State releases results for End-of-Course Assessments

The Indiana Department of Education released scores last week for the first round of End-of-Course Assessments, marking a transition from one regime of high-stakes testing to another.

Passing rates for Monroe County school districts were at or above the state average. Still, from one-third to more than one-half of local students didn’t pass the tests the first time around.

The ECAs replace the Graduation Qualifying Exam, which will be given for the last time in the spring of 2011 to this year’s high-school seniors. Starting with the Class of 2012, students will be expected to pass the ECA for Algebra I and English 10 to graduate.

A third End-of-Course Assessment, for Biology I, fulfills a federal requirement for assessing students’ progress in science but isn’t required for graduation.

Because the spring of 2010 was the first time the ECAs were given, it’s hard to know just what to make of the scores. Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett said they create a baseline for future comparisons, Continue reading

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Teachers cleaning classrooms? It’s already happening

Teachers cleaning their own classrooms and carrying out their trash; high school students crammed 44 to a class, as they are now in a physics class at Bloomington High School North; and the elimination of funding for librarians, art, music, PE and extracurricular activities all could become the norm in Monroe County Community School Corp. schools if the Nov. 2 property tax referendum doesn’t pass, Superintendent J.T. Coopman told members of the Bloomington Press Club Oct. 25.

In the longer term, if Indiana ends up a “referendum state” like neighboring Ohio, the consequences will be more profound, Coopman said. In Ohio, where school funding referendums are routinely used to raise funds, school districts have become divided into haves and have-nots. Those who have passed referendums and have continued to fund quality programming draw families from neighboring communities where citizens have voted against additional funding. The poorer school districts are losing students and, consequently, per pupil funding, compounding issues of equity among students, Coopman said.

Coopman reasoned that if the MCCSC referendum fails, citizens will end up paying much more in juvenile justice costs to rehabilitate students who drop out or lose interest in school than they will in additional property taxes if the referendum passes. And if public schools decline through lack of funding, he said, “businesses leave, people leave, and then a community starts to die on the vine.” Continue reading

Reformist unions – who would have guessed?

Teachers’ unions seem to be embracing educational reform almost everywhere you look these days. Maybe they’re trying to improve their image in the face of the Waiting for “Superman” movie. Maybe they’re responding to pressure from the Obama administration.

Or maybe progressive unionism was out there all along, but we just weren’t looking.

Let’s start with Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Last week, he met in Tampa, Fla., with American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten and National Education Association president Dennis van Roekel to announce plans for a national education reform conference on labor-management collaboration.

“In dozens of districts around the country — from Tampa to Pittsburgh to Denver — union leaders and administrators are moving beyond the battles of the past and finding new ways to work together to focus on student success,” Secretary Duncan said. He cited eight examples, Continue reading

The last word on the MCCSC referendum

Harmon Baldwin says just about everything that needs to be said about the Monroe County Community School Corp. funding referendum in a recent guest column in the Bloomington Herald-Times.

Read it if you haven’t already, and if you have an H-T online subscription. If you haven’t, and you don’t, drive to 1900 S. Walnut St. and pay 50 cents for a copy of the Oct. 19 issue. It’s worth it.

Baldwin was superintendent of the MCCSC from 1984-87. He cleaned up a mess left by his predecessor and put the district on sound financial footing. His H-T guest column is straightforward, logical and informed — no scare tactics, no appeals to false emotion, just a clear statement that education is important, to students and to the community.

To skeptics who question whether the MCCSC has done enough belt-tightening, he says, the question “is valid and it’s comparative. What’s enough?” Administrators and experienced teachers have gone without raises. Their insurance costs have increased. Programs have been cut and class sizes have ballooned.

“If the voter is looking for a reason to vote ‘no,’ it can be found,” Baldwin writes. But it isn’t administrators and school board members who lose if the referendum fails. “We are talking about a quality of educational opportunities for the young people of this community. Their lives and their futures rest upon the decision that we make when we vote on question No. 2 in this election.”

At 88, Baldwin agreed to take on a leadership role in the referendum campaign. He has even been out canvassing, knocking on doors to encourage people to vote yes.

“I won’t live long enough to see us reap the benefits from funding generated by the passage of the referendum,” he writes, “but others will, and that makes my efforts meaningful to me.”

‘Superman’ saga continues

The news stories and commentary keep coming about the documentary film Waiting for “Superman.” At the risk of beating a dead horse, here are a few more examples:

Must have been an oversight

The film had its Indianapolis debut Tuesday at an invitation-only screening sponsored by Mind Trust, a local education reform organization.

Speaking at the event were Mind Trust CEO David Harris, former Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson, Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett and M. Karega Rausch, education assistant to current Mayor Greg Ballard. The audience included Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Eugene White and at least a couple of writers for the Indianapolis Star.

Star columnist Matt Tully praises Waiting for “Superman” and urges readers to see it, but says it may bear the burden of unreasonable expectations – it’s too much to think that one movie may “finally put the country on a path toward solving its massive education problems.”

Another story describes the film and quotes Bennett and Harris. It also notes that representatives of the 50,000-member Indiana State Teachers Association were apparently left off the invitation list.

“We find it very disappointing that we were not included to participate (Tuesday) evening,” ISTA spokesman Mark Shoup told the Star. Continue reading

School funding cuts lead to big classes

Dave Smith has 21 sixth-graders in the class he teaches at Bloomington’s Arlington Heights Elementary School – not a bad number. But add the 16 fifth-graders who are also in Smith’s class, and you’re looking at a lot of kids for one teacher.

Smith’s 37-student class is not exactly an outlier. More than a dozen Monroe County Community School Corp. elementary teachers have 33 or more students in their classrooms. Class sizes in the district ballooned when the school board eliminated teaching positions as part of $5.8 million in spending cuts.

MCCSC officials warn that more teacher reductions, and possibly even bigger classes, are likely if voters don’t approve the school-funding referendum on the Nov. 2 ballot.

The school board voted in February to set staffing levels at 22 students per teacher for kindergarten, 24 for grade 1, 25 for grades 2-3, and 30 for grades 4-6. But those numbers are just averages. Principals group students and assign teachers the best they can, but some classes inevitably will be bigger than average.

According to figures compiled by the superintendent’s office, here’ some of what you’ll find this year in Bloomington elementary schools:

— Arlington Heights, split classes (grades 5-6) with 37, 35 and 32 students
— Clear Creek, multi-age classes (grades 4-6) with 35, 33 and 32 students and a sixth-grade class with 35 Continue reading

Writing about ‘Waiting for “Superman”’

Whatever the merits of the new movie Waiting for “Superman,” it’s inspiring some good education journalism, including stories in publications that usually don’t devote much ink to schools. Here are a few examples:

Dana Goldstein’s long piece in The Nation is titled “Grading ‘Waiting for ‘Superman,’” and the article does fault the movie for its heroes-and-villains plot line, calling it “a moving but vastly oversimplified brief on American educational inequality.” But Goldstein goes further, writing a balanced and well researched story that examines the influence in the school-policy debate of billionaire Bill Gates and journalist Steven Brill and reports how teachers’ unions in Denver, Memphis and Los Angeles have taken the lead in pushing for reform.

Goldstein is spending the year writing about education as a Spencer Education Journalism Fellow at Columbia University. At a time when some newspapers and magazines seem to be cutting back on education coverage, hats off to the Chicago-based Spencer Foundation for helping fill the gap.

In the New Yorker, Nicholas Lemann make a persuasive case that America’s education system, on the whole, is succeeding. “So it’s odd that a narrative of crisis, of a systemic failure, in American education is currently so persuasive,” he writes, citing Waiting for “Superman” as a leading example.

Lemann says we should be suspicious when “an enormous, complicated realm of life takes on the characteristics of a stock drama” – and we should be wary of plans to reform large, complex systems. Continue reading