Title I adjustments aren’t small change

Information released recently by the Indiana Department of Education suggests that more than a handful of charter schools were shorted on their Title I funding allocations last fall.

A few of the schools complained publicly, federal education officials stepped in and the department made some adjustments this spring. Fifty-two of the 63 charter schools that receive Title I funds saw their funding increase from what they were told to expect last fall. Most saw an increase of 20 percent or more.

Where did the adjustments come from? Largely from money that had been promised to public school districts, apparently in error. Total Title I allocations for charter schools increased by $4.5 million or 27.2 percent, by my calculations. Allocations for public school districts declined by $6.2 million or 2.8 percent.

There were bigger changes were for four turnaround schools, public schools that were taken over by the state and are run by private school management organizations. Their Title I allocations nearly doubled.

None of these figures are final, the state says. The numbers that the department reported to schools last fall were “planning allocations,” intended to help school districts and charter schools plan how to spend their Title I money. And the new amounts reported this spring are “updated planning allocations.”

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Voucher program promotes religion, not better education

Supporters of Indiana’s school voucher program can no longer pretend that it’s intended to provide parents with the best education for their children no matter where they live.

No, it’s about using public dollars to pay for religious education, pure and simple. More and more every year, vouchers are going to parents who never intended to send their kids to public schools. They are taking advantage of the program to get religious instruction at taxpayer expense.

Look, for example, at Lighthouse Christian Academy in Bloomington, which enrolled 25 new voucher students last fall. The school has nearly 100 students receiving vouchers and received almost $400,000 in state-funded tuition assistance this year.

The school’s principal, Joyce Huck, told the Bloomington Herald-Times that most of the new students were from families that previously home-schooled their kids.

“Before, looking at education that was faith-based was out of reach financially, and with the scholarships, they were able to make that happen,” Huck told reporter Mary Keck.

According to the annual voucher program report released last week by the Indiana Department of Education, 52 percent of the 32,686 current voucher students have no record of having attended a public school in the state.

Voucher students were eligible to receive $134.7 million in taxpayer-funded tuition assistance this year, the report said. Ninety-nine percent of the more than 300 private schools that enroll voucher students are religious schools. With maybe three exceptions, those are Christian schools, primarily Catholic, Lutheran or Evangelical Protestant.

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If we’re grading schools, why not just use growth?

The Indiana State Board of Education took a step toward fairness when it decided test-score growth should count as much as test-score performance for calculating school grades. But we’re not there yet. The new A-to-F grading system will still favor affluent schools. Like the old system, it will label some schools as failing largely because of how many poor children they serve.

The board wrapped up work on the new system Friday when it approved a “growth to proficiency table” that specifies how many points students will earn for various levels of growth. The board rejected an earlier proposal that favored high-scoring students and approved a more equitable approach.

A chart copied from a staff presentation to the board tells us a whole lot about grading schools on test scores. It shows that, when it comes to performance – the percentage of students who score “proficient” on state exams – there’s a huge gap in Indiana between black and white students, between poor and non-poor students, and between special-needs and general-education students.

Growth_Model_Summary_Presentation-12---cropped

Source: State Board of Education

The proficiency gap between white and black students is 26 percentage points in English/language arts and 32 points in math. The gap between students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches and those who don’t is about 25 percentage points. That’s cause for serious concern.

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Public access counselor: Charter school approval should be public

Cheers for Luke Britt, Indiana’s public access counselor, for ruling that private colleges and universities should comply with the state Open Door Law when they decide to authorize charter schools.

And jeers for Grace College and Theological Seminary for responding that it just doesn’t care – it still will not disclose information about the college trustees’ approval of a charter for Seven Oaks Classical School, a proposed charter school in Monroe County.

I don’t always agree with the public access counselor – more on that soon – but Britt got this one right. When they approve charters, private colleges are creating schools that will receive public funding and be subject to state regulations. Those decisions should be made in public.

The opinion, in response to a complaint by WFYI education reporter Eric Weddle, doesn’t mention Grace College but refers to actions by Trine University, another Indiana private college that has entered the charter school business. But as the Bloomington Herald-Times reports, it’s clear the legal reasoning also applies to Grace and Seven Oaks.

An opinion by the public access counselor doesn’t have the force of law, however, and Grace College can ignore the decision. Someone could sue; but even if a judge were to rule the charter approval was illegal, Grace could presumably fix the problem by voting again in public.

Indiana legislators created this issue when they decided in 2011 that all private, nonprofit colleges and universities in the state could authorize charter schools. Lawmakers finally realized it was a problem after Seven Oaks and other charter schools began “authorizer shopping,” turning to private colleges when they were turned down by the state charter school board or a public university.

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Good news on school grading

Conflict and problems get most of our attention in Indiana school policy, and God knows there is enough of both. But we should also pay attention when policy makers get something right. And that’s the case with changes being made in the school grading system.

The state is shifting to a system that’s supposed to count student growth on test scores as much as it counts performance, a fairer approach if you’re going to grade schools — which we are. Indiana is also moving to a new method of measuring growth, relying on where student scores fall on what’s called a Growth to Proficiency Table.

The proposed table that staff presented to the board last year gave schools more grading points for students who passed the ISTEP exam and showed growth than for students who didn’t pass but showed comparable growth, tilting the formula in favor of high performing schools. That table was just for illustration purposes, officials said.

But the two options that state board and department staff will present at this Wednesday’s board meeting both get rid of that flaw. They award at least as many points for students who don’t pass the test and show high growth as for students who pass and show high growth. That’s an appropriate approach and staff members Cynthia Roach of the State Board of Education and Maggie Paino of DOE deserve credit for  it.

The state board could give preliminary approval to one of the options Wednesday and final approval in April, putting the new grading system into place for 2016 grades. Using test results from 2105, the new approach would award As to about 23 percent of schools, Bs to 32 percent, Cs to 27 percent, Ds to 12 percent and FS to 6 percent.

Here is the presentation for this week’s board meeting: http://www.in.gov/sboe/files/8a_Growth_Table_Recommendations_PowerPoint.pdf

Zombie teacher-pay bill rises from the dead

Somebody really wants the Indiana legislature to pass a law that will let school superintendents give raises to favored teachers outside the bounds of union-negotiated contracts. Somebody with clout. Otherwise the supplemental-pay measure would have died last week when the state Senate, responding to overwhelming opposition from teachers and their supporters, refused to pass it.

But it didn’t. House leaders kept the idea alive Monday when they breathed new life into Senate Bill 10, which lawmakers had previously said wasn’t going to become law.

The controversial Republican-sponsored legislation lives again.

Both chambers had approved versions of the same bill – House Bill 1004 and Senate Bill 10 – which would, among other things, let superintendents award higher salaries to certain teachers. The votes were close: 57-42 in the House and 26-24 in the Senate (where Republicans have a 39-11 majority).

The extra-pay language in the Senate bill is actually worse, in the eyes of teachers’ unions, which strongly oppose both. It would let superintendents award higher pay “to attract or retain a teacher as needed” while the House bill would allow extra pay only to hire for a position “that is difficult to fill.”

Also, the House bill would require the superintendent to present justification for additional pay to the school board in a public meeting. The Senate bill would let that happen behind closed doors.

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Study finds Indy charter schools increased segregation

Critics of charter schools have long worried that they engage in “creaming,” attracting the best students and most engaged parents and leaving neighborhood public schools the rest. But a more serious question is whether charter schools have contributed to the re-segregation of schools by race.

A study of Indianapolis charter schools suggests that, in some cases, they have.

The study, conducted by Johns Hopkins University education professor Marc Stein and published last summer in the American Journal of Education, found that charter-school choice in Indy led to “higher degrees of racial isolation and less diversity” than in the public schools the students were leaving.

African-American students were more likely to enroll in charter schools with a higher concentration of black students than the neighborhood schools they left; and white students more likely to enroll in schools with a higher percentage of white enrollment.

The average white student in the analytic sample chose a charter school that enrolled 13.9 percentage points more white students and 13.1 percentage points fewer black students than their previously enrolled school. Concomitantly, black students chose to enroll in charters with enrollments that were 9.2 percent more black and 5.6 percent less white than their former schools.

As a result, charter schools were becoming more racially isolated. In 2008-09, only one charter school in the study met the city desegregation target of having its enrollment of black students within 15 percentage points of Indianapolis Public Schools. When the charter schools opened, five met the target.

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