Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

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

Jennifer McCormick Sworn In As State Superintendent


Republican Jennifer McCormick is sworn in as Indiana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction at an inauguration ceremony at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. She defeated Democrat Glenda Ritz in the November election. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/StateImpact Indiana)

Republican Jennifer McCormick became Indiana’s 44th Superintendent of Public Instruction Monday, after her inauguration.

McCormick replaces Democrat Glenda Ritz after defeating her in the November election.

During the campaign, McCormick criticized Ritz’s tumultuous relationship with other state agencies and policy makers, and said she would be a more collaborative leader.

She mentioned this during her speech after the inauguration.

“To all the other elected and appointed officials, I promise to be a good partner to the state of Indiana so we can move forward,” McCormick said. “To Indiana schools, I am proud to be one of you and I look forward to working with you.”

During her speech after the swearing in, McCormick didn’t go into too many details of her agenda as superintendent, but made one mention to the state’s teachers.

“I promise to lead this state as I always have, putting students first,” she said. “That means we must take care of Indiana’s great educators.”

Previously, McCormick served as superintendent for the Yorktown school district, and spent her career in public education.


How To Follow Along, And Get Involved In, Indiana’s Legislative Session

The Indiana Statehouse. (Photo Credit: IPBS)

The Indiana Statehouse. (Photo Credit: IPBS)

The legislative session is underway, and that means the next few months will be filled with reporting on votes, language and debates over bills moving through the General Assembly.

Which we know can be … dense.

Of course, following journalists and reading their work is a great way to stay informed about the session, but if you don’t check in every day it can be hard to jump right in.

So how can you stay informed if a story about a bill comes across your Facebook feed or a friend brings up a piece of legislation they heard about?

Here’s our crash course in following legislation through the 2017 session.

How A Bill Becomes A Law In Indiana

First, it’s important to understand the steps every bill takes through the General Assembly, and a lot of that is on its website (here’s instructions on how to use the General Assembly website).

(A) PRE-INTRODUCTION: An idea is developed, and a senator or representative decides to sponsor it. He or she drafts a bill, with research and technical help from the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency (LSA).

(B) INTRODUCTION: The representative enters the bill into his or her respective chamber. The only exception here is that bills raising revenue can only originate in the House.

(C) CONSIDERATION: This is where the sausage is made. Chamber leadership calls the bill for discussion.

  • First reading: The bill is read aloud to the entire chamber and assigned to an appropriate chamber committee for review.
  • Committee: The committee chairperson puts the bill up for public hearing, where the full committee hears testimony, discusses merits and pitfalls of the measure, and votes on advancing the bill.
  • Second reading: The bill returns to the chamber it came from for discussion before the entire body. Any legislator in that body can suggest amendments to the bill, which have to be approved by a majority vote. After all approved amendments have been added, the chamber votes on the bill as a whole. The chamber may also send the bill back to committee, if they need more information.
  • Third reading: The same chamber now schedules the same bill for a third discussion. This is the same process as the second reading, except that any proposed amendments must be approved by a simple majority. The chamber votes on advancing the bill as a whole.
  • Opposite chamber: The bill moves to the other legislative chamber (form the Senate to the House or the House to the Senate). It then repeats the same process of consideration (first reading, committee, second reading, third reading).
  • Finalizing: The bill returns to the chamber of origin, which must approve or deny any amendments their counterparts added. If approved, the bill moves on to the governor. If denied, the bill goes to a conference committee – a group made up of two members from each chamber, one from each political party. Once they reach agreement, the bill returns to both chambers for approval.

(D) GOVERNOR’S ACTION: The bill is presented to the governor, who has seven days to act. He or she has three options: He can sign the bill, in which case it becomes law; He can do nothing, in which case the bill becomes law without his signature; or, he can veto the bill, in which case it goes back to the House and Senate, who have the opportunity to over-ride the veto with a two-thirds majority vote. If both chambers achieve that majority, the bill becomes law.

You Want To Follow Along?

If there is a particular bill you are interested in (view the entire list of bills filed), here’s how you can track its progress through the process.

We’ll use Senate Bill 30, a bill that would require the Indiana Department of Education to issue reports every semester on students using vouchers.

Head to the General Assembly website and either search the specific bill number (SB30) if you know it, or find it under the Legislation > Bills tab. Choose the bill from this list.

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This will take you to the bill’s individual page.

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The left hand side is where you can find all the information on the bill you’ll want. It’s full version, any amendment and who voted for it in the two chambers. But if you’re looking to see where it is in the process, click “Bill Details”. This is where the list from above will help guide you to where the bill currently sits.

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You Want To Make Your Voice Heard

So you’re following along at home, and decide you have an opinion on a bill. There’s a few things you can do to get involved.

1. Call your legislator. There is a House representative and a Senator that represent you, and you can figure out who those people are by typing your address into this form. Talk to their staff and figure out if you want to leave a message or set up a meeting with your legislator to talk about the issue. Legislators often cite conversations they have with constituents when testifying on a bill, so they do value your input.

2. Follow interest groups. Depending on what type of bills you’re interested in, there is likely some sort of group that is following along day by day. Follow them on Twitter or reach out to see what they are testifying for, and let them know your opinion. Also follow the hashtag on Twitter, #inlegis, to see what is being tweeted about during the session.

3. Testify at a committee. The committee is the group of legislators that decide early on how to amend the bill and if it will move forward. Many of the re-writes happen at this stage, making it the best time to make your voice heard, but getting in front of this group takes a little leg work. First, you must figure out which committee oversees the bill (under “Bill Actions” on the bill’s page). Then you have to closely monitor the committee calendars, which aren’t posted until the week of or before. That calendar is found on the home page.

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If you click on the committee name link, it will tell you what bills are being heard that day. If you want to testify, show up (meetings are always held during business hours), and sign up via a form right before the meeting starts. The chair will call your name during public testimony.

Correction: a previous version of this story said a bill needed a two-thirds majority vote to move forward. It needs a simple majority vote. 

Holcomb Wants Top Education Official To Be Appointed, Not Elected

Indiana Gov.-elect Eric Holcomb wants to create an appointed secretary of education position. In this file photo, Holcomb appears at a campaign event on Aug. 1, 2016. (Brandon J. Smith / Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Indiana Gov.-elect Eric Holcomb wants to create an appointed secretary of education position. In this file photo, Holcomb appears at a campaign event on Aug. 1, 2016. (Brandon J. Smith / Indiana Public Broadcasting)”

Indiana Governor-elect Eric Holcomb says changing the state’s top education official into an appointed, not elected, position will be one his top priorities during the 2017 legislative session.

Holcomb wants to eliminate the elected state superintendent of public instruction position, in favor of an appointed secretary of education.

“This is not about the person, me or the superintendent,” Holcomb says. “This is about the position and how they can be aligned to work truly together.”

Currently, Indiana is one of 13 states that elect a school chiefs. Continue Reading

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