It’s a mystery. Why are people who call themselves education reformers comfortable with the status quo when it comes to poverty and economic inequality? Why are they OK with social circumstances that are convenient for adults but aren’t good for children?
Why can’t we talk about poverty and the challenges it presents for schools without being charged with excusing failure? As Adam VanOsdol of Indiana Education Insight noted recently: “Anyone raising the poverty issue these days gets accused of letting schools off the hook. These allegations stand in the way of serious form.”
Folks in the reform community like to say schools are the solution to poverty. Certainly good schools are part of what’s needed. But to suggest schools by themselves can solve the problem is naïve. And to suggest there’s nothing we can do is just giving up.
Just for a start, we could:
- Raise the minimum wage.
- Quit passing laws to weaken unions.
- Create a fairer tax system.
- Fund safety-net programs like food stamps, housing and unemployment.
- Ensure people have access to health care.
And, yes, we could take on the shameful segregation of America’s education system Continue reading
Parents are using Indiana school vouchers and tax-credit scholarships to provide their children with religious education at taxpayer expense. That’s the finding that jumps out from a recent survey of private school parents by three pro-voucher Indiana organizations.
The survey found that more than half of parents who used vouchers to transfer their kids to private schools did so in part because they didn’t like the fact that public schools don’t teach religion. And more than two-thirds chose their current school for its religious instruction or environment.
That’s not the only motive parents listed. Survey participants were invited to check multiple reasons, and many did. The most common: Three in five disliked the “academic quality” of their public school; nearly 80 percent chose their current school for “academics.”
The Friedman Foundation, which conducted the survey with School Choice Indiana and the Indiana Non-Public Education Association, seized on that result. “Survey: Voucher parents chose private schools for better academics,” says the headline on its press release about the results.
But academic quality means different things to different people. (I guarantee it has very different meaning for me than for some of my close friends). Continue reading
Lewis Ferebee is doing so many things right in his new gig as superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools. Let’s hope his support for legislation to let IPS partner with charter schools and try new methods to improve district schools is one of them.
He is making a persuasive case for the measure, House Bill 1321, by arguing that IPS needs every tool it can find to meet the needs of its mostly low-income clientele and to compete for students with charter schools and voucher-eligible private schools.
But he is walking a fine line in his efforts to promote the legislation without alienating supporters of public schools, especially teachers – a sign of how polarized Indiana’s education politics have become after years of union-bashing and IPS-bashing.
HB 1321 would give IPS authority to do two things:
- Convert low-performing schools to “innovation network” schools, which would continue to serve IPS neighborhoods but would have charter school-like autonomy to hire staff, lengthen the school day or year, and change curriculum and instruction.
- Lease empty or underutilized buildings to charter schools, whose students would count as part of IPS for purposes of funding and state accountability.
“IPS supports HB 1321 because it will provide the district with innovative tools to improve academic achievement, increase student enrollment and provide families with a greater range of choices to meet their child’s educational needs,” says an IPS flier.
Everyone knows IPS has been a school district under siege. Continue reading
We’re at the midpoint of the 2014 Indiana legislative session. This week, the Senate will take up bills that were approved by the House and the House will consider bills passed by the Senate. It’s time to look at what kind of mischief our lawmakers are making.
- HB 1004 – This is arguably the best and worst education bill this year. Best because it creates a framework – finally – for Indiana to help fund preschool for low-income families. Worst because it opens yet another door to Indiana’s K-12 school voucher system. The House vote was 87-9, with most Democrats swallowing the poison pill of voucher expansion to keep alive the long-deferred hope of having Indiana join the 40 states that already fund preschool.
- HB 1047 – Says students who attend online charter schools must be allowed to participate in school sports for the public high school in whose district they live. You’d think Republican legislators who profess to support local control would think twice about issuing such a mandate. The vote was 51-44.
- HB 1064 – Calls for a “return on investment and utilization study” of career education programs. Part of Gov. Mike Pence’s education agenda, it passed by a vote of 94-0.
- HB 1321 – Lets Indianapolis Public Schools establish “innovation network schools” that could be run by charter school operators or by groups of IPS educators. Continue reading
Indiana’s voucher initiative was billed as a way to help poor children, many of them black and Hispanic, escape low-performing urban public schools. But it’s shifting rapidly to a program that serves middle-class white families, according to data released this week.
It’s also getting a lot bigger, but we already knew that. The number of students getting taxpayer dollars to attend mostly religious private schools more than doubled this year, to 19,809 students, the Indiana Department of Education reported.
But the demographic shift is equally striking. White students receiving vouchers grew from 46.4 percent in 2011-12, the program’s first year, to 56.4 percent this year. The percentage of black students among recipients has declined by a third in just two years.
To what extent are white parents using state-funded vouchers to pull their children out of racially integrated public schools and send them to mostly white private schools? How often are we subsidizing moves from effective public schools to ineffective private schools? Those are among the questions that figures in the DOE report don’t answer.
We do know, thanks to State Impact Indiana, that a lot of parents are using vouchers to move their children to private schools that earned Ds or Fs on the state grading system. Continue reading
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence wants to provide financial incentives for teachers to transfer to charter schools or underperforming public schools. It’s an interesting idea, but other states have tried it with mixed results. Have we learned from their experience?
Included in Senate Bill 264, Pence’s proposal would give $10,000 a year for up to two years to any teacher who moves to a charter school where at least half the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches or any public school that got a grade of D or F.
The proposal raises questions. Here are a few:
- Why isn’t it targeted to schools that are likely to need help? Fifty percent free-and-reduced-price lunch isn’t exactly high-poverty; the average FRL rate for Indiana public schools is 49 percent. And nearly one in five schools got a D or F last year.
- Why not limit the program to teachers who are likely to be successful? A similar program in Washington, D.C., for example, requires teachers to have been rated “highly effective” to qualify for incentive payments. Not so the Indiana legislation. Continue reading
The Indiana State Board of Education approved A-to-F grades for public school corporations this week and – no surprise – the grades reflect poverty, just like the grades for individual schools do.
Among the state’s 289 school corporations, most low-poverty corporations got As and Bs. But nearly three-quarters of high-poverty corporations got a grade of C or worse.
School corporation grades reflect the same criteria that go into grades for individual schools: 2013 performance and growth on standardized tests for students in elementary and middle schools, and test results, graduation rates and “college and career readiness” factors for high schools. Corporation grades are prorated by the number of students in elementary-middle and high schools. Continue reading