Money matters, apparently, for school turnaround

How much should Indiana spend to turn around a handful of its lowest-performing schools? Whatever it takes, members of the State Board of Education are suggesting. And that attitude may put them on a collision course with state Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz.

The issue took up much of Monday’s state board meeting, where representatives of Indiana TSOs – turnaround school operators – insisted on being first in line when the state Department of Education hands out federal grants this summer.

The board, then led by previous Superintendent Tony Bennett, decided in 2011 to turn several under-achieving Indianapolis and Gary schools over to TSOs: Charter Schools USA, Edison Learning and Indy nonprofit EdPower. The hand-off took place last fall.

Monday’s discussion focused on Section 1003(a) School Improvement Grant funds, which the state receives from the federal government and awards to local schools. Last year, under Bennett, more than half the money went to the five turnaround academies – presumably to help them get off the ground. Each of the schools got about $1.4 million, while a majority of schools that qualified for the grants received $5,000 each (see chart).

Board members said Monday they had made a commitment to the turnaround schools, and they leaned hard on Ritz to give the schools as much as they got last year.

“If you have a strategic priority and you don’t fund it, that’s dereliction of duty,” said David Shane.

“We have a commitment to come through,” added Daniel Elsener. “It’s got to be clear, it’s got to be swift and it’s got to be certain. The young people in these neighborhoods need this.”

Members also suggested Ritz should commit the funding now, so schools can plan their 2013-14 budgets. Marcus Robinson, CEO of EdPower, which operates Indianapolis Arlington High School, said the school was told in May 2012 how much SIG money it would get for 2012-13.

That’s a bit confusing, because documents on the Department of Education website suggest applications for last year’s SIG grants weren’t due until last July. Did Bennett and his staff simply assure the turnaround schools they’d get the money regardless of the application process?

Robinson even suggested EdPower might walk away from its contract with the state if the SIG money doesn’t come through. “We simply cannot operate the school without access to those School Improvement Grant dollars,” he said.

But Ritz balked at promising funding. “I guess my question is, how do you make assurances to schools prior to the process being formally implemented?” she said.

This is a good time to point out that, in addition to the SIG grants, the four Indianapolis turnaround schools got a considerable windfall in ordinary state dollars last year – because their enrollment dropped precipitously after the state takeover, yet their fall funding was based on 2011-12 numbers. Arlington, for example, got almost $15,000 per student under its 2012-13 contract – well over double the state per-pupil average. State funding will fall back to normal levels this fall, all the more reason the turnaround schools are looking to SIG grants for help.

So, with that additional money, are the schools turning around? At Arlington, Robinson said EdPower has changed a climate that, by his description, used to be like something out of Fort Apache, the Bronx. But might some of that change resulted from the departure of almost two-thirds of the school’s students?

Arlington had 1,224 students in 2011-12. When EdPower took over last fall, the number had dropped to 521. “Less than half, 240, of those first day students made it to the last day of school,” Scott Elliott wrote in the Indianapolis Star. “A larger share, 278, were expelled, withdrew or otherwise left.” By the end of the school year, enrollment was down to 446.

It’s great that the state board wants to commit time and resources to building successful schools in troubled neighborhoods; and of course, everyone wants the TSOs to succeed. But you’d think board members might show some concern or curiosity about the students who disappeared from the schools since 2011-12. For the four Indianapolis TSO-run schools, that’s nearly 2,000 kids – more than were enrolled in the schools this spring.

Tests scores at Arlington have started inching up, Robinson said. But challenges remain. According to the school’s report to the Department of Education:

// Nearly one-third of students are in special education.
// For seventh- and eighth-graders, where almost as many suspensions were handed down last year as there were students.
// Attendance was only 84 percent for students – well below what it was in IPS days – and only “approximately 85 percent” for faculty and staff.

One last observation: These state board members were appointed by former Gov. Mitch Daniels, and they’re solidly in the “reform” camp, where it’s an article of faith that school funding doesn’t matter, class size doesn’t matter and a lack of money should never be an excuse for poor performance.

Except when it comes to their strategic priority of school turnaround. Then, all of a sudden, money matters. Oh, yes, it matters a lot.

Note: Descriptions and quotes in this post are from video of the June 24 board meeting posted on the Indiana Department of Education website.

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6 thoughts on “Money matters, apparently, for school turnaround

  1. There seems to be a failing to understand what the problems of the education system are at the political stage. All these politicians seem to look at are the grades and attendance. They don’t look at what the teachers go through on a daily basis, the disrespect, the lack of parental support and the disinterest of the school boards to correct this.

    I know that funding is a big issue, however to fix the issue in the education system the corrections would have to start at the very beginning.

    1. Education is Compulsory – Every child is entitled to go to school, this is common knowledge. What is largely unknown is that there is a huge population of children who don’t go to school. I am not talking about the home schooled students. I am talking those whose parents cannot afford the costs, or are homeless. The children who live in such isolated locales that just aren’t compelled to go.

    2. The education level failure – Educating our children is something every parent and teacher should care about, however depending on where you live, what the level of the parents income and the social level the separation of quality education is vastly different. If a student comes from a well-to-do family he/she would have access to a good school with high quality teachers and a strong curriculum.
    On the flip side you have a student from a low income family they get what ever is available in their area. Low education requirements, teachers who care about the pay more than the students and parents who just think that the teachers job is o take care of their child while they are at the school.

    3. Failure in Curriculum – When we look at grades we mostly hear about math and english grades. My curiosity becomes a monster when I see a high school graduate that struggles with these very same subjects. They graduated… but how? With all the supposed testing and monitoring of the schools how the heck are these children graduating? Lets not talk about the lack of importance on the sciences and histories. Geography was one that i remember having pounded into me. Made sense considering I should at least understand the area I lived in as well as the country. So why is it that i get students coming to my home for tutoring that do not understand the basics of what state they live in or even the county?

    4. Religion in school. Creationism. Students should be taught facts, Creationism is not a fact it is a creation theory based off of a book that was written over 600 years ago. Now I am not one to say the story isn’t something that people shouldn’t believe in, however it is something better left to Church. Not a school. Evolution? That is also something being challenged by some, but its science based and should be a science lesson. Creationism isn’t science any more than the lore of World of Warcraft is. they are both stories, whether you believe in them or not is up to you, it shouldn’t be told as fact in school.

    Pledge of Allegiance: Im on the fence because of this. I had to say it when I was a student all those years ago, but i damn well didn’t believe in it. To me it was a bunch of words I had to say when the homeroom class started. I was thankful it was over so class would actually start. As a child i really didn’t care about what America was, I didn’t care what the flag meant. To be perfectly honest i didn’t miss it when I switched schools when my step father was transferred over seas.

    If a school system wants to have the pledge of allegiance said every morning i don’t think it matters one bit. The kids wont care. it is something they will forget all about when they enter middle school or high school. As adults we tend to push our beliefs and behaviors onto the children. Why not let them grow up and decide for themselves what they want to be?

    I know this became a long post, but I know that to fix the system you have to start over. there are too many schools and not enough students or teachers for all of them. Do what China did and create a huge school property that all the students go to and all the teachers could teach at. it would be one budget, one style of education all on a single massive campus. No separation of incomes, all students get the same education. Yes the school in China can hold a few million students and has about 11,000 in attendance because the city failed. However it is a brilliant idea, would bring hundreds of jobs, and could definately bring education into the 21st Century.

  2. Once again, you hit the nail on the head. It’s unfathomable to me that the State Board of Ed continues to get away with it’s clearly anti-traditional public school bias, especially since the majority of Indiana schools (serving the majority of Indiana students) are traditional public schools! While I doubt the makeup of the board will change under Gov. Pence, communities across the state need to better understand who these board members are, and what particular biases (Shane, business; Elsner, parochial ed) they hold.

  3. I remember when these charter outfits said they could educate kids with less money than traditional public schools. That was a big part of their sales pitch. Wonder what happened?

  4. Once again the state is spending money on Charter Schools, when they should offer assistance and help public schools with resources and money. Fix the problem, don’t add to it. Good teachers are leaving in droves because of the bashing they are receiving from politicians, mainly the republicans.

  5. At a meeting last week with the DOE, I was just told about a practice that a charter school in my neck of the woods employs. It was told to me by an administrator for this Charter. The school has a policy that tracks discipline violations. After a certain number, the student is expelled, barring them from entering another Charter or Public school for 180 days. According to this administrator, although they have a problem with discipline, they have never actually had to expel a student. When the student is just shy of their final strike before expulsion, the family is called into the school for a conference. They are informed of the pending expulsion, if there are one or two more infractions. They are told that the family has the choice to withdraw the student at that point, or leave the student and risk the possibility of expulsion with one more discipline violation. The administrator reported that the family always has chosen to withdraw the student, so they haven’t had to expel anybody. I thought for sure that this must be illegal, since for starters 1/3 of their students have IEP, so many of the threatened expulsions must be for some students with IEPs. The Administrator was telling me about one 6th grade class that had 12 of its 25 students withdraw because of threatened expulsions.
    The administrator told me there was a law that allows charter schools to employ this policy, but after personally searching the web and searching Indiana Law, I couldn’t find such a law. By the contrary, I only found a law that says that a school must report the withdraw because of expulsion or threatened expulsion to the child’s new school.

  6. Pingback: Indiana ‘turnaround’ schools get their money | School Matters

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