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 But state lawmakers turned against Common Core and this year repealed their adoption.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 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 First they “paused” the standards, and then they repealed them.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

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

Preschool bill is one baby step for Hoosier-kind

It’s a start. A tiny one, for sure. But to use a cliché that for once is totally appropriate, you’ve got to walk before you can run. And in Indiana, we’re barely crawling when it comes to early childhood education.

House Bill 1004, which establishes a state-funded pilot program to help low-income parents send their children to preschool, was approved Thursday by the state House and Senate. The measure limits the program to five counties in its first year. It can be expanded later if lawmakers agree.

Best of all, the legislature dropped a provision that would have made participating preschoolers eligible for vouchers to attend private K-12 schools as they get older. As initially approved by the House, the bill had the potential to eventually make nearly half of Indiana students eligible for private-school vouchers.

Votes for the final version of the bill were 92-8 in the House and 40-8 in the Senate, with all the no votes by Republicans. It now goes to Gov. Mike Pence, who can sign it and claim the legislature approved one of his signature initiatives. Continue reading

Indiana voucher students getting whiter, less poor

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

NAEP results win praise for Indiana teachers and students

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

Indiana’s voucher program still all about religion

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