Forget, for a while, whatever bad news you’ve heard about education in Indiana. Let’s take a moment to celebrate what Hoosier students have accomplished. When it comes to staying in school and graduating, they’ve been doing about everything we could ask.
According to a recent report from the Indianapolis-based Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation:
- Indiana had one of the highest high school graduation rates in the country in 2015, at 87.1 percent.
- It had the narrowest “graduation gap” between low-income and non-low-income students of any state: 4.5 percentage points.
- It ranked in the top five states for closing the gap between all students and low-income students between 2011 and 2015.
- It had higher-than-average graduation rates for every subgroup of students except for Asian and Pacific Islander students.
“Indiana has much to be proud of,” the report says, referring to the record rates. “In addition, districts within the state are learning, innovating, and improving their abilities to serve their students and prepare them for the next steps in life. Indiana has taken concrete action over many years, following the evidence of what works to improve student outcomes and it has beneﬁtted as a result.”
Indiana educators have begun pushing back against a plan to dramatically reconfigure the state’s high-school diploma requirements. Will it matter? We could know this week.
The State Board of Education will meet Tuesday and Wednesday to consider “graduation pathways” that students follow to earn a diploma. The proposal comes from the Graduation Pathways Panel, created by 2017 legislation, which met nine times from August until November.
The panel’s recommendations would require students to not only complete high-school credit requirements but to demonstrate “postsecondary-ready competencies” and “employability skills” by clearing a set of barriers, such as passing tests, earning college credits or completing internships.
The Indiana Chamber of Commerce wants Indiana to be the first state in the country to make studying computer science a requirement for high-school graduation. Here are reasons to be skeptical:
It’s an extreme idea. No other state makes computer science a diploma requirement, according to Jennifer Zinth, high school and STEM director for the Education Commission of the States. (Mississippi requires one unit of computer science or technology; Utah requires a semester of “digital studies.”) As far as I can tell, the primary supporters of tech education are not seriously proposing it.
The big national push for more computer science in the schools is coming from Code.org, an advocacy group backed with more than $60 million from Microsoft, Facebook, Google and other powerhouse donors. Its goals include having all public schools offer computer science and to allowing computer science courses to count toward high-school math and science graduation requirements.
Thanks to savvy marketing and celebrity support from the likes of Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Barack Obama, it’s had some success. But Code.org doesn’t advocate making computer science a requirement graduation, co-founder Hadi Partovi says. Continue reading
Indiana appears to be in the vanguard when it comes to adopting “graduation pathways” that students can follow to earn a high-school diploma. But two states, Colorado and Ohio, have gone farther down this path. What could we learn from their experience?
In Colorado, lawmakers approved legislation in 2007 calling for a redesign of graduation requirements. Ten years later, it’s starting to implement a system in which schools can choose from a menu of options for earning a diploma. The new system takes effect with this year’s ninth-graders.
Colorado developed its graduation guidelines through a process that included nearly 50 stakeholder meetings across the state, in-depth conversations with most school superintendents, working groups with 300-plus representatives and two years of statewide discussion.
Ohio, by contrast, moved quickly to a system in which students could graduate by earning points on high-school end-of-course assessments, getting a “remediation-free” score on the SAT or ACT exam or acquiring industry or workforce credentials. It was supposed to take effect with this year’s seniors.
But the state changed course when officials realized many students weren’t going to meet the requirements, said Ken Baker, executive director of the Ohio Secondary School Administrators Association. For the class of 2018 only, it added pathways that students could use to graduate.
You’ve heard of Lake Wobegon, where all the children are above average. Welcome to Indiana, where the children need to be average or above to earn a high-school diploma.
That may be where we’re heading with the recommendations approved Tuesday by the Graduation Pathways Panel and sent to the State Board of Education for consideration. The board could approve the recommendations – a significant change in what it takes to earn a diploma – on Dec. 6.
Panel members say their plan will expand access by creating more pathways that students can follow to graduate. What they don’t say is that each pathway includes barriers that could prevent some students from reaching the goal.
- Students can qualify via the SAT or ACT exam, but only if their scores meet “college-ready benchmarks,” nearly the average for college-bound test takers.
- They can qualify by getting a passing score on a military enlistment test, but today’s all-volunteer military doesn’t admit just anyone.
- They can qualify by passing at least three dual-credit, Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses, but they need at least a C grade.
I thought I’d heard it all when it came to questionable practices in the name of school choice. But then I read about Indiana Virtual School. After a seven-month investigation, Chalkbeat Indiana revealed how the online charter school has raked in public money while apparently doing little to educate students.
“One of Indiana’s largest high schools ended this past school year with almost 5,000 students, but no desks and no classrooms,” Chalbeat’s Shaina Cavazos writes. “The school also had very few graduates — 61 out of more than 900 seniors graduated last year. What Indiana Virtual School did have: Tens of millions in state dollars due to come its way over the next two years, and a founder whose for-profit company charged millions of dollars in management fees and rent to the school.”
- The school had only 21 teachers for 4,682 students at the end of last school year, a ratio of 222 students per teachers.
- Just 10 percent of its spending went to instruction while 89 percent went to “support services,” according to data provided to the state. It spent just 7 percent on teacher and staff salaries.
- It paid about $6 million for management services and office space to AlphaCom Inc., a for-profit company headed until last year by Thomas Stoughton, the school’s founder and leader.
A panel of unelected officials is making significant changes in what it takes to graduate from high school in Indiana. The process, initiated by the legislature six months ago, could wrap up in December. Yet it is getting little public attention.
If recommendations from the Graduation Pathways Panel are approved by the State Board of Education, no longer will students be able to earn a diploma by completing the required high-school credits and passing “end-of-course assessments” for algebra and 10th-grade English.
They will still have to earn the credits. But in place of tests, they will have to show they are “college and career ready” and have chalked up “applied learning experiences.” The former can include receiving a respectable score on the SAT or ACT test, completing industry apprenticeships or certifications, or earning advanced-placement credits. The latter can be after-school jobs, service-learning or project-based learning.
The new rules would take effect for students who are high-school freshmen in 2018-19.
The 14-member Graduation Pathways Panel has met from late summer through the fall. The schedule calls for it to finalize its recommendations Nov. 7. Then the State Board of Education could approve the pathways in December. Continue reading