School turn-around legislation casts a wide net

How many Monroe County, Ind., residents know that Bloomington High School North, Bloomington High School South and Edgewood High School are failing schools that could be taken over by the state and possibly handed over to private school-management companies?

Probably not many. But that’s one of the consequences of House Bill 1479, one of the education and labor bills that caused Indiana House Democrats to dash to Illinois two weeks ago rather than let the bills become law without public awareness.

The legislation allows for a school that spends five straight years in one of Indiana’s two lowest performance categories to be closed, merged with another school or converted to a “turnaround academy.” Turnaround academies could be handed over to “special management teams,” possibly private businesses, selected by the State Board of Education.

Current law prescribes state intervention if a school spends more than five years in the lowest performance category under the state school accountability law. HB 1479 expands that to the two lowest categories – previously called “academic watch” and “probation” but about to be changed to letter grades, D and F.

As Vic Smith explains on the Indiana Coalition for Public Education website, the categories are set up in a way that makes it very difficult for a high school to get an A, B or C. In 2010, about 50 percent of high schools were rated “probation” (F), and 25 percent were rated “watch” (D).

Bloomington North, Bloomington South and Edgewood are among the more than 200 Indiana schools that have been in the “probation” or “watch” category for the past five years.

HB 1479 was one of the bills that died when the House Democrats walked out. But Rep. Robert Behning, the bill’s sponsor and the House Education Committee chairman, has been quoted saying he may still add its provisions to education-related legislation

Republicans seem to think the bill will apply to schools in inner-city districts represented by Democrats. But take a look at the schools that have been in the “probation” or “watch” category for five years. They include many rural and small-town schools in districts represented by Republicans.

Are those lawmakers telling their constituents that their local schools have failed and need to be taken over by the state?

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One thought on “School turn-around legislation casts a wide net

  1. Pingback: Education issues looming in Indiana legislative session « School Matters

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