Indiana

Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Check Out The Education Laws That Go Into Effect July 1

Lawmakers passed 25 school-related bills during the 2015 "education session." (Photo Credit: Jimmy Emerson/Flickr)

Lawmakers passed 25 school-related bills during the 2015 “education session.” (Photo Credit: Jimmy Emerson/Flickr)

The Indiana General Assembly passed 259 laws this year, most of which go into effect July 1 to correspond to the fiscal year.

Legislators took a special interest in school-related issues during what they dubbed the “education session” – 25 of the measures they passed dealt with the way districts operate.

Some of these laws are new. Others, such as State Board of Education reorganization, have been discussed in the past but never acted upon, and some laws, like failing school interventions, are updates to existing laws.

Explained in detail below are 10 of those laws we think are important. Don’t worry – we listed the others below. Did we miss any? If so, let us know in the comments section.

1. State Board of Education governance (SB 1)

Perhaps the most talked-about education item on lawmakers’ docket this session, Senate Bill 1 was the only one of countless bills introduced concerning reorganization of the State Board of Education to make it through to Gov. Mike Pence‘s desk.

Elements of several similar measures – most notably House Bill 1609Senate Bill 452 and Senate Bill 453 – made it into the final version of this one, overarching bill.

Only one element of the law – one of the most crucial and controversial parts – will not go into effect next week: the ability for the board to elect its own chairperson annually. After much back and forth, lawmakers decided to hold off on enacting this part of the law until January 2017, at the end of state superintendent Glenda Ritz‘s current term. The state superintendent has historically served as board chair.

Reappointed board member Sarah O'Brien and new board member Byron Ernest at the June State Board of Education meeting.

Reappointed board member Sarah O’Brien and new board member Byron Ernest at the June State Board of Education meeting. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

The state board meets for its next meeting the day this law takes effect, July 1. The first items of new business on the agenda: electing a vice chair and secretary. According to a report from Chalkbeat Indiana, many board members have already voiced support for appointing Sarah O’Brien to the former slot:

[Board member Cari] Whicker said she believes a majority of the board will support O’Brien for vice chairwoman, based on conversations with others on the board. O’Brien’s father is state Rep. Bill Fine, R-Munster, who backed the bill to create the position of vice chairwoman.

“Certainly more than most are supportive of her,” Whicker said. “And so it would be nice to feel like that’s a consensus when we go into that meeting and not have any contention there in selecting somebody.”

2. School funding formula  (HB 1001)

The state’s new biennial budget includes numerous education-related pieces, most notably a major overhaul to the school funding formula.

We’ve already reported on several of the new items in the upcoming budget: check out our stories on specific student population benefits and charter school building funds.

3. Standardized testing study (SB 62)

Lawmakers will decide whether or not to keep the state's current ISTEP+ testing system. (Photo Credit: James Martin/Flickr)

Lawmakers will decide whether or not to keep the state\’s current ISTEP+ testing system. (Photo Credit: James Martin/Flickr)

The measure allows a summer study committee to discuss the possibility of replacing Indiana’s statewide ISTEP+ standardized testing program with an alternative assessment.

By federal mandate, every state needs a standardized test to match its academic standards. Hoosier lawmakers have generated multiple versions of ISTEP+ to pair with the new Indiana Academic Standards since Gov. Pence pulled out of the Common Core in 2014.

Advocates of replacing ISTEP+ say using a national assessment would save money and eliminate all the run-around involved in creating another new state-specific test.

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Indiana Waiting On Three-Year NCLB Waiver Extension

Its time once again for Hoosier education officials to play the waiting game.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. (Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Education)

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. (Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Indiana has requested a flexibility waiver from the federal government for No Child Left Behind, the national law issuing across-the-board requirements states have to follow in order to receive federal funding.

A waiver would exempt the state from some provisions of the law – for example, maintaining 100 percent student proficiency in math and language arts. In order to qualify, states must meet a specific set of requirements, including plans for measuring school performance and evaluating teachers.

Indiana’s Department of Education submitted its application for a three-year renewal this spring. The U.S. Department of Education announced Tuesday it will renew waivers for seven states and Washington, D.C. – but the Hoosier state was not on the list just yet.

Reports say state officials should hear back by late summer or early fall.

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Schools Look Within Walls To Find Future Leaders

Schools in Indiana – and across the country – are changing rapidly.

Along with new sets of standards, testing programs and systems for tracking accountability, districts regularly deal with an evolving workforce. Thanks to technology and other constraints, some school jobs don’t look like they used to, and others have a shorter lifespan due to the pressures of working in what’s become a somewhat stressful environment.

Additionally, as baby boomers retire they’re creating a gap in the workforce – and the education field is no exception. Principals, assistant principals and superintendents are leaving their positions, but instead of waiting for those positions to open up and going through the routine hiring process, some school districts are trying to get a head start by training teachers from the bottom up.

The Teacher Becomes The Student

It’s week one of the summer session on the Bloomington campus at Indiana University.

In a classroom on the third floor of the Wright education building, instructor Chad Lochmiller spreads materials out on two large tables. Students begin to trickle in, in groups of two or three. They take their seats, get out their pens. The instructor turns on his PowerPoint, clears his throat and starts his class on their introductions.

“Why don’t we just do name, and which school you’re at? We’ll start over here,” Lochmiller says, and motions to a woman on his right.

“Kendra Smith, AIS Diamond.”

“Anna Kirkman, AIS Diamond.”

“Jessica Hopkins, I’m at Cedar Hall.”

Teachers and staff from the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation listen as their principal certification program coordinator Chad Lochmiller (far right) explains the program syllabus. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Teachers and staff from the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation listen as their principal certification program coordinator Chad Lochmiller (far right) explains the program syllabus. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

As you can tell, there’s something different about this group of students: they’re adults. They also already have jobs: they’re all employed in the same southern Indiana school district, the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation.

They’ve come to earn their principal certification. Evansville is partnering with the IU School of Education to help prepare these 25 teachers for future leadership positions within the district.

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State Voucher Program Growing Exponentially In Some Districts

The number of students enrolled in the state-funded voucher program that allows them to attend private schools is growing exponentially, according to an updated report released from the Department of Education last week.

Here’s a look at where the most students are using vouchers, according to their school corporation of legal settlement, or what district they would be part of if they went to public school:

One look at the data makes it seem as though students are leaving their public schools in droves to use state money to attend private school, but there’s more to the numbers than that. As more scholarships became available, the eligibility for students who get them also changed.

The program’s original intention was to award vouchers to students attending failing schools, but data shows the number students using the vouchers who never attended a public school grew.

During the 2011-2012 school year — the first year vouchers were available — around 10 percent of students using vouchers never attended an Indiana public school. In the 2014-2015 school year, that number jumped to 50 percent.

Krista Stockman, spokesperson for Fort Wayne Community Schools, says changing the qualification requirements goes against one of the main goals of school vouchers.

“It was originally billed as a way for families to escape failing schools,” Stockman says. “But if you look at even that pathway, there are very, very few students who were actually in an F-rated school who use a voucher.”

Last year only 2 percent of students using a voucher came from a failing school.

Although thousands of students in the Fort Wayne district aren’t attending the public schools because of vouchers, Stockman says it isn’t dramatically hurting their enrollment. Because more students aren’t attending public school first, Fort Wayne schools never even saw those kids.

The year vouchers first became available, enrollment in FWCS was 31,568. Last year it was 30,607, with slight fluctuations in the years in between.

The update to the report found that the voucher program is costing the state $40 million, whereas in previous years there was a surplus.

Counseling Conference Encourages College Alternatives

The Indiana Youth Institute is working with counselors on promoting all options after high school. 

The Indiana Youth Institute is working with counselors on promoting all options after high school. (photo credit: Claire McInerny / StateImpact Indiana)

The Indiana Youth Institute wants to help school counselors focus more on non-traditional postsecondary routes – essentially, options beyond a four-year college. That’s one of the goals of the Institute’s counseling conference being held this week.

Indiana Youth Institute Program Director Kate Coffman says universities don’t need much help pitching the traditional four-year route…and that’s why she says the Institute wants to help counselors promote alternatives, such as apprenticeships, the military, and industry certifications.

“So if you find a student who is kind of that hands on, enjoys building things, then getting them connected to classes that are taught at their career and technical education center, or classes that might be in their high school that involve STEM or robotics,” Coffman says.

A 2014 Indiana Chamber of Commerce study says 90 percent of counselors report spending less than half their time on college and career readiness activities. But Coffman says simply adding more counselors is expensive and, frankly, not realistic.

“We can help counselors work smarter,” she says, “and bring in teachers and things who are seeing every kid in the high school and maybe use staff in a way that they’re taking some of those administrative duties off the counselors.”

Indiana’s student to counselor ratio is 541 to one, the ninth-highest in the country.

The Indiana Youth Institute wants to help school counselors focus more on non-traditional postsecondary routes – essentially, options beyond a four-year college. That’s one of the goals of the Institute’s counseling conference being held this week.

Indiana Youth Institute Program Director Kate Coffman says universities don’t need much help pitching the traditional four-year route…and that’s why she says the Institute wants to help counselors promote alternatives, such as apprenticeships, the military, and industry certifications.

“So if you find a student who is kind of that hands on, enjoys building things, then getting them connected to classes that are taught at their career and technical education center, or classes that might be in their high school that involve STEM or robotics,” Coffman says.

A 2014 Indiana Chamber of Commerce study says 90 percent of counselors report spending less than half their time on college and career readiness activities. But Coffman says simply adding more counselors is expensive and, frankly, not realistic.

“We can help counselors work smarter,” she says, “and bring in teachers and things who are seeing every kid in the high school and maybe use staff in a way that they’re taking some of those administrative duties off the counselors.”

Indiana’s student to counselor ratio is 541 to one, the ninth-highest in the country.

Gary School District Outlines Plan To Improve Finances

Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary (Photo Credit: Indiana Senate Democrats official website)

Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary (Photo Credit: Indiana Senate Democrats official website)

Over the last few years the Gary Community School Corporation has faced a loss of state funds and declining enrollment, leading the district to make some tough financial choices when it comes to their schools.

One of the more dramatic instances of this over the last few months was when the State Board of Education voted to close Dunbar-Pulaski middle school, one of the district’s chronically failing schools. This was the first time the SBOE closed a failing school without attempting any turnaround efforts first.

The reasoning behind that decision was because the district couldn’t afford to keep the school open during a turnaround period.

In a guest column in the Northwest Indiana Times, state senator Earline Rogers outlines a new plan the district is taking to address the current financial situation in the district:

The amendment to the state budget I proposed creates a coalition of individuals and groups at both the state and local level. They include financial specialists, local leaders and the state’s Distressed Unit Appeals Board, the same entity that assisted with Gary’s finances in the past. They will be charged with crafting a plan of action where local officials, School Board members, a financial adviser and the DUAB work together to create the recovery plan for the district.

The first step is a public hearing where there will be a presentation on the district’s current financial status. From there, the DUAB will present the School Board with three suggested financial advisers from which they may choose. If the School Board chooses one of those financial advisers, that person will assist the board with financial and debt management over the course of the next year.

Delay or suspension of payments to the common school fund or interest free loans are recommendations the DUAB can make to the State Board of Finance on behalf of the school corporation. If the School Board does not make a choice from the individuals recommended by the DUAB, it may withdraw from the process altogether.

Rogers also writes that while this plan is specifically designed for the Gary Community Schools, the problem isn’t unique to their community and could be used in any area of the state facing a lack of funds for their schools.

Purdue Hopes To Open STEM-Focused Charter in Downtown Indy

Gov. Mitch Daniels, soon to be Purdue's 12th president.

Gov. Mitch Daniels, soon to be Purdue’s 12th president. (photo credit: Steven Yang/Purdue University)

Purdue University plans to open a charter high school in downtown Indianapolis that will focus on the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields with the hope of opening in the fall of 2017.

It’s a concept, Purdue President Mitch Daniels said, that could eventually spread across the state because public schools are not graduating enough black and other minority students who are qualified to even attend the Big 10 university.

“We are tied of waiting for the current system to produce enough low-income, first generation, minority students,” he said at Purdue’s Indianapolis office. “We are hardly alone. Every major university is facing this difficulty but we decided we wanted to take some direct action on that.”

The Purdue Polytechnic Indianapolis High School will use project based learning and partner with local businesses to provide internships and experiential learning opportunities. The Purdue Polytechnic Institute, formerly the College of Technology, will oversee the high school. Areas of academic concentration are expected to include robotics, manufacturing and cybersecurity. In 11th grade students will select a specific pathway to master skills. Internships will be required during the senior year.

“The teaching is cohort based. It is very hands-on and integrated,” said Gary Bertoline, dean of the Polytechnic Institute. “So when students learn some of the core topics, like a math or English, it is actually put in with the technology course so they are learning in context.”

Graduates of the school can directly enroll in the Purdue Polytechnic Institute or can focus on a industry credentials for a career path. Continue Reading

Teachers Will Soon Get A Lesson On LGBTQ Issues From Students

Issac, 16, identifies as a transgender male and attends Owen Valley High School in Spencer. He is part of Prism Youth Community, which is creating a training program for teachers to better interact with LGBTQ students.

Issac, 16, identifies as a transgender male and attends Owen Valley High School in Spencer. He is part of Prism Youth Community, which is creating a training program for teachers to better interact with LGBTQ students. (photo credit: Casey Kuhn / WTIU News)

The emotions of a teenager are not simple to understand. As they move away from childhood and morph into an adult, the confusion invades many aspects of their lives, including their classrooms. For students recognizing their sexual orientation or gender identity, this confusion is intensified. As the students struggle to embrace this part of their life, teachers also struggle to understand the challenges LGBTQ students face.

The Prism Youth Community, a group for LGBTQ youth from seven counties in south-central Indiana, recently received a grant to close that gap by creating a training program for teachers throughout the state, with the hope it will improve the school life for LGBTQ students.

“You Don’t Look Like An Issac”

About a year ago, then-15-year-old Issac decided to join the track team at Owen Valley High School in Spencer. There was only one problem – he didn’t know whether he should join the boys’ or the girls’ team.

“I went to the doctor because you have to get a physical before you can join any sports team and at that physical I asked my nurse practitioner what gender dysphoria was and if she could send me any resources,” Issac says.

The information the nurse gave him catapulted Issac into the realization he identifies as a transgender male. Soon after, he began his transition from female to male.

“I was originally going to join the girls’ track team but after reading those I decided I’m going to come out,” he says. “After that I decided not to join the boys’ track team because it was too much.” 

We’re not using Issac’s last name because other transgender teenagers have been bullied on social media when they’ve spoken out.

In addition to figuring out the right sports team to join, Issac faces a lack of knowledge from teachers and other school staff that make it difficult for him to feel comfortable at school as he moves through his transition. For example, the school won’t change his name on the official roster.

“So I have to re-introduce myself to new teachers and be like, ‘No, my name’s Issac — not my birth name,’ and they say, ‘Well, you don’t look like an Issac,’” he says. Continue Reading

Indiana Voucher Program Cost State $40 Million Last Year

Indiana's voucher system that allows low-income kids to use state funds to attend private schools has put the state in a $40 million deficit.

Indiana’s voucher system that allows low-income kids to use state funds to attend private schools has put the state in a $40 million deficit. (Photo Credit: Claire McInerny/StateImpact Indiana)

Indiana’s voucher program is costing the state $40 million for the 2014-2015 school year, according to an updated report released Tuesday by the Department of Education. That’s up from $15 million the year before.

The school choice program, started in 2011, left the state with a surplus of around $4 million each year for the first two years, because not as many families were enrolling in the program to use available money. In the years since, the state increased the number of available scholarships, resulting in more money being put into the scholarship program.

As you can see, the number of students using state funds to attend a private school, including religious institutions, has grown dramatically since the first year the money was available, making it the fastest growing voucher program in the country:

2011-12: 3,911 students
2012-13: 9,139 students
2013-14: 19,809 students
2014-15: 29,148 students

Under a state law regarding the scholarship program, if there is money leftover from program (meaning not as many students used the available funds), that money is given back to the public and charter schools, but schools haven’t received any of that excess money since the 2012-2013 school year.

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