Indiana update: Quality Counts grades, voucher decision, Finnish education

Indiana leads the nation with its educational standards, assessments and accountability, according to this year’s Quality Counts report.

But overall, the state’s education system is barely above average. Indiana earns C+ and is ranked 22nd among the states by Quality Counts, an annual initiative from Editorial Projects in Education that tracks education indicators and grades the states on their policies and outcomes. The state’s grades in sub-areas include:

– C for “chance for success,” which includes family income, parent education, preschool and kindergarten enrollment and adult educational attainment.

– D+ for K-12 achievement, including National Assessment of Educational Progress scores, high school graduation rates, achievement gaps and AP exam scores.

– A (and No. 1 among the states) for standards, assessments and accountability, with the latter category encompassing Indiana’s A-F rating system for schools and sanctions for low-performing schools.

– D for efforts to improve teaching, such as teacher education, licensing and pay. This score is likely to improve next year when Indiana schools implement a mandated teacher-evaluation system.

– C- for school finance. Indiana does OK for spending equity between districts but ranks low for per-pupil spending, even when adjusted for regional cost differences.

– B+ for education alignment, including school readiness, high-school-to-college transitions and workforce and career preparation.

Voucher lawsuit setback

It was disappointing but not surprising that a judge ruled last week against the parents, teachers and religious leaders who challenged Indiana’s private-school voucher program. As Indiana University’s Center on Evaluation and Education Policy explained last fall, the “choice scholarship” program was carefully crafted to withstand legal challenges.

Marion County Superior Judge Michael Keele ruled that the voucher law doesn’t violate provisions of the Indiana Constitution that call for a uniform system of common schools, prohibit people from having to support religion against their consent, and bar the use of state money to support religion.

There’s no question that the vouchers, which go almost entirely to Catholic and Evangelical Christian schools, amount to using state money to support religion. But Keele says it’s OK, because the state isn’t choosing which religious institutions get funding — parents are making that decision.

The Indiana State Teachers Association, which is supporting the lawsuit, says the decision will be appealed.

Finnish lessons

Folks in the Bloomington can hear this Friday about what’s behind Finland’s educational success. Pali Sahlberg, director general of the Centre for International Mobility and Cooperation in the Finnish education ministry, will speak at 1:20 p.m. in Wylie Hall 005 on the Indiana University campus.

Sahlberg is the author of Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn From Educational Change in Finland?, which explains how Finland transformed itself from educational mediocrity to powerhouse. Since 2000, its students have scored at or near the top on international assessments.

Sahlberg writes in Education Week that Finland imported good ideas from other countries and developed reforms through consensus with teachers and local education officials.

“Finally,” he writes, “the key driver of education-development policy in Finland has been providing equal and positive learning opportunities for all children and securing their well-being, including their nutrition, health, safety, and overall happiness. Finnish authorities, in this regard, have defied international convention. They have not endorsed student testing and school ranking as the path to improvement, but rather focused on teacher preparation and retention; collaboration with teachers and their union representatives; early and regular intervention for children with learning disabilities; well-rounded curricula; and equitable funding of schools throughout the country.”

2 thoughts on “Indiana update: Quality Counts grades, voucher decision, Finnish education

  1. these make sense together, eh?

    — D+ for K-12 achievement, including National Assessment of Educational Progress scores, high school graduation rates, achievement gaps and AP exam scores.

    — A (and No. 1 among the states) for standards, assessments and accountability, with the latter category encompassing Indiana’s A-F rating system for schools and sanctions for low-performing schools.

    Also, re: Finland, will we hear that there’s something more to it than this simple fact: The lowest levels of child poverty are to be found in countries with relatively high social expenditures, including: France (7.9 percent), Finland (4.4 percent) and Sweden (2.6 percent).

    • Yeah, Doug, there’s an obvious disconnect on standards and achievement – which does call into question the credibility of the standards and assessment ratings. I’m actually surprised Indiana ranks that low in achievement. Some other reports (NSF science/math indicators, out this week) seem to suggest that Indiana is below average on inputs (spending, etc.) but slightly above average in outputs (NAEP scores, grad rates). Possible conclusion: Indiana teachers and students do more with less. As usual, it depends on what you include and how you weight things.

      Re: Finland, the knock is always that it’s a small, homogenous country and its experience doesn’t apply to us. I’m not an expert, but I’m not sure it’s that demographically different from other European countries that don’t do nearly as well on PISA. I’m just intrigued with with the idea that they emphasized equity, not excellence – that’s where my heart is in this debate. And the statement in the Atlantic article: There are no private schools in Finland!

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