Report: Feds “very concerned” with Indiana’s migrant program

Federal authorities came down hard on the Indiana Department of Education for its operation of the Migrant Education Program, an initiative aimed at making sure the children of migrant workers don’t fall behind as their families move from place to place.

A review of Indiana’s operation of the program suggests the state has failed to make effective use of millions of dollars intended to benefit migrant children. The review was conducted by the Office of Migrant Education in the U.S. Department of Education.

It says the department is “very concerned” with Indiana’s failure to comply with requirements of the program and its inability to make use of federal funds. As of this past fall, the state had not drawn down any of the money it received in fiscal year 2010 or 2011. It was still operating the program on money awarded in fiscal 2009, raising questions about whether it was providing services at a level expected.

And the funding has been significant. According to information from the U.S. Department of Education press office, Indiana has been awarded $23.4 million over the past four years to run the migrant program — $6.4 million in 2009, $5.7 million in 2010, $5.7 million in 2011 and $5.5 million in 2012.

Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post reported this news and provided a link to the federal review this month in her “Answer Sheet” column. Charles Wilson of the Associated Press in Indianapolis followed up this week.

Indiana Department of Education spokeswoman Katie Stephens told School Matters that the state is aware of the issues and is committed to improving its administration of the program. Continue reading

An education reform strategy that research supports

If Americans truly want to improve the academic success and life chances of poor children, we should start by making it less likely that kids from low-income families are segregated into schools with extremely high rates of poverty.

Richard D. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, makes this argument in the current issue of American Educator. And he further argues that schools can adopt policies that promote demographic balance, that the current stark separation of rich and poor – what the writer Jonathan Kozol called “apartheid schooling in America” – isn’t inevitable.

Kahlenberg has been beating the drum for socioeconomic integration for a long time, going back at least to his 2001 book “All Together Now: Creating Middle-Class Schools through Public School Choice.”

“In the last decade,” he writes in the American Educator article, “the research has become even more convincing.” Students from low-income families do better if they attend middle-class schools where it’s more likely that their fellow students are academically engaged, parents are active in school affairs and eager to hold schools accountable, and teachers have high expectations for students. Continue reading

Bennett to Florida: Sure, why not?

It should come as no surprise that Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett is moving to Florida to take over as that state’s commissioner of education. Hey, I called this one in August. And back then I couldn’t have predicted Bennett would lose the election and be out of a job come January.

Bennett has looked to Florida for inspiration and ideas throughout his tenure as Indiana superintendent. A-to-F grades for schools, dramatic expansion of charter schools, retention for third-graders who don’t pass a reading test – all those Indiana policies were pioneered in the Sunshine State.

So were school vouchers, before the state’s Supreme Court held them to be unconstitutional.

And Bennett has long been a favorite of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. He chairs Bush’s Chiefs for Change organization. Two members of the Florida State Board of Education are former Bush chiefs of staff. (The state board appoints the state education commissioner; the board’s members are appointed by the governor). So it makes perfect sense that he would be drawn to Florida, and vice versa. Continue reading

Next step in Indiana’s war on unions

Credit the Indiana Chamber of Commerce with being the first to remind us, this legislative season, of the immortal words of Henry Adams: “Politics, as a practice, whatever its professions, has always been the systematic organization of hatreds.”

How else does one explain the chamber’s current push to ban the practice of deducting union dues from the paychecks of Indiana school teachers? The Indianapolis Star reports Sunday that the business group has made the issue a top priority for the legislative session that starts in January.

Chamber President Kevin Brinegar tells the Star that government entities, such as school corporations, “shouldn’t be in the business of collecting union dues or, particularly, political contributions.” Maybe or maybe not, but isn’t that a decision that local elected officials can make?

No one is forcing school districts to deduct dues from the paychecks of teachers who voluntarily choose to join the Indiana State Teachers Association or the smaller Indiana Federation of Teachers. If districts are offering to make the deductions, it’s because local school boards have agreed to do so.

And teachers can’t be required to join the union or pay representation fees, even though the unions must represent all teachers covered by local contracts, whether they’re union members are not. That “right to freeload” was written into law Continue reading