Did Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz head off a plan by Gov. Mike Pence to undercut her authority when she revealed parts of the governor’s legislative agenda the day before he announced it himself? Probably not, but we can wonder.
On Wednesday, after a testy meeting with the State Board of Education, Ritz told reporters the governor and his allies were trying to remove her as chair of the board.
Ritz’s staff produced a document – an Oct. 3 memo between officials with the Pence-created Center for Education and Career Innovation – that proposed doing just that. The memo, a summary of legislative proposals, said it’s a “problem” that Ritz chairs the board. Its proposed solution: Change the law to have Pence appoint the board chair.
The memo also called for: paying teachers bonuses to move to charter schools; treating charter-school networks like school districts for funding purposes; helping low-income families pay for preschool; taking over underused school buildings to potentially give them to charter schools; and awarding grants to teachers for innovative ideas.
On Thursday, Pence released his legislative proposals, and the education plank tracked closely to the Oct. 3 memo. One difference was that, instead of paying teachers to move to charter schools, he would pay them to work in schools that serve high-poverty areas. But as Scott Elliott of Chalkbeat Indiana notes, that probably means charter schools.
The other obvious difference: No proposal to remove Ritz as chair of the education board. Continue reading
Which Indiana school districts are the most effective at improving student achievement? Let’s hear it for Eastern Greene School District, a rural, high-poverty district in southern Indiana? And Southwest Dubois School Corp., another small, rural district.
How about the best big school district? Brownsburg Community Schools takes the prize. Some typically high-achieving schools — Carmel, Zionsville and Hamilton Southeastern — are also among the elite. But so are districts that aren’t thought of as high fliers, such as Elkhart, New Albany and Lawrence Township in Indianapolis.
Here’s another surprise. A few charter schools do great at promoting growth, but the overall record for charters is pretty mediocre. The same is true for private schools.
This is according to school ratings on the Indiana Growth Model, a statistical tool that assesses students’ annual improvement in test scores compared to that of others with similar academic histories. The model assigns a growth percentile score to each student.
Indiana has compiled median growth scores for schools and districts for years, but it has never made a big deal out of them. Yet the growth model is arguably a much better measure of school effectiveness than A-to-F school grades Continue reading
Indiana Public Access Counselor Luke Britt came down pretty hard on the State Board of Education for its recent end-run around the Indiana Open Door Law. But he concluded it didn’t violate the law.
Britt also suggested the legislature may want to close a loophole that let the education board take action on a controversial issue – Indiana’s A-to-F letter grades for schools — without public discussion of what it was doing.
“I encourage all public agencies to be especially attentive to the purpose of public access laws to avoid ambiguous situations and arousing suspicions of prohibited activities,” he wrote. “Regardless of intent, the appearance of action taken which is hidden from public view is particularly damaging to the integrity of a public agency and contrary to the purposes of transparency and open access.”
The dispute concerns an Oct. 16 letter from 10 of the 11 board members to legislative leaders, asking them to direct the Legislative Services Agency to calculate school grades, a task normally handled by Indiana Department of Education staff. Elected Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, who chairs the state board, wasn’t consulted and didn’t sign the letter.
Ritz sued, arguing the signing of the letter constituted an illegal secret meeting. But a judge ruled Ritz’s lawsuit was invalid because only the attorney general can sue on behalf of a state official. Tony Lux, Ed Eiler, Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer and Julie Hollingsworth took up the torch and filed a complaint with the public access counselor, an appointed state official charged with making sure public-access laws are followed. Continue reading
Signs are good that Indiana could make progress on state-funded preschool in the 2014 session of the state legislature. But signs have been good before, and there’s been little progress to date.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, in his organization day remarks Tuesday, listed early childhood education as one of four issues that “must be our top priorities this session.” And the influential state Chamber of Commerce, in its legislative playbook, cited Indiana’s “critical need for improved preschool opportunities, especially for low-income children whose families may not have the means to provide a high-quality preschool experience or to provide needed learning opportunities in the home.”
But it’s not like the chamber is going whole hog for state-funded preschool. It supports “a framework for the future development of publicly funded preschool initiatives for low-income families.” The programs need to be “focused on those families with greatest need, limited to initiatives that maintain parental choice, focused on concrete learning outcomes and integrated with reforms at the elementary school level …” Lots of caveats there.
Some might argue the legislature created such a framework last spring when it authorized a matching-grant program to help low-income families pay for preschool. But it budgeted only $2 million a year – enough, according to the Family and Social Service Administration, to help about 2 percent of the nearly 22,000 4-year-olds living in poverty in the state. Continue reading
Indiana had a pretty good bump in the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress scores that were released last week. Who gets the credit? It’s unanimous.
- Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz: “This is yet another sign of the hard work and dedication exhibited by our educators, administrators, parents, and most importantly, students.”
- Former state Superintendent Tony Bennett (via Twitter): “Indiana’s educators and students should be very proud of NAEP results. Your hard work is paying off!”
- House Education Committee chairman Robert Behning: The gain “validates that we have a lot of great teachers.”
If only they had stopped there. Bennett and others also pointed to the policy changes that he pushed in Indiana. “I think the policy framework we put in place afforded schools the opportunity to expect more of children, and I applaud the fact our children have answered that call,” he told Chalkbeat Indiana.
Most of those polices are just now being implemented, or they’re on too small a scale to have a noticeable impact on NAEP scores – with one exception: The requirement that third-graders pass a reading test, called IREAD-3, to be promoted to fourth grade. Continue reading
A judge may decide by Friday whether Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz can proceed with her Open Door Law complaint against the State Board of Education. Attorney General Greg Zoeller says she can’t — that only he can sue on her behalf. According to news coverage, the AG may have case law on his side.
But what does the Open Door Law say? “An action may be filed by any person in any court of competent jurisdiction … ” And, “The plaintiff need not allege or prove special damage different from that suffered by the public at large.”
Presumably Ritz is a person. You wouldn’t think she would give up her right of access to the courts by being elected to public office. Of course, my record on decoding what state law really means isn’t very good. Lacking a law degree, I tend to think the law means what it says, when obviously that’s not always the case.
Article 1, Section 6 of the Indiana Constitution, for example, says, “No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution.” That would seem nullify Indiana’s voucher program, Continue reading
A new study of preschool programs in Georgia and Oklahoma provides some of the strongest evidence yet that it’s past time for Indiana to join the move to state-supported early childhood education. The study, presented at a conference of the Brookings Institution, found the programs produced a range of benefits for children and families:
- Academic gains that continued into the eighth grade.
- Increased enrollment in preschool, especially for children from low-income families.
- More time spent by low-income parents reading, talking and playing with their kids.
- Less money spent on child care, leaving more for other activities.
Co-author Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach discussed the study last week in Bloomington as part of Indiana University’s Economics of Education Seminar series. She said it provides solid support for President Barack Obama’s Preschool for All proposal. “It makes so much sense from a policy perspective,” she said.
Previous studies, including analysis by Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman, have found significant benefits from preschool. But skeptics argue that much of the research is based on small, short-lived and relatively expensive programs like Michigan’s Perry Preschool. The new study focuses on large-scale programs that any state could replicate. Georgia and Oklahoma are unusual in having provided nearly universal access to free, high-quality preschool since the 1990s.
Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz was no doubt sending a message that she doesn’t intend to be pushed around when she sued the State Board of Education this week for violating the state’s Open Door Law. She may not win in court. But whether she gains anything by suing is another question.
The lawsuit also calls attention to an issue with the Open Door Law, which says the public’s business should be conducted in meetings that are open to the public. It’s a good law. But if governing bodies are determined to act in secret, they can find ways to do it.
At issue is the State Board of Education’s Oct. 16 letter to Indiana House and Senate leaders asking them to direct the Legislative Services Agency to calculate A-to-F grades for Indiana schools, something normally done by staff at Ritz’s Department of Education.
Ten of the 11 board members signed the letter. Ritz, who chairs the board, said she wasn’t told of the letter until it was delivered. She sued on Tuesday, alleging the other board members conducted an illegal secret meeting to draft and sign the letter.
Tension between Ritz and board members has been growing for months, and the letter and lawsuit take it to a new level. And the Department of Education news release announcing the suit suggests Ritz sees the board’s efforts to undercut her authority as being encouraged by Gov. Mike Pence, who appoints the board members. Continue reading
Now in its third year, Indiana’s school voucher program continues to be primarily about one thing: providing taxpayer support for Christian education.
Look at the numbers. There are 314 Indiana schools that are eligible to receive vouchers, according to the state Department of Education. By my count, only 11 are not religious schools. And only four of the religious schools are not Christian schools.
Indiana’s program has been in the news recently with reports that over 20,000 students applied for vouchers this fall, more than twice as many as last year. It’s now the second-biggest voucher program in the country, on track to surpass Milwaukee and become No. 1.
The growth comes even though, as Stephanie Simon pointed out recently in Politico, “there’s little evidence that the investment (in vouchers) yields academic gains.”
Voucher supporters, like Indianapolis Star columnist Matthew Tully, argue the program is good because it lets more parents choose the school they think is best for their children. But as public-education advocates have begun pointing out, “school choice” is an apt name for the program – because the schools, not just parents, get to choose. Continue reading
Nonprofit education news coverage is coming to Indiana, and that’s something to welcome. Scott Elliott has left the Indianapolis Star to become editor of Chalkbeat Indiana, an online news outlet that will cover schools and education policy.
Chalkbeat is an initiative of the Education News Network, which formed early this year in a merger of two respected education news organizations, Gotham Schools in New York and Ed News Colorado. The network is also starting an education news site in Tennessee.
Plans call for the Indiana site to launch in early 2014 with a four-person staff. And it will have plenty to cover: the growth of Indiana’s voucher and charter-schools programs, tension between Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz and the State Board of Education, the implementation of performance-based teacher evaluations and the political fight over Common Core – not to mention the great stories that can be found in Indiana schools every day.
“We’re going to cover educational change with a focus on the Indianapolis Public School District and other schools across the city,” Elliott tells edu-blogger Alexander Russo. “At the state policy level, we’ll cover the state board of education, the education department and the legislature. There will be a focus on key high impact issues.”
The School Matters blog started out of frustration over the lack of education news reporting, especially at the level of state policy and politics. Now we’ve got NPR’s State Impact Indiana providing solid coverage, soon to be joined by Chalkbeat Indiana. Continue reading