Why Title I funds were cut for Indiana charter schools

Indiana charter school operators were alarmed to learn that many of the schools were slated for unexpected cuts in their 2015-16 allocations under the federal Title I program. What happened?

Michelle McKeown of the Indiana Charter School Board says the glitch appears to result from the way the Indiana Department of Education determined school free and reduced-price lunch counts for purposes of allocating the funds. And it is tied to the participation by some high-poverty school districts in the new Community Eligibility program, in which all students get free school lunches.

McKeown makes a persuasive case that the education department calculated Title I funding using Community Eligibility data for school districts but used different data for charter schools.

“This is the only explanation that makes sense to me,” McKeown, the interim executive director of the charter school board, told me. “I think it’s very clear they used different sets of data.”

It’s worth noting that, even with the cuts, some charter schools still get more Title I money per student than the local districts. And some charter schools got increases. But the situation has political resonance because Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, who heads the state education department, is lukewarm on charter schools. Some of her critics seemed to suspect treachery.

Daniel Altman, spokesman for the Indiana Department of Education, declined to comment on McKeown’s conclusions but said the department used the same formula to allocate Title I funding that has been used for over a decade. He said some schools had errors in data they submitted, which can have an effect on the allocations.

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Seattle teachers bargain for students; Indiana teachers can’t

Congratulations to Seattle’s teachers. After a five-day strike, they won a contract that increases teacher pay by 9.5 percent over three years. Just as significantly, the deal includes benefits for students: guaranteed recess and the creation of panels to address racial disparities in discipline and learning.

It would be nice to think Indiana teachers and school boards might follow that example and bargain for contract provisions that help children. But they can’t. It’s against the law.

Thanks to school reform laws that the state legislature approved in 2011, teacher collective bargaining in Indiana can deal with salary, wages and fringe benefits – and nothing else.

Then-Gov. Mitch Daniels led the fight to limit collective bargaining, ridiculing teacher contracts for focusing on trivia. Unions go too far, he said, “when they dictate the color of the teachers’ lounge, who can monitor recess, or on what days the principal is allowed to hold a staff meeting.”

No doubt some contracts were loaded with red tape. When there’s no money on the table, sometimes you bargain for other things. But the idea that teachers would only bargain for side benefits that are bad for kids – pushed implicitly by Daniels and some legislators – doesn’t add up. As an Indiana State Teachers Association lobbyist told lawmakers in 2011, teachers’ working conditions tend to be students’ learning conditions.

The Seattle contract, which teachers and other school employees approved Sunday, also includes changes in school-day and teacher-evaluation rules and creation of a district-union committee to study ways to reduce the impact of excessive testing. The vote was strongly in favor of the deal despite concerns that teacher pay falls short in a city with one of the highest costs of living in the country.

Some experts say the agreement, with its focus on what’s good for students, is a harbinger of things to come. “Teachers are positioning themselves to be about much more than raising their own pay,” University of Illinois professor Bob Bruno told the Associated Press.

But if student-focused bargaining becomes a trend, Indiana will be left behind.


Are charter schools public? Washington court says no

This month’s Washington Supreme Court ruling on charter schools should at the very least spark discussion of whether charter schools are public schools.

In a 6-3 decision, the court said they aren’t. It reasoned that the lack of local control and accountability means charters don’t qualify as “common schools” in the language of the state constitution.

The court found that “if a school is not controlled by a public body, then it should not have access to public funds,” writes Wayne Au, a plaintiff on the case. “The logic is simple and compelling, and opponents of public school privatization in this country need to spread that message far and wide.”

Charter supporters insist, of course, that charter schools are public schools. The argument goes something like this: Charter schools receive public funds and don’t charge tuition. They enroll all students for whom there’s room. And charter school laws are enacted by elected legislators.

But in Indiana, over 300 private schools get public funding in the form of vouchers, often enough to cover the full cost of tuition. No one argues that they are now public schools. And charter schools may be open to all, but they tend to attract students whose parents are savvy enough to apply and enter enrollment lotteries and have the means to provide their children with transportation.

The big difference, though, is public control. Continue reading

Grading pause an easy call? Not in Indiana

Glenda Ritz called a meeting of the State Board of Education in February 2015 to suggest pausing Indiana’s A-to-F school accountability system to let teachers and students adapt to new standards.

But board members would have none it. They deleted the state superintendent of public instruction’s proposal from the agenda without even acknowledging it – then questioned why she called the meeting.

Glenda Ritz (Department of Education photo)

Glenda Ritz (Department of Education photo)

Gov. Mike Pence also acted as if pausing accountability were some kind of radical idea. “We grade students every day in Indiana,” he said. “We should be willing to grade schools once every year.”

Never mind that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan had invited states to request the delay under waivers from strict requirements of the No Child Left Behind law. The rationale was that school ratings would suffer as states rolled out new tests aligned with the Common Core standards. Indiana dumped Common Core but adopted new standards that, educators say, are quite similar.

Ritz made her proposal again in the summer, arguing schools should get a pass on having their grades drop as a result of tougher tests. This time the board didn’t refuse to talk, but members suggested that only the legislature had the authority to pause accountability.

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Why Indiana has charter schools and Kentucky doesn’t

Indiana has one of the most active charter school programs in the nation while Kentucky has no charter schools, not even a law that allows them. How did that come about?

Sociologist Joe Johnston attributes the divergence to perceptions of public schools in the state’s biggest cities: negative for Indianapolis and generally positive for Louisville. And he traces those perceptions back to district boundary decisions made 40 years ago.

“It’s become so common to think of urban schools as failing, as these places that can’t possibly succeed,” he told me. “It’s interesting that, when you change the boundaries and have a different sort of school district, people can rally around that.”

Johnston, an assistant professor at Gonzaga University, conducted research on the history of charter school debates in Indiana and Kentucky as a graduate student at Indiana University, where he received a doctorate in May. He presented his study Saturday in Chicago at the 110th annual meeting of the American Sociological Association.

Indiana adopted a charter school law in 2001 and has seen a rapid spread of charter schools. The National Alliance of Public Charter Schools ranks it as one of the most charter-friendly states in the country. But Kentucky, which is contiguous with and politically and demographically similar to Indiana, is one of a handful of states without charter schools.

To understand how that came about, Johnston conducted a detailed comparison of education policy development in the two states from 2002-12. He analyzed 2,200 newspaper articles, gubernatorial and mayoral speeches and school reform group documents.

In Indiana, he shows, the push for charter schools was intimately tied to the argument that Indianapolis Public Schools were failing. This squares with what I saw as a reporter covering the Statehouse during the charter debates. Just like elsewhere across the country, charter schools were sold as an alternative to failing urban schools – specifically IPS.

But in Kentucky, there wasn’t the same sentiment that public schools in Louisville were under-performing; there was nothing like the hand-wringing and finger-pointing directed at IPS. While Indiana and other states rushed to create charter school programs, Kentucky held out.

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There’s more to home than crawfish

Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker article on the benefits that accrued to New Orleans residents who relocated after Katrina is persuasive on first reading. But give it a bit more thought and some of the economic gains he describes start to feel shaky.

Gladwell cites a study of 700 women who left the city and settled elsewhere after the hurricane. Most of them were black and poor:

Median family income was forty-four hundred dollars higher. Ethnic diversity was greater. More people had jobs. Their exposure to ‘concentrated disadvantage’ — an index that factors in several measures of poverty — fell by half a standard deviation.

That sounds pretty good. But suppose one of those women has a child who needs day care while the mother works. If she is in Texas, a common destination for New Orleans refugees, the average annual cost of child care is $2,000 to $3,000 more per child than in Louisiana.

Suppose she has two. Or three. The relocation premium that Gladwell and his economists and sociologists tout gets washed away pretty quickly.

In fact the working poor are likely to rely on family and neighbor networks for child care and babysitting. This may be a foreign concept to academic economists and New Yorker writers, but it’s often not such a bad thing – not for the children and not for the grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends providing the care.

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PDK/Gallup Poll: Views differ by race

People of color have a different view of their community schools than do white people. That’s an important take-away from the 2015 PDK/Gallup Poll, released Sunday.

For example, asked to rate the schools in their own community, 51 percent of poll respondents gave local schools an A or B. But only 23 percent of African-American parents and 31 percent of Hispanic students gave their local schools an A or B.

Maybe that’s to be expected: Blacks and Hispanics are more likely than whites to live in economically struggling communities with under-resourced schools. But for years, the PDK/Gallup Poll has highlighted the fact that a majority of parents think local schools deserve an A or B – the message being that most parents are satisfied with local public schools. It turns out that’s only partly true.

And African-Americans differ from whites on other topics and issues: They are:

  • More likely to think test scores are an important measure of school effectiveness.
  • Less sympathetic to the “opt-out” movement and less likely to exempt their own children from testing.
  • More supportive of having schools teach the Common Core State Standards.

The PDK/Gallup Poll tends to produce similar headlines every year: Americans rate their local schools highly, they favor charter schools and choice but are skeptical of testing and accountability schemes, etc. But this year’s poll added a web-based component that let the pollsters break down some results by race and ethnicity and political party loyalty. That gives a better picture of the public’s attitudes.

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