Candidate claims own path, but will it matter?

Jennifer McCormick, the Republican candidate for Indiana superintendent of public instruction, seemed to walk back her support of school vouchers at a candidate debate this week. She also came out forcefully for better pay and more autonomy for teachers.

But that may be too little, too late to win her much support from educators, often a key constituency for anyone who wants to be elected the state’s chief school officer.

McCormick is challenging Democratic Superintendent Glenda Ritz, who won the loyalty of many teachers by slaying the education-reform dragon Tony Bennett in the 2012 election and later by standing up to Gov. Mike Pence and his appointed State Board of Education.

At the debate, which took place in Fort Wayne and can be watched on the State Impact Indiana website, McCormick attacked Ritz for sloppy management of the Indiana Department of Education and poor communication with school districts. Ritz defended her record and pointed to her Vision 2020 plan for universal pre-K, less testing and improved high school graduation rates.

Ritz’s supporters have cast McCormick as “Tony Bennett 2.0,” a kinder, gentler version of the former superintendent, whom teachers loved to hate. McCormick, the superintendent of Yorktown Community Schools, insists she’s just a professional educator who decided to run out of frustration.

“It is time we put students before politics, which has not happened for the last eight years,” she said.

That’s a smart statement, because going back eight years takes in Bennett’s tenure as well as Ritz’s. But the idea that you can remove politics from an elected office in this era of Continue reading

Gregg makes case for ‘preschool for all’

Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg has a detailed education platform on his campaign website. Right at the top is this: “Establish statewide, optional preschool for all.”

That’s a bold pledge in a state that has long dragged its feet on early childhood education. Indiana was late to enact full-day kindergarten. It didn’t provide any pre-K funding until 2014, when it created a small pilot program for low-income families in five counties. And the state’s Republican leaders have been reluctant to expand that program, despite its support from business and civic groups.

Gregg notes that children who attend high-quality preschool programs are more likely to graduate from high school, finish college and get a skilled job. They’re less likely to end up in prison or on government assistance programs. The Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman argues that pre-K programs pay for themselves and generate economic benefits for society.

“Forty other states have figured out how to fund pre-school – so can Indiana,” the campaign site says.

Gregg also faults Republican Gov. Mike Pence – and by extension, Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb, the GOP candidate for governor – for turning his back on a potential $80 million federal preschool grant.

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Data on choice-segregation link easy to find

Jennifer McCormick, the Republican candidate for Indiana superintendent of public instruction, said this week that she wants to see the data tying school choice to segregation. It’s not hard to find.

A good place to start is the excellent series of stories on race and segregation in Indianapolis schools produced this summer by Chalkbeat Indiana, WFIU and the Indianapolis Star. One story describes how charter schools became some of the most segregated schools in the city, many of them nearly all African-American and a few largely white. Another tells about an Indianapolis Public Schools magnet school where most students are white and almost none qualify for free school lunch.

Here are a few other sources, local and national:

  • Marc Stein, an education professor at Johns Hopkins University, published an article in 2015 showing charter school choice in Indianapolis produced “higher degrees of racial isolation and less diversity.” Black students enrolled in charter schools with more black students than the public schools they left; and white students enrolled in charters with more white students. Charters were becoming more racially isolated.
  • A study this summer from three leading educational researchers finds that schools have become significantly more segregated by family income in the past two decades. A factor, they say, is the growth of school choice programs, with affluent families taking advantage to place their children in more desirable schools, regardless of where they live.
  • A new study by Steven Glazerman and Dallas Dotter of Mathematica Policy Research looks at the factors that cause parents to rate some choice schools better than others. They find that white parents, especially, favor schools where more students were of their own race and class. “Teacher Wars” author Dana Goldstein writes about the study in Slate.
  • A research review by William J. Mathis and Kevin Welner for the National Education Policy Center finds choice leads to segregation. “While some choice school enrollments are genuinely integrated,” they write, “the overall body of the research literature documents an unsettling degree of segregation—particularly in charter schools—by race and ethnicity, as well as by poverty, special needs and English-learner status.”
  • The Civil Rights Project at UCLA has documented segregation in charter schools for years. A policy paper from the center says charter schools “are more racially isolated than traditional public schools in virtually every state and large metropolitan area in the nation.”

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Schools may be the wrong place to fight inequality

Conventional wisdom holds that reforming education is the best way to reduce social inequality. It’s widely believed that disadvantaged children attend bad schools; so if we could just make those schools better, their life prospects would improve. But what if the conventional wisdom is wrong?

Ohio State sociologist Doug Downey has spent over a decade exploring that question, and he’s convinced that the usual narrative about schooling and inequality has led policymakers astray.

Doug Downey (Ohio State photo)

Doug Downey (Ohio State photo)

“We may have overemphasized the role of schools,” he said last week at an Indiana University symposium on race and education. “And it may be undermining our efforts to reduce inequality.”

Downey makes a persuasive case that schools, even many of the ones labeled as “failing,” are doing a pretty good job of compensating for poverty and other out-of-school circumstances. By focusing on schools, he argues, we may be missing opportunities to work on issues that matter more.

He traces the debate back 50 years to the Coleman Report, which concluded that, when it came to student achievement, differences in schools paled next to differences in family and social background. Eventually the report fell out of favor. By the 1980s, liberals and conservatives alike focused on education as the lever for reducing inequality. They just disagreed about what to do.

Conservatives favored accountability and competition. Liberals called for more and fairer funding; they pointed out that, in many states, schools serving poor children got fewer resources and less experienced teachers, arguably widening the achievement gap between rich and poor.

Downey largely subscribed to the second view until he read an article noting that, by age 18, the typical child would spend only 13 percent of his or her waking hours in school. Continue reading

No time for complacency on school funding vote

It’s tempting to think a referendum to continue funding the Monroe County Community School Corp. with a modest property-tax levy will pass this November with votes to spare – just as it did in 2010.

But that could be a mistake. This is a very different election year from the one six years ago. Contests for president and governor are on the ballot, a circumstance that will bring out more and different voters. An anti-establishment mood has swept the country, and that could hurt the MCCSC and its supporters.

Yes for MCCSC graphicAnd it’s likely that many voters will go to the polls with no idea a school funding referendum is on the ballot. The question will be at the bottom, below all the national, state and county contests. It’s important to inform education supporters that they need to vote.

So it’s good to see the school district’s supporters are treating this like a real election campaign. The pro-referendum election committee Yes for MCCSC held a kickoff rally Tuesday, complete with music, signs and talks by students, parents, teachers and officials. The group has put together an informative website. It has lined up support from Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton and others.

Importantly, the website includes a “supply closet” section that details how the referendum money will be used and a property tax calculator that shows what the impact will be on taxpayers.

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PDK Poll is annual reality check

Count on the annual Phi Delta Kappa Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools to provide a reality check for those of us who spend our lives caught up in education policy debates.

It suggests that many people aren’t consumed with testing, school choice, accountability and the other usual themes of policy arguments. They’re more interested in down-to-earth stuff, like what schools are teaching, how they’re funded and how they treat families.

For example, fewer than half the respondents to the 48th annual PDK Poll, released this week, think schools should focus primarily on academic skills – when nearly all the reform proposals of recent years assume that boosting academics is Goal No. 1. Some 25 percent said schools should emphasize preparing students for jobs, and 26 percent said the priority should be producing good citizens.

And when respondents were asked how best to improve schools, the one approach with clear support was boosting career and technical education. There’s not much support for bolstering honors or advanced classes. Continue reading

Head Start works – and keeps working

Head Start has been around since the 1960s, and debating its effectiveness has become a sort of litmus test on how people feel about the role of government. Democrats tend to support the preschool program. Republicans are bound by conservative orthodoxy to claim it doesn’t work.

But new research finds that, not only does Head Start work, it produces benefits that compound for generations. The analysis, by Lauren Bauer and Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach of the Hamilton Project, was published this month. Findings include:

  • Head Start increases the likelihood that children will go on to graduate from high school, attend college and earn postsecondary degrees or certificates.
  • The program improves social, emotional and behavioral development, resulting in better self-control and improved self-esteem when the children grow up.
  • Head Start kids are more likely as adults to engage in positive parenting practices like reading to their children, teaching them letters and numbers, and showing them affection.

Some of the gains were especially pronounced for African-American and Latino children who attended Head Start, the Hamilton Project researchers found.

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