Bennett: Retention rule holds kids accountable

We need to start holding 9-year-olds accountable, Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett said – that’s why they must be held back in third grade if they can’t pass a new state reading test.

The State Board of Education on Tuesday approved a reading rule that says schools must retain students in third grade if they don’t pass the test, called I-READ 3. The only exceptions are for special-needs students, non-English speakers and students who have already been retained twice. Parent and teacher assessments of whether children should be promoted won’t matter.

“When I’ve traveled around the state, I’m asked, ‘Where’s the accountability for parents and students?’” Bennett said. “This is accountability. One of the things we’ve learned in two years is that things happen when accountability occurs. What we inspect, they respect.”

Board members and Indiana Department of Education officials didn’t respond to – or even specifically acknowledge – objections that educators raised in public hearings last month. The educators cited research that shows academic gains made after retention don’t last; kids who are retained are two to 11 times more likely to drop out; and retention costs U.S. schools $14 billion a year.

The rule and an accompanying “reading framework” also require schools to intervene when children fall behind in reading and provide 90-minute, daily, uninterrupted blocks of time devoted to reading. Most schools will have to use “scientifically based” reading programs approved by the state.

Department of Education staff have suggested it may be possible to retain students in reading but pass them to fourth grade in other subjects; but it’s not clear how that would work. Continue reading


State board about to decide on third-grade retention rule

A proposed rule that would force schools to retain students who don’t pass a third-grade reading test could face a vote by the State Board of Education this week. The board meets Tuesday at 1 p.m. in Indianapolis.

The rule, which was the subject of a previous post on School Matters, also requires elementary schools to implement reading plans that include goals for student achievement and interventions for students who fall behind. Schools will have to devote 90-minute uninterrupted blocks of time to reading instruction in grades K-3 and use research-based reading programs.

The state board accepted comments on the proposal at public hearings on Jan. 20 and Jan. 25. The hearings, video of which can be viewed online, brought comments from reading specialists, principals, superintendents and representatives of the state associations of teachers and school administrators.

Thirteen people testified. And while some praised certain aspects of the rule, all 13 said unequivocally that it’s wrong to hold kids back based on results of a single test.

Speakers cited research showing that the academic gains children make after being retained don’t persist; that students are two to 11 times more likely to drop out of school if they are held back than if they aren’t; and that forcing students to repeat grades costs the nation $14 billion a year.

“There is no research that retention benefits children,” said Whitney Witkowski, principal of Abraham Lincoln Elementary School on the south side of Indianapolis. “There is a substantial body of research about the negative effects … Retention is not only ineffective but it punishes children.”

Several speakers suggested that, if Indiana wants to help kids learn to read, it should require kindergarten attendance and fund pre-kindergarten programs. And some pointed out that the retention mandate goes considerably further than the 2010 state legislation that called on the Department of Education to develop a rule to make reading instruction more effective.

Department of Education staff members are suggesting some changes to the proposed rule. One spells out that students should get a second chance to pass the yet-to-be-developed reading test, possibly after remediation in summer school, before they are held back. Another makes clear that the rule applies to charter schools as well as regular public schools.

But the pass-the-test or fail-the-grade language remains – the only exceptions are for special-needs students, non-English speakers and children who have already been retained twice.

Interestingly, when the State Board of Education has a hearing, members apparently don’t need to show up. Who knew? Not a single board member was present on Jan. 20, when weather was apparently an issue. On Jan. 25, David Shane was the only board member on hand.

Presumably the other board members can watch the video of the hearing and read testimony submitted in writing. Let’s hope they do, and that they consider the issue with an open mind.

Money talks in the Indiana school voucher debate

“Follow the money,” Mark Felt, aka Deep Throat, famously told the young reporters in All the President’s Men. The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette took that advice to heart for an editorial on the push for school vouchers in the Indiana legislature, and here’s what it found.

The “loudest voice” supporting publicly funded vouchers for students attending private schools is the Indianapolis-based Foundation for Educational Choice, the J-G says. The chairman of the foundation’s board is Utah businessman Patrick Byrne, CEO of online retailer, who has given $125,000 since 2007 to Gov. Mitch Daniels’ political campaigns and another $25,000 to Aiming Higher, Daniels’ political action committee.

Byrne also gave $15,000 to the campaign fund of Superintendent for Public Instruction Tony Bennett and $200,000 to Hoosiers for Economic Growth, a PAC that spent money last year primarily to produce a Republican majority in the state legislature. Four other trustees of the Foundation for Educational Choice gave campaign money to Daniels and Bennett.

“In the absence of data and public support for school vouchers, the influence of campaign contributions speaks loudly,” the Journal-Gazette argues. “Public education supporters will need to speak even louder in the weeks ahead to protect Indiana schools and students.”

Follow the money a bit further and you see that Hoosiers for Economic Growth gave money in 2010 to Rep. Robert Behning, chairman of House Education Committee, and Sen. Dennis Kruse, chairman of the Senate Education and Career Development Committee Continue reading

Charter schools: the news from Indiana

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels continues to get national press for the education reforms that he is pushing.

A recent article in the Hechinger Report looks at charter schools in Indiana against the backdrop of Daniels’ effort to open more charters and create a voucher program to help parents move their kids to private schools.

Titled “National lessons from Indiana: With charter schools expanding, will public schools be left behind?,” it examines what’s happened in Indianapolis, where after expanding for 10 years, charter schools now enroll about 6 percent of students.

Charter schools were supposed to spur across-the-board improvement by forcing traditional public schools to get better in order to compete for students, writes Sarah Butrymowicz. But that doesn’t seem to have happened in Indianapolis Public Schools, where graduation rates “hover around 50 percent” and barely a third of schools made adequate yearly progress (AYP) last year under No Child Left Behind.

While IPS Superintendent Eugene White complains that the district is “bleeding students” – and resources — to the charters, Butrymowicz says there’s no way to link charters to either the successes or failures of IPS schools. “There are some indications, though, of where charters fall short,” she writes. “For instance, only six out of 15 met AYP in 2008-2009 – roughly the same percentage as in IPS.”

Taking on tenure

Daniels also shows up this week in a New York Times article under the headline “G.O.P. Governors Take on Teacher Tenure.” He gets only a few lines, though, in an article that also features governors of Florida, Idaho, Nevada and New Jersey.

“Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana has said that ‘teachers should have tenure,’ but the bills introduced by his fellow Republicans call for teachers’ traditional protections to be sharply reduced,” the Times says.

What Daniels actually said, in his Jan. 11 State of the State address, was: “Teachers should have tenure, but they should earn it by proving their ability to help kids learn.” And earn it again and again. Under proposed legislation, teachers will be evaluated annually based on “student growth” and other factors. Teachers who aren’t consistently ranked “effective” or “highly effective” can be fired.