Indiana’s A-to-F school grades may say a little about whether schools are effective, but they appear to say a lot more about how many poor children attend the schools.
The 2013 grades, approved recently by the Indiana State Board of Education, track pretty closely with the percentage of children who qualify for free and reduced-price school lunches. The fewer poor kids, the higher the grades, and vice versa.
This is no surprise. Matthew Di Carlo of the Shanker Institute showed it was the case with his analysis of Indiana’s 2012 school grades. And a look at the 2013 grades shows not much has changed.
Like Di Carlo, I divided Indiana schools into four equal-sized groups according to their percentage of free and reduced-price lunch (FRL) students, then looked at the number of As, Bs, etc., in each group. (He used only elementary and middle schools; this analysis includes all schools with grades and FRL data).
A few highlights:
- Among low-poverty schools, nearly three-fourths got As and almost nine of 10 got As or Bs.
- Low-poverty schools were three-and-a-half times as likely to get an A as high-poverty schools.
- Barely 2 percent of low-poverty schools got Ds and Fs; among high-poverty schools, 42 percent got Ds and Fs.
- Low-poverty schools were nearly 40 times more likely to get an A or B than a D or F; high-poverty schools were more likely to get a D or F than an A or B.
- 79 percent of all Fs went to schools in the high-poverty group.
It’s a fundamental principle of government transparency: When a government agency spends the public’s money, the public should know who is getting paid and how much.
That’s why it’s disturbing that the Indiana Department of Education rejected requests from the Monroe County Community School Corp. and the Bloomington Herald-Times for information about students who receive state vouchers to attend private schools.
This isn’t a clear-cut case. It pits the principles of transparency and accountability against reasonable concerns about privacy. If the state discloses information about voucher recipients, should it also reveal who receives need-based state aid for college? Should it name people who get food stamps or other public assistance?
Disclosing information about individual students also could run afoul of the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act. The H-T appealed the denial of its request to state Public Access Counselor Luke Britt; and Britt cited FERPA in upholding the DOE decision.
But FERPA seems to make less sense as grounds for withholding data from the MCCSC. It is entrusted, after all, with information about 10,000 students who attend local schools. Continue reading
Gov. Mike Pence’s support for state-funded preschool could turn out to be a breakthrough for Indiana. It would be nice if he didn’t call his proposal a voucher plan. But its name matters less than its content, and we’re still waiting to see what that will be.
Here’s a suggestion: If the governor is serious about preschool, he should craft a plan that Democrats and public education advocates, not just voucher proponents, can support.
A lot of Indiana Republicans are from the old school that thinks government has no business spending money on early childhood education. They don’t buy into the many studies that show high-quality preschool makes a difference for kids. They’d prefer for every 4-year-old to be at home with Mommy while Daddy goes to work.
It took the state’s GOP leaders five years to approve funding for full-day kindergarten. And they still haven’t agreed that children need to be in school before age 7.
These folks can’t be counted on to support a state preschool program, even if it’s called a voucher program and even if parents can spend the money at private or church-based preschools as well as public preschools. Continue reading
School-choice advocates argue that children will get a better education if they can leave public schools for charter or private schools, especially in urban areas. The Indiana Growth Model tells a different story.
It suggests public schools, overall, are performing better than charter schools or the private schools — most of them religious schools – that are getting state vouchers.
The growth model is a statistical tool that measures students’ test-score gains compared to those of students with similar academic histories. It may not be perfect, and critics argue that it shouldn’t be over-used. But it’s unquestionably a better measure of school effectiveness than standardized test scores or school grades, which have been shown to correlate closely to student demographics.
You can download 2012-13 growth scores for all the schools in the state from the Indiana Department of Education website. Sort and rank them, and what do they show? Continue reading
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