Indiana

Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

IPS Restructure Plan: New K-8 and 7-8 Schools, John Marshall Converts To Middle Grades

IPS administrators have proposed expanding James Whitcomb Riley School 43 from a K-6 to a K-8 school. (Indianapolis Public Schools)

IPS administrators have proposed expanding James Whitcomb Riley School 43 from a K-6 to a K-8 school. (Indianapolis Public Schools)

A plan by Indianapolis Public Schools administration to separate middle school grades from high schools could lead to the creation of two new schools and convert the long-struggling John Marshall High School into a stand-alone middle school.

The proposal sets a fall 2017 deadline to decide which district high schools to close because of dwindling enrollment. As recently as last week, IPS officials suggested some schools could be shuttered at end of the current school year.

Instead Superintendent Lewis Ferebee envisions quickly expanding four current K-6 elementary schools up to eighth grade, creating one new 7-8 school and one new K-8 school, in addition to converting John Marshall into a 7-8 school.

Students headed to grades 9-12 at John Marshall for the 2017-18 school year would be relocated to Arlington Community High School. Arlington middle school students would attend the new John Marshall Middle School. Continue Reading

Education Department Requests Additonal $600 Million From Legislature

State superintendent Glenda Ritz updated her legislative agenda Tuesday for the 2016 General Assembly.

State superintendent Glenda Ritz updated her legislative agenda Tuesday for the 2016 General Assembly. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

The Indiana Department of Education has asked for a $600 million increase in funding from the Legislature for the 2017 fiscal year. Officials say the funds are necessary to expand state-funded pre-k for all kids, increase tuition support for all schools and bump up funding for small, rural schools.

The 2017 General Assembly, which convenes in January, will craft a two-year budget. Typically, money allocated for education is over half of the state’s budget.

State superintendent Glenda Ritz has advocated statewide pre-K as part of her re-election campaign. Earlier this summer, Ritz and Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg called for universal state funded pre-k in the state as part of the Democratic platform.

Currently, the state pilots a program that gives pre-k scholarships to a limited number of low-income families in five counties. Friday, a group of business and philanthropy leaders as well as Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett, publicly asked the legislature to fund pre-k for all low-income families in the state.

The price tag for the DOE’s universal pre-k program is $147 the first year, according to the department. Ritz and Gregg have expressed confidence that the funds are available in the budget.

Another part of the DOE’s budget request focuses on increasing financial assistance to Indiana’s small schools. Statewide, enrollment has decreased in smaller school districts. The state’s current funding closely ties school funding to enrollment, so enrollment drops mean these rural schools receive less money.

“We need to invest in our small schools,” said Ritz, in a statement. “Indiana is a state of communities, and our schools are the heart of many of our smaller communities.  I travel throughout Indiana two to three days a week, and I constantly see small schools, especially in rural communities, struggling to maintain their educational programing.”

The department also wants to expand a tax deduction that is currently only available for families with students in private schools. Currently, parents of private school students are eligible for a tax credit to help offset the cost of textbooks.

Instead Ritz wants a $1,000 tax deduction for all families to help offset the costs of textbooks.

“The parents of children in private schools have received this tax deduction for years,” said Ritz, in a statement. “It is time for middle class Hoosiers to get a tax break as well.”

The 2017 General Assembly convenes in January and will create a budget for the next two years.

IPS Officials To Propose Splitting Middle, High Schools

"My IPS" sign hangs in the school board chambers. (Photo Credit: Eric Weddle/WFYI Public Media)

“My IPS” sign hangs in the school board chambers. (Photo Credit: Eric Weddle)

After a week of public meetings at four IPS high schools that could face closure, one student seemed to capture the anxiety and fear of the process.

Broad Ripple’s Jasmine Murphy says closing her school won’t just upend the lives of students but negatively impact teachers, staff and the surrounding community.

“I want to know what is going to happen to us. I don’t want you to be like, oh you are just another statistic, another number,” Murphy says. “I am not just 2-5-0-9-8-5, you know, I am actually a person and I’d like to know what is going to happen. If possible, I’d like to graduate here as the valedictorian which is what I’ve been working all my years for… so if you could tell me. Thank you.”

District officials say they know closing a school is a highly-charged issue, but they see no other options. Keeping middle schoolers, some as young as 11 years old, with high schoolers who can be as old as 19 or 20 is not safe. The basic operations cost of each building is more than a million dollars a year which is too much.

And then there’s enrollment. That’s IPS Deputy Superintendent Wanda Legrand says once middle grades are shifted to stand-alone middle schools or K-to-8 schools, it will leave each of the city’s high schools at 50 percent or a much lower enrollment capacity.

“Across all eight buildings, too add them up is 15,000 seats and we only have a third of the enrollment to fit in all those buildings,” Legrand says.

And there’s one more factor. Academics are also being reviewed at the schools that face closure: Broad Ripple, John Marshall, George Washington and Northwest.

At Northwest, the junior school has been rated F for four years. The high school is rate D. The graduation rate is 62 percent.

However, football coach Abe Tawfeek, a 1999 graduate of the school, says change is underway thanks to a new principal. Last week students and the football team cheered the coach as he told district leaders just that.

“Two years when I first got here, kids were saying, ‘oh, I hate Northwest, this is the worst school ever,’” Tawfeek says. “But now, we’ve got a lot of school spirit. So obviously we are doing something right.”

IPS administrators will present the school reconfiguration plan 6 p.m. Tuesday at an IPS Board work session at Arlington High School.

State Legislature To Explore Heightened Background Checks For Teachers

Risa Regnier, assistant superintendent of school support services for Indiana Department of Education, presents at the legislative study committee on education. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Risa Regnier, assistant superintendent of school support services for Indiana Department of Education, presents at the legislative study committee on education. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)” credit=”

INDIANAPOLIS — State officials say heightened background checks could be a solution to reducing sexual misconduct in Indiana schools.

After a recent string of high-profile sexual misconduct cases involving school staff, state Rep. Robert Behning wants schools to investigate their workforce more often.

He’s asked the legislature to examine the costs of background checks every five years.

“Not just for teachers, but this would be for all school employees that would have any exposure with children,” Behning said.

Currently, Indiana law only requires background checks at time of employment and only for fully licensed educators. Local districts determine how to check the histories of non-licensed staff, including coaches, custodial workers and volunteers.

Education department officials said sexual misconduct could also be reduced if judges get the right to revoke teachers’ licenses when they’re involved in criminal matters.

Kelly Bauder, staff attorney with the Indiana Department of Education, said there’s another loophole to address.

She said prosecutors often neglect to let the department know when teachers are involved in sexual misconduct cases. That notification is required by law.

In a recent USA Today article that examined states’ teacher background check protocol, Indiana received an F.

That grade was largely due to the following reasons: the absence of a statewide protocol, Indiana does not use information from a national teacher database, and the state lacks online information about teacher disciplinary actions.

New Pre K Initiative Will Ask Legislators To Expand Scholarships

Outgoing CEO of Eli Lilly John Lechleiter outlines the need for the access to affordable pre-k in Indiana. Eli Lilly is partnering with several other groups statewide to lobby the 2017 legislature to create pre-k scholarships for low-income families.

Outgoing CEO of Eli Lilly John Lechleiter outlines the need for the access to affordable pre-k in Indiana. Eli Lilly is partnering with several other groups statewide to lobby the 2017 legislature to create pre-k scholarships for low-income families. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting.)

A coalition of business, philanthropy, government and education leaders say they are determined to push lawmakers to expand state-funded preschool in the upcoming legislative session.

“All IN 4 Pre-K” is a new advocacy group that includes Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett, outgoing Eli Lilly CEO John Lechleiter, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and Early Learning Indiana

Lechleiter says the state’s pre-k pilot program is just not enough to meet demand. Only 2,300 families of low income three and four years old in five counties received scholarships in the past two years.

“We believe that families and their children in all of Indiana’s 92 counties should have access to high quality, early learning environments,” Lechleiter said.

The group says they will directly lobby lawmakers to pass new laws in 2017. While no specific legislation has been drafted, they want to see broader income-eligibility requirements for pre-k and elimination of matching funding for counties.

This group will lobby the legislature to provide pre-k scholarships for families that meet certain income guidelines, and not free preschool for all. Universal pre-k in Indiana is something state superintendent Glenda Ritz and Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg are advocating for.

Currently, the state provides pre-k scholarships for low income families through its pilot program, On My Way Pre-k. The pilot granted scholarships to a few thousand kids in five counties.

Five Indiana Schools Give Majority Of Teachers Poor Performance Ratings

This week, the department of education released data on teacher evaluation rankings in the state for the 2014-2015 school year, the most up to date data. (ArmyStrongPA/Flickr)

This week, the department of education released data on teacher evaluation rankings in the state for the 2014-2015 school year, the most up to date data. (ArmyStrongPA/Flickr)” credit=”

Five Indiana schools rate a majority of their teachers as ineffective or needing improvement.

This week, the department of education released data on teacher evaluation rankings in the state for the 2014-2015 school year, the most up to date data. The data included all public and charter schools.

Five schools reported more than 50 percent of their teachers received ineffective or needs improvement rating, the lowest categories.

They are Tindley Renaissance Academy in Indianapolis, Charter School of the Dunes in Gary, IN Math & Science Academy South in Indianapolis, Joseph Block Middle School in East Chicago and Andrew J. Brown Academy in Indianapolis. Four of the five are charter schools.

Despite the low rankings in these five schools, the overall number of teachers receiving lower evaluations continued to decrease for the third year in a row since major changes to toughen up state’s teacher evaluation system in 2011.

Currently, less than 2 percent of teachers statewide received these low rankings.

Douglas Harris, a professor at Tulane University, researches teacher evaluation systems around the country. He said this is a national trend for charter schools.

“Charter schools often but not always tend to be more outcome-driven and are more likely to be aggressive and rate teachers low and to dismiss low performing teachers,” Harris said.

He said traditional public teachers have comparatively higher ratings, nationwide.

Indiana does not have a standard statewide teacher evaluation, instead school districts determine evaluation standards and processes.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Joseph Block Middle School as a charter school. It is a public middle school in the School City of East Chicago.

Lead, Arsenic Fears Lead East Chicago School To Seek State Aid

In this file photo, state education board member Eddie Melton listens during a meeting last year. At Melton's request, the board approved Carrie Gosch Elementary to receive disaster relief from the state. (Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

In this file photo, state education board member Eddie Melton listens during a state board of education meeting last year. At Melton’s request, the board approved Carrie Gosch Elementary to apply for disaster relief from the state. (Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

About 430 students from Carrie Gosch Elementary School will be relocated to a new school across East Chicago after toxic chemicals were found in nearby soil.

The highest levels of lead and arsenic were found in the West Calumet Housing Complex located next to the school, but a small portion of lead was also found on a corner of school grounds.

Students will instead attend class in a closed, former middle school across the city.

“The most important thing was to make sure that these students right now have a safe place to be when school starts,” said Eddie Melton, a state board of education member.

Melton represents the congressional district where the school is located.

At Melton’s request, the state board approved the district to apply for a disaster loan to combat the situation at Wednesday’s state board of education meeting. The district has not announced how much money it will request.

As The Munster Times reports, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it’s not technically necessary to close the school down from a public safety standpoint, but school officials opted for a cautious approach.

A Carrie Gosch parent told the Times that she was relieved that students would be going to a different school, since she was concerned that students who walk to school might track lead and arsenic into school even if it’s now uncontaminated.

Education Department Seeks $4 Million In Damages After ISTEP Debacle

At Wednesday’s State Board of Education meeting, state superintendent Glenda Ritz said the state is seeking $4 million in damages from the state's former testing vendor. (Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

At Wednesday’s State Board of Education meeting, state superintendent Glenda Ritz said the state is seeking $4 million in damages from the state’s former testing vendor. (Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Department of Education is seeking $4 million in damages from the company that created last year’s problem-filled ISTEP+ test.

The state accuses CTB, now Data Recognition Corporation, of not living up to contractual duties after the company substantially delayed releasing 2015 ISTEP+ scores.

At Wednesday’s State Board of Education meeting, state superintendent Glenda Ritz said the state sent a letter to the Califonia-based testing company asking for damages. Indiana’s four-year, $95 million contract with CTB, entitles the department to damages, should the company fail to perform.

“We have been expecting a response regarding that demand letter,” Ritz said. “We have not yet received a response.”

A provision in the CTB testing contract caps damages at 10 percent, or about $2.3 million. Ritz said the a request of $4 million dollars is “appropriate” because of damages the state sustained during last school year.

Since ISTEP+ scores play heavily into formulas that calculate student grades, school ratings, teacher evaluation and teacher pay, the delays set off a chain reaction throughout the state, prompting the General Assembly to take action to minimize the damage.

Department spokesperson Daniel Altman said the department has been working with the attorney general, but no lawsuit has formally been filed.

“We’re obviously still reserving any rights that we may have, should things get to that point,” Altman said.

Continue Reading

ISTEP+ Panel Explores Options For New High School Standardized Test

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Karla Egan, a testing expert, speaks to the panel making recommendations for the update to the state’s new assessment system. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

INDIANAPOLIS — High school students in Indiana schools will soon face a new standardized test, but it’s exact characteristics are still undetermined.

This new version of the high school test was the focal point during Tuesday’s meeting by the panel that will recommend how to replace the state’s current assessment, known as ISTEP+.

Federal law says schools must test students at least once in high school. In Indiana that currently happens in 10th grade.

Until recently, 10th grade students were tested at the end of English 10 and Algebra I with tests developed specifically for those classes. During the 2015-16 school year, students instead took a 10th grade version of the ISTEP+.

A state law passed earlier this year, killed the ISTEP+ in its current form. Tuesday’s discussion surrounded what alternative options schools would have going forward.

Blackford County Schools superintendent Scot Croner, proposed the idea of creating a personal system for each student to determine if they’re ready to graduate.

“What I would advocate is at the onset of a student’s high school career, they would sit down, meet with the guidance counselor and the parents with the educators in the room and they would develop a four year plan for that student,” Croner said. “And a part of that component is they would make a determination what graduation assessment best fits that student’s particular needs.”

Croner said he recognizes that not every district has the capacity provide such a service. Still, he said he wants to start with the perfect scenario and scale back from there.

Croner also advocated the panel recommend using the SAT or ACT as the high school test component, rather than creating a separate 10th grade version of ISTEP+.

But Karla Egan, who works at EdMetric LLC and is chairperson of the Indiana Technical Advisory Committee, advised against this. She’s a nationally recognized expert in state-level assessment and standard setting.

“For the purposes of a [graduation qualifying exam] and measuring your standards, I don’t know if it’s the best fit,” Egan said.

Egan explained the ACT and SAT were designed to help colleges determine whether a student is ready to enter a university, not to determine whether they are ready to leave high school.

The legislation that created the ISTEP+ panel requires the group to submit recommendations to the legislature by Dec. 1.

At September’s meeting the panel plans to begin discussions on how to change the test for students in grades three through eight, another state and federal requirement.

Indiana Lifeline Law Includes Text To 911

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Indiana’s Lifeline Law provides immunity from underage drinking charges to minors who seek help for themselves or others. (photo credit: Gretchen Frazee/WTIU News)

Educating young people about Indiana’s Lifeline Law this year has a new focus – Text to 911. It’s the latest edition of what’s become a back-to-school tradition.

The Lifeline Law provides immunity from underage drinking charges to minors who seek help for themselves or others. And it applies not just to those who call 911, but those who text it as well.

State Treasurer Kelly Mitchell – who chairs the Statewide 911 Board – says texting allows dispatchers to more easily follow up on 911 hang-ups, citing a recent example.

“The caller who hung up ended up being a student who thought they had alcohol poisoning and they were worried about getting in trouble if they called for help,” Mitchell says.

Text to 911 services have been offered in some areas since 2014 and reached all counties last month. Still, far less than one percent of 911 communications are via text – which Mitchell says should go up as awareness campaigns roll out.

“Especially to inform out of state students of the Text to 911 capabilities because while we have this in Indiana, as you heard most other states don’t,” she says.

Mitchell says calling 911 is still preferred, but if texting, students should include their location first, then as much detail about the incident as possible.

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