board, a teacher buckles Ximena into a carseat. Continue Reading →
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