Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

SBOE Vice Chair Sarah O’Brien Steps Down

Sarah O'Brien currently serves as the State Board's vice chair, a position created through legislation passed this session to restructure the board. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Sarah O\’Brien currently serves as the State Board\’s vice chair, a position created through legislation passed this session to restructure the board. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

State Board of Education vice chair Sarah O’Brien announced Thursday she will resign from her position on the board.

O’Brien says she is stepping down to care for her daughter who was “dealt with a variety of medical issues over the years.”

In a statement, O’Brien said she is proud of the work accomplished by the board during her tenure.

“I have served on this board for over seven and a half years and continue to be proud of the work that has been done to improve education for all Hoosier students,” O’Brien said in a statement. “I strongly believe that we have increased the quality of educational opportunities across our state and have confidence that this board will continue to do so in the years to come. I consider it a great honor to have had the privilege to work alongside all of you and hope that our paths will cross again in the future.”

Former governor Mitch Daniels appointed O’Brien in 2009 to represent the fourth congressional district on the board, which covers Avon, Lafayette and Kokomo. She is a fourth grade teacher in Avon.

Governor Pence reappointed her in 2013, so O’Brien’s replacement will serve the remainder of her term which ends in 2017. The governor will have to appoint her replacement, but they don’t have to be from the fourth congressional district.

O’Brien’s last day on the board will at its August 10 meeting.



USED Grants Waiver To Indiana Schools With Late Title I Funds

The U.S. Department of Education wrote a letter to the Indiana Department of Education Tuesday to allow schools that received Title I funds from the DOE later than normal to use those funds in the following school year.

U.S. Republican Congressmen Luke Messer and Todd Rokita wrote a letter to Secretary of Education John King that requested this last June.

The USED informed Indiana in February that “the State was making several errors in the process, including but not limited to, how IDOE was applying the hold harmless to charter school LEAs.”

Some charter schools were receiving less money, which we reported in September 2015.

Money to make up for this miscalculation became available in March, which many schools said was too late to use for that school year.

That’s when the IDOE and Congressmen Messer and Rokita asked the USED to extend this money offered to schools in March.

“This is the best possible outcome for thousands of Hoosier public school students,” said Congressman Luke Messer in a statement. “Title I money makes sure the most at-risk kids get a fair chance to succeed.  Without the ability of schools to carry over these funds, instruction would have suffered.”

Title I is a federal program that serves kids who generally come from low-income families, and therefore haven’t always had access to the same resources as some of their peers.

Evan Bayh’s Education Record During His Last Senate Term

Evan Bayh speaks with Hilary Clinton in 2008.

Evan Bayh speaks with Hilary Clinton in 2008. (photo credit: Lisa/ flickr)

Former Indiana senator Evan Bayh announced Wednesday he will run for his old seat in the U.S. Senate, facing current U.S. House Rep. Todd Young in November. Bayh will take over the Democratic side of the ticket after Baron Hill dropped out Monday. The two are running for Republican Sen. Dan Coats seat after he retires in January.

Bayh served as governor of Indiana before spending 12 years in the Senate.

EdWeek took a look at Bayh’s involvement in education legislation when he served in congress.

Bayh, who left the Senate in 2011, joined a fight to help save Race to the Top, the federal competitive-grant program that was one of the early, signature education initiatives from President Barack Obama’s administration. Back in July 2010, for example, he joined 12 of his then-colleagues in the Senate in opposing budget cuts that would have stripped money out of Race to the Top and other administration priorities.

The cuts approved by the House of Representatives and opposed by Bayh and fellow senators aimed to eliminate $800 million in federal spending—$500 million would have come from the $4.35 billion Race to the Top program, $200 million from the Teacher Incentive Fund (which backed teacher pay-for-performance programs), and $100 million from the charter school program. He was an ally of Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., during this budget fight, in which Race to the Top funding ultimately prevailed.

Bayh will be the Democratic nominee for the seat, pending approval by the state Democratic party on July 22.

State Charter School Loan Program Awards Last Grants

The State Board of Education wrapped up its two-year charter school loan program last week. But in that program’s final round, only five charter schools applied.

The 2015 General Assembly created the program, allocating $50 million in loans to give to charter schools over two years.

In the first year of the program, charter schools received $40 million in loans – $10 million remained. In last week’s allocations, $5 million went to the five charter schools that applied.

The remaining $5 million goes back into the state’s general fund.

At the SBOE meeting in Muncie, State Superintendent Glenda Ritz said the law mandates the board to allocate money to applicants, but she never agreed with the program.

“Philosophically, I really feel we need more funding to public education and I would have preferred that $50 million to be used in another manner,” Ritz said.

But SBOE member David Freitas said he supports it.

“I believe where there is good education going on I believe that we as a state should support it,” Freitas said.

The money is a loan that must be repaid, and it comes out of the state tuition support that all public schools receive.

Numbers Show Experience Gaps Across Demographics

As part of our reporting on education equality, we used the the US Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data and state data to chart some education experience for four demographic groups: black students, students with disabilities, Latino students and white students.

For example, while black students make up about one in eight students enrolled, they disproportionately account for more than one in three suspensions and one in four school-related arrests or referrals to officers.

Explore some of these experiences:

The US Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data counts student experiences and opportunities by demographic because schools are required to provide equal opportunities to students regardless of race, color, religion, sex or ability.





When Half Of Your School Speaks Spanish, Try Something New


Elias Rojas is a first grade teacher at West Noble Primary school in Ligonier. As one of the school's few bilingual teachers, he volunteered to participate in the school's new dual language immersion program.

Elias Rojas is a first grade teacher at West Noble Primary school in Ligonier. As one of the school’s few bilingual teachers, he volunteered to participate in the school\’s new dual language immersion program. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Indiana’s schools are seeing increased enrollment in the number of English learners, pushing many schools and communities to adapt to the growing population. This can often mean there are multiple languages spoken in a classroom.

One place where English and Spanish are both heard is Elias Rojas’ first grade class at West Noble Primary School. The school is in Ligonier, a small town North of Ft. Wayne. In the district, 50 percent of the students are Latino.

This makes Rojas, who grew up in a Spanish speaking home in Chicago, an asset to the district.

“I understand how these kids come in, I understand the kind of households they come from,” he says. “I understand the fears they may be feeling, and I think I have a good understanding of how their brain is working because at one time I was right there with them.”

Formally Introducing Two Languages In The Classroom

Right now Rojas teaches these students in English and speaks Spanish if someone needs extra instruction. But starting in January, this is going to change. Rojas’ school, West Noble Primary, applied for and won a state grant for a dual language immersion program.

This kind of program means half of the school day is taught in English and half the day in Spanish. The grant is part of a pilot program approved by the 2015 General Assembly. This is the second year money was awarded, and West Noble received $85,000 to launch the new program.

West Noble Primary’s new dual language immersion program will be in two of its eight kindergarten classes. Each class will have a lead teacher, who speaks English, and a Spanish speaking teacher who works in both classrooms. The instruction, materials and conversations with teachers will be split evenly between English and Spanish.

50 percent of the students at West Noble Primary School in Ligonier are Latino, making it a perfect place to start a dual language immersion program.

50 percent of the students at West Noble Primary School in Ligonier are Latino, making it a perfect place to start a dual language immersion program. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting

Principal Brian Shepherd is excited to start it, but knows that designing new curriculum and procedures for some of his teachers is daunting.

“We’re going to get through this together, we know it’s going to be difficult,” Shepherd said. “But uncomfortable makes you grow. You don’t go through life being comfortable. So this is the right thing to do, not the easy thing to do.”

Shepherd’s taught in Ligonier schools for decades. He remembers the exact moment when he realized working with English learners would become a crucial part of his job.

In 1987 I was hired as 4th grade teacher and I can remember when the first little girl came into my room, Maria, and spoke no English,” Shepherd said. “I did not know what to do for her. I went down to the kindergarten room, got a picture book and we started pointing to pictures…then the school was very proactive and the EL program was born.”

The Next Phase For Education English Learners

For years, the English learner program served many of the Latino students that came to West Noble. But now that 50 percent of the kids come from Spanish speaking homes, Shepherd and the district decided to try something new with the immersion program.

Shepherd and the district’s EL director, Candice Holbrook, are hopeful this program will make an impact outside of the school.

“It really is reflective of the community that we serve and that we live in,” Holbrook said. “It’s an opportunity not only to promote bi-literacy but promote really bringing the community together.”

Ligonier’s tiny, a few thousand people. So a dual language immersion program in two kindergarten classes can actually make a difference.

Rojas says he’d like to see the Latino and white populations integrate more, because now, many sports split along ethnic lines as well as the churches.

“So then you have St. Patrick’s, which is right behind our school, which is where i attend and you have all of the Hispanic population pretty much,” Rojas said. “I would say of all the Hispanic population, probably 98 percent attend there.”

Rojas volunteered to teach a dual language immersion class, because he knows its benefits. He grew up in a similar program in Chicago, where being Latino was common and speaking two languages was celebrated. It wasn’t until he attended Indiana Wesleyan University that he realized that wasn’t the norm.

“That’s when I realized ‘Oh, I am a minority’,” Rojas said. “Until then, obviously I knew my ethnicity. I knew my heritage, I knew I spoke two languages. It was very much a part of my town, my city, so I didn’t feel like I stuck out.”

And Rojas wants his students, Latino and white, to have the same confidence around people from different backgrounds.

“I want them to feel equipped with and have the mentality to have a diverse mentality,” Rojas said. “To have them not see a minority and not say that’s a minority. That is a person.”

Legislators Interested In Expanding Statewide Pre-K

A new report outlines the needs and improvements of Indiana's early childhood education system.

A new report outlines the needs and improvements of Indiana\’s early childhood education system. (photo credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Indiana’s governor and legislative leaders have agreed to expand the state’s foray into state-funded pre-K, but uncertainties about its effectiveness are causing some lawmakers to question the scope and cost of such an expansion.

The Journal Gazette reports that the pilot cost about $10 million to get started, and served about 2,300 disadvantaged children in five counties during its first year. The program’s second year starts in August.

There is no data that gauges the program’s value, and a full study tracking the children’s performance through third grade is not expected until 2020.

Senate President Pro Tem David Long says the legislature needs to assess where the greatest need is and expand the program from there.​


State Board Raises Concerns Over Diversity In Teacher Prep Programs

The State Board of Education on Wednesday failed to renew accreditation to the teacher training program at Oakland City University, after board members raised concern about a lack of diversity.

The discussion started with the board discussing the racial makeup of faculty in the university’s teacher training program. It ended with an examination of how far a state agency can go to influence hiring decisions, based on race.

The small, religious college currently only employs white, male staff in that program.

“I think it’s a critical issue that we have diversity in colleges of education so that students there, preparing, are culturally diverse,” said David Freitas, a SBOE member.

Freitas wanted to renew the school’s accreditation, on the condition that they diversify within three years. The board voted 4-2  in favor of renewing the university’s accreditation with that condition, but state law requires six “yes votes” to pass any action.

Board member Vince Bertram voted against renewing the accreditation with those conditions. He said he values diversity, but making future accreditation reliant on who the school hires would set a dangerous precedent.

“I am very concerned about diversity, but my concern is putting accreditation in the middle of this,” Bertram said. “We can’t say, ‘We’re going to hold this over your head until you make a very specific hire.’”

Freidas countered that claim saying the board does hold a responsibility to value certain characteristics in programs they accredit, even if they fall beyond national criteria. Although Oakland City University’s staff diversity was noted as an area that needed improvement, they recently received renewed national accreditation.

SBOE’s legal counsel noted that denying accreditation because of a perceived lack of racial diversity could open a “slippery slope.”

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz agreed.

“The hiring of an actual person is probably not part of the actual accreditation process,” Ritz said. “I think that’s where the debate will be at our next meeting.”

At Wednesday’s meeting, the board also approved nearly $8.7 million to four formerly failing schools and $5 million in loans to charter schools. The charter school loans can be used for “startup costs” including facilities improvement, instruction, administrative, technology, and debt service.

“I really feel we need more funding to public education,” said Ritz, a longtime public schools proponent. “I really would have preferred that [money] used in another manner.”

State Board To Consider Earmarking Funds For Formerly Failing Schools

Members of the State Board of Education will decide whether or not to earmark funds to support some of Indiana’s formerly failing public schools. (Alexander McCall/WFIU News)

Members of the State Board of Education will decide whether or not to earmark funds to support some of Indiana’s formerly failing public schools. (Alexander McCall/WFIU News)

Although we’re in the midst of summer, Indiana’s top school officials have a lot to think about as the next school year approaches.

In particular, members of the State Board of Education will decide whether or not to earmark funds to support some of Indiana’s formerly failing public schools during Wednesday’s SBOE meeting in Muncie, Ind.

Melissa Ambre, Indiana Department of Education’s director of school finance, asks the board to dedicate nearly $8.7 million to four schools in Indianapolis and Gary, in memos dated June 22.

If approved, the department would dedicate $1.5 million over the next six months to Emma Donnan Elementary and Middle School, $2 million to Thomas Carr Howe Community High School, $2.7 million to Emmerich Manual, all in Indianapolis, and $2.5 million to Theodore Roosevelt Career and Technical Academy in Gary.

“The Department respectfully asks the Board to adopt the Department’s recommendations,” wrote Ambre in the memo. Continue Reading

Lawmakers Look To Reduce Sexual Misconduct In Indiana Schools

Lawmakers will convene this summer to study school sexual misconduct after a string of recent high-profile cases involving school staff. (flakeparadigm/Flickr)

Lawmakers will convene this summer to study school sexual misconduct after a string of recent high-profile cases involving school staff. (flakeparadigm/Flickr)

As Indiana lawmakers plan to study ways to reduce sexual misconduct in schools, the state’s largest teachers union says all school staff should be examined, not just teachers.

Lawmakers will convene this summer to study school sexual misconduct after a string of recent high-profile cases involving school staff. Lawmakers hope to identify the scope of the problem and offer potential solutions.

Teresa Meredith, president of Indiana State Teachers Association, says it’s important to examine everyone in the school building.

“Whether we’re in the classroom as a teacher, on a bus as a bus driver or walking the halls as a custodial or maintenance staff,” Meredith says. “We are held to a different standard, and we should be, because of the delicacy of the work that we do.”

Meredith hopes legislators will study how the people who commit inappropriate actions get jobs in schools, in the first place. Continue Reading

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