Brown v. Board of Education at 60: ‘Separate but equal’ lives on

Comic and civil rights activist Dick Gregory used to tweak northern liberal hypocrisy on race with a routine that went something like this: “In the South, they don’t care how close I get, as long as I don’t get too big. In the North, they don’t care how big I get, as long as I don’t get too close.”

It’s an appropriate thought as the nation marks the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision outlawing racial segregation of schools. We can congratulate ourselves on the fact that minorities have made substantial legal and economic progress. But in our schools, white children and children of color – and rich kids and poor kids – still don’t get too close.

After a few years of progress, schools across America have become more segregated, the Civil Rights Project at UCLA and the Center for Education Policy Analysis at Stanford have documented. Schools in the South have re-segregated; but the most flagrant racial separation is in New York.

As Richard Rothstein at the Economic Policy Institute has shown, school integration worked for the short time we tried it. But we abandoned the idea for compensatory education: “separate but equal” redux.

Schools that are mostly white, black or Hispanic are the norm in most of America, Lesli A. Maxwell reports in Education Week. It’s rare for a white child to attend a school where more than 25 percent of the students are nonwhite. But Maxwell also notes that schools are segregated by wealth. She quotes Kansas City, Mo., Mayor Sylvester James Jr.: “Access to high-quality education is tied just as hard, and just as fast, to poverty and socioeconomics as it was to race.” Continue reading

School voucher backers help oust pro-union Republican

State Sen. John Waterman is as solid a conservative as you’ll find: a former sheriff who is tough on crime, 100 percent pro-gun, stingy with money and endorsed by Indiana Right to Life. He has just one flaw, and for a Republican politician, it’s fatal. He supports unions, including teachers’ unions that back public schools.

That was enough to get him taken out in last week’s GOP primary after representing his rural Western Indiana district since 1994. The Indiana Chamber of Commerce put a target on his back, ostensibly because he voted against the so-called right-to-work law that Indiana adopted in 2012. The Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity threw in with undisclosed funding for ads.

But key money – big, late contributions that may have helped push his opponent, Eric Bassler, over the top – came from forces whose agenda is promoting private school vouchers. Bassler won with 51.3 percent of the vote, even though the Senate Republican caucus backed Waterman.

Bassler got $15,230 in the week before the election from Hoosiers for Economic Growth, which is not funded by Hoosiers and doesn’t focus on economic growth. It functions as the Indiana arm of American Federation for Children, a national pro-voucher group led by mega-donor Betsy DeVos.

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Indiana’s NCLB waiver mess may not be as bad as it looks

Indiana’s rejection of Common Core standards and its foot-dragging over creating a new testing system earned it a stern rebuke from the U.S. Department of Education. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s about to lose its waiver from requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act.

New American Foundation policy analyst Anne Hyslop, who tracks NCLB waiver developments, said Indiana may be able to meet the conditions for keeping and extending its waiver. It depends on whether the feds want to play hardball. And there are some indications they may not.

For Indiana, the biggest hurdle may be a requirement that it administer tests aligned with “college and career ready” standards by 2015. State law says Indiana must continue to use the ISTEP exam next year, and ISTEP isn’t considered a measure of college and career readiness.

“This could be a problem, but it’s really anyone’s guess how the department will work with the states and what the next steps will be,” Hyslop told me.

The Education Department awarded Indiana an NCLB waiver in 2012 based on the state’s adoption of Common Core and its participation in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, a consortium developing tests aligned with the new standards. But state lawmakers turned against Common Core and this year repealed their adoption. Indiana withdrew from PARCC to create its own tests.

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On charter schools, the ‘story is in the variation’

Macke Raymond tends to have a favorable view of charter schools, but she’s quick to point out the sector includes effective schools and others that are not so good.

“The story is in the variation,” Raymond, director of Stanford’s CREDO and the author of the best-known studies of charter schools, told an Indiana University audience recently.

That’s true in Indiana, where a lot of variation seems tied to who authorized the schools. A 2012 CREDO study found that schools authorized by the mayor of Indianapolis did better than other charter schools, most of them authorized by Ball State University.

A look at high-poverty schools – where more than 80 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch – shows the pattern held for ISTEP results in 2013, the last year for which scores are available. Over 70 percent of students in mayor-sponsored schools passed the tests, compared with less than 60 percent in other charters.

charter-schools-by-authorizer

This slicing of the data follows a post last month that found high-poverty district schools had better test results than high-poverty charter schools. Someone suggested comparing high-poverty charter schools with urban district schools, because most high-poverty charter schools are in cities. So I did; with Indianapolis Public Schools. Continue reading

Listening to teachers

Teachers are passionate about their work. They love their daily interactions with students, value collaborating with each other and feel strongly about the importance of public schools. They’re also frustrated by accountability mandates that make it harder to do their jobs. But they see value in some required tests, and they aren’t letting the annoyances keep them from doing their jobs.

Those are a few take-away messages from a panel discussion this week by seven Bloomington teachers: Sheila McDermott-Sipe and Kathleen Mills from Bloomington High School South, Kathy Loser and Greg Chaffin of Bloomington High School North, Megan Somers-Glenn of Marlin Elementary and Erika Peek and Ben Strawn of Summit Elementary. Some highlights:

      • Support is important. McDermott-Sipe said the local district’s adopting of Professional Learning Communities to facilitate collaboration was “a wonderful, wonderful development.” Mills said reading intervention staff, funded by a 2010 tax referendum, have been “life changing in high school.”
      • Panelists feel strongly about public education and fear it’s threatened by forces that, as Somers-Glenn said, “want to make money from our children.” Loser urged people in the audience to read Diane Ravitch’s book “Reign of Error” and vote for candidates who support public schools.
      • Strawn, who teaches third grade, said rounds of standardized tests and a state-required 90-minute block of uninterrupted reading instruction don’t leave enough time and flexibility for creative teaching. He said IREAD-3, the state’s third-grade retention test, puts “incredible stress on teachers.”
      • At the high school level, high-stakes assessments for sophomore English and algebra produce stress. But McDermott-Sipe said NWEA tests help tailor teaching to student’s needs. Mills said standardized tests don’t drive her teaching. “I definitely don’t feel I’m living a life of test prep,” she said.
      • Loser and Chaffin highlighted the fact that schools are about more than academics. Both talked about the importance of clubs, activities and informal relationships in keeping high-school students engaged – and not just sports and band but book clubs, groups for LGBT youth and international students, counseling groups, etc.
      • Teachers like talking about why they love their jobs and how much they enjoy their students. In an anecdote that could only happen in a public school, Mills said she overheard two students talking about their parents. One’s father went to Harvard; the other’s mother went to hairdressing school. The students, she said, were genuinely curious about each other’s families and their experiences.

The Monroe County Coalition for Public Education sponsored the discussion because teachers’ voices are often missing from public debates over education policy. Teachers are busy and many don’t have time for politics and public advocacy. They won’t all agree with each other. But when they talk about their work and their schools, those of us who claim to care about education should listen.

On Common Core, Indiana declares victory

Back in 1966, when things were starting to go bad in Vietnam, Vermont Sen. George Aiken famously suggested the U.S. should “declare victory” and get out. Did Indiana Gov. Mike Pence just pull an Aiken on the Common Core State Standards?

For a conservative politician with alleged presidential ambitions – i.e., for Mike Pence – the Common Core had the makings of a quagmire. The business community was for it. But to the Republican base, it was anathema, tainted by support from the White House.

Pence’s answer was to declare victory and move on, to reject the Core on principle but embrace standards that, by some accounts, are awfully similar. The State Board of Education approved the new standards Monday..

Indiana adopted the Common Core in 2010, and schools were transitioning to using them. But state legislators caught the anti-Core fever. First they “paused” the standards, and then they repealed them.

Pence got in front of the parade, calling for “uncommonly high” standards “written by Hoosiers, for Hoosiers.” And in the Indy Star, he insisted that’s what he got from a panel of teachers, professors and business people who worked from the Common Core and Indiana’s old standards to create a new set.

“Here in Indiana,” he wrote, “we will use our own standards, we will use our own assessment, and our schools and teachers will choose their own textbooks and curricula. We have proven once again that Hoosiers are best served by Indiana solutions.”

Diehard Common Core opponents fumed that the new state standards are just the Core rebranded. Continue reading

Indiana charter schools lag on serving ELL students

Do charter schools serve their fair share of English Language Learners? It’s not a new question, and across the country, answers have sometimes been hard to get.

In Indiana, data suggest the answer is: Not yet. At least that appears to be the case in urban areas, where most charters are located and where public school districts tend to enroll the most ELL students.

Using 2012-13 figures, the latest available on the Indiana Department of Education website, we get the following for ELL enrollment:

Indianapolis Public Schools attendance district:

  • IPS schools – 13.5 percent
  • Charter schools – 8.2 percent

Marion County, including IPS and the Indianapolis township schools:

  • District schools – 12 percent
  • Charter schools – 7.6 percent

Lake County(some of which isn’t urban):

  • District schools – 5.8 percent
  • Charter schools – 3.7 percent

ELL_bar_graphThese data don’t include Indy charter schools that opened last fall, two of which — Enlace Academy and Excel Center at Lafayette Square — have high ELL enrollment. With data from Brandon Brown, director of charter schools for the Indianapolis mayor’s office, here are more up-to-date figures: Continue reading

Teacher evaluation flap is much ado about not so much

It’s a problem with being a legislator. You pass a law, and you expect everyone will fall in line. And sometimes it doesn’t work that way.

Case in point: Indiana’s teacher evaluations. Results were released last week, and they weren’t what some lawmakers had in mind when they mandated that all teachers be evaluated annually and rated highly effective, effective, needs improvement or ineffective.

Of the teachers who were rated – and quite a few weren’t, either because their districts have multi-year union contracts that supersede the law or for other reasons – over 97 percent were rated highly effective or effective.

Rep. Bob Behning, who sponsored the 2011 legislation in the House, told Chalkbeat Indiana the results showed the system wasn’t working. “We may have let there be too much local control,” he said. “There’s obviously too much subjectivity.”

Some thoughts:

It’s a new system. Even if you think the teacher ratings are a good idea, they’re a new way for schools to do business. The state didn’t provide any extra resources, leaving it to school principals to find time to do the evaluations themselves or scrape together money to hire and train evaluators. Many districts adopted the state’s RISE system and are learning to implement it. Others are creating their own systems. With either approach, they may be feeling their way.

Beware of unintended consequences. The law says any teacher rated ineffective or needs improvement can’t get a raise. As state Superintendent Glenda Ritz suggested, that creates a disincentive for low ratings. Suppose you’re a principal and you’re evaluating a new teacher who shows lots of promise but needs to get better. Do you rate the teacher “needs improvement,” deny a raise and risk driving away a potential future star?

Labels aren’t everything. The undifferentiated ratings don’t necessarily mean the evaluations were a waste of time. Maybe the classroom observations, consultations and data that were part of the evaluations will help teachers improve. “If, as is hoped, the feedback generated from these reviews is more helpful to teaching and learning, then perhaps the year-end score isn’t the most important thing to consider,” Stephen Sawchuk writes in Education Week.

The “bell curve” idea is nonsense. Len Farber nails this in a post for Indy Vanguard. If you randomly pulled people off the street and put them in a classroom, sure, you’d expect some to be lousy at teaching. But teachers have selected to teach. They’ve finished college; many are motivated enough to get a master’s degree. If they aren’t good at it, chances are they figure it out and leave the field. It’s not surprising that most would be competent.

It’s a myth that only in public education are most employees rated effective. California teacher-blogger Paul Bruno makes this point, citing an economics paper that examines why businesses don’t use employee evaluations to reward superior performance. The paper focuses on two large manufacturing firms where 95 percent of managers and professionals were rated good or excellent.

Finally, in nearly 40 years of working in the private and public sectors – and not as a teacher – I have never experienced annual evaluations as a tool for weeding out “bad” employees. I can recall maybe one time that a co-worker was urged to leave for being ineffective. Maybe I’ve been blessed with remarkably tolerant bosses. But I doubt my experience is that unusual.

Indiana schools worse than average for ‘discipline gap’

Indiana schools are among the nation’s leaders in an unfortunate category: the rate at which they suspend and expel students of color. That’s according to the Civil Rights Data Collection report issued last month by the Department of Education.

The report includes extensive data for 2011-12 from nearly all U.S. public schools and highlights equity issues ranging from availability of preschool to distribution of experienced teachers to access to challenging high school courses.

Some of the starkest disparities were in school discipline. Black students faced out-of-school suspension and expulsion at three times the rate for white students. And in Indiana, the numbers were higher:

  • 27 percent of African-American boys were suspended or expelled: the second-highest rate in the nation, tied with Missouri. The national rate was 20 percent.
  • 17 percent of multiracial boys were suspended or expelled. That’s second in the nation, tied with North Carolina and behind Florida. The national rate was 11 percent.
  • 16 percent of African-American girls were suspended or expelled, tied for second with Michigan and Missouri and behind Wisconsin. National rate: 12 percent.
  • 8 percent of multiracial girls were suspended or expelled, tied for second with several states and behind only Rhode Island. The national rate was 5 percent.

discipline-chart-revised

Indiana also had some of the largest racial gaps in suspension rates. Eight percent of white male students and 3 percent of white female students were suspended, as were 5 percent of Asian males and 1 percent of Asian females.

Some folks are sure to suggest poverty, class or culture, and not race, account for the disparities in discipline. But researchers with the Discipline Disparities Research-to-Practice Consortium, including Indiana University professor Russell Skiba, have shown it’s not that simple. There’s evidence that African-American youth are more likely to face harsh penalties for offenses that might draw a slap on the wrist for others.

At any rate, discipline is an educational issue, not just a civil rights issue. When kids are suspended or expelled, they aren’t learning, and they’re arguably apt to become discouraged and alienated. As Skiba, Anne Gregory and Pedro Noguera argued in a 2010 paper, the discipline gap and the achievement gap may be “two sides of the same coin.”

More evidence against the myth of charter school superiority

Conventional public schools in Indiana are doing better than charter schools when it comes to helping the state’s poorest children achieve passing grades on state tests. Not a lot better, but enough that it should give pause to those who assume charter schools are superior and we need more of them.

This claim rests on a simple comparison of 2013 ISTEP-Plus passing rates for charter schools and district public schools where more than 80 percent of students qualified for free and reduced-price school lunches. On average, students in the district public schools were more likely to pass the tests.

Now this isn’t sophisticated research, and it certainly doesn’t prove charter schools are inferior. It looks only at the schools’ overall passing rates for math and English/language arts exams, which of course make up just one small measure of school effectiveness. It says nothing about individual schools.

But neither should the result be particularly surprising. It meshes with what University of Illinois professors Christopher Lubienski and Sarah Theule Lubienski have found: that conventional public schools, on the whole, outperform not only charter schools but also private schools. Continue reading