Study provides strong support for state-funded preschool

A new study of preschool programs in Georgia and Oklahoma provides some of the strongest evidence yet that it’s past time for Indiana to join the move to state-supported early childhood education. The study, presented at a conference of the Brookings Institution, found the programs produced a range of benefits for children and families:

  • Academic gains that continued into the eighth grade.
  • Increased enrollment in preschool, especially for children from low-income families.
  • More time spent by low-income parents reading, talking and playing with their kids.
  • Less money spent on child care, leaving more for other activities.

Co-author Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach discussed the study last week in Bloomington as part of Indiana University’s Economics of Education Seminar series. She said it provides solid support for President Barack Obama’s Preschool for All proposal. “It makes so much sense from a policy perspective,” she said.

Previous studies, including analysis by Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman, have found significant benefits from preschool. But skeptics argue that much of the research is based on small, short-lived and relatively expensive programs like Michigan’s Perry Preschool. The new study focuses on large-scale programs that any state could replicate. Georgia and Oklahoma are unusual in having provided nearly universal access to free, high-quality preschool since the 1990s.

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Ritz makes statement with lawsuit

Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz was no doubt sending a message that she doesn’t intend to be pushed around when she sued the State Board of Education this week for violating the state’s Open Door Law. She may not win in court. But whether she gains anything by suing is another question.

The lawsuit also calls attention to an issue with the Open Door Law, which says the public’s business should be conducted in meetings that are open to the public. It’s a good law. But if governing bodies are determined to act in secret, they can find ways to do it.

At issue is the State Board of Education’s Oct. 16 letter to Indiana House and Senate leaders asking them to direct the Legislative Services Agency to calculate A-to-F grades for Indiana schools, something normally done by staff at Ritz’s Department of Education.

Ten of the 11 board members signed the letter. Ritz, who chairs the board, said she wasn’t told of the letter until it was delivered. She sued on Tuesday, alleging the other board members conducted an illegal secret meeting to draft and sign the letter.

Tension between Ritz and board members has been growing for months, and the letter and lawsuit take it to a new level. And the Department of Education news release announcing the suit suggests Ritz sees the board’s efforts to undercut her authority as being encouraged by Gov. Mike Pence, who appoints the board members. Continue reading

Indiana’s voucher program still all about religion

Now in its third year, Indiana’s school voucher program continues to be primarily about one thing: providing taxpayer support for Christian education.

Look at the numbers. There are 314 Indiana schools that are eligible to receive vouchers, according to the state Department of Education. By my count, only 11 are not religious schools. And only four of the religious schools are not Christian schools.

Indiana’s program has been in the news recently with reports that over 20,000 students applied for vouchers this fall, more than twice as many as last year. It’s now the second-biggest voucher program in the country, on track to surpass Milwaukee and become No. 1.

The growth comes even though, as Stephanie Simon pointed out recently in Politico, “there’s little evidence that the investment (in vouchers) yields academic gains.”

Voucher supporters, like Indianapolis Star columnist Matthew Tully, argue the program is good because it lets more parents choose the school they think is best for their children. But as public-education advocates have begun pointing out, “school choice” is an apt name for the program – because the schools, not just parents, get to choose. Continue reading

Nonprofit edu-news site to launch

Nonprofit education news coverage is coming to Indiana, and that’s something to welcome. Scott Elliott has left the Indianapolis Star to become editor of Chalkbeat Indiana, an online news outlet that will cover schools and education policy.

Chalkbeat is an initiative of the Education News Network, which formed early this year in a merger of two respected education news organizations, Gotham Schools in New York and Ed News Colorado. The network is also starting an education news site in Tennessee.

Plans call for the Indiana site to launch in early 2014 with a four-person staff. And it will have plenty to cover: the growth of Indiana’s voucher and charter-schools programs, tension between Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz and the State Board of Education, the implementation of performance-based teacher evaluations and the political fight over Common Core – not to mention the great stories that can be found in Indiana schools every day.

“We’re going to cover educational change with a focus on the Indianapolis Public School District and other schools across the city,” Elliott tells edu-blogger Alexander Russo. “At the state policy level, we’ll cover the state board of education, the education department and the legislature. There will be a focus on key high impact issues.”

The School Matters blog started out of frustration over the lack of education news reporting, especially at the level of state policy and politics. Now we’ve got NPR’s State Impact Indiana providing solid coverage, soon to be joined by Chalkbeat Indiana. Continue reading

Reform from the ‘radical middle’

There’s a lot to like about a column that Leslie and David Rutkowski wrote recently for Education Week, but one of the best things about it is this: It reclaims the word “reform” from the distorted meaning that has attached to it in education policy circles.

The Rutkowskis, who are education professors at Indiana University, note there are reformers on the right and left and in the center. And they do this without making an argument, but by simply using “reform” in its dictionary meaning – an effort to improve what’s wrong or unsatisfactory.

“Education reformers are firmly parked … in one of two camps,” they write. “The ‘schools good’ camp argues that taxpayers have no right to demand a standardized accountability system that emphasizes student achievement. On the other hand, the ‘schools bad’ camp gives every indication that there is an easy way to hold schools accountable.”

School Matters argued a year ago that we should just say no to using “reform” to refer to the menu of policies advocated by Jeb Bush, Tony Bennett and friends: giving letter grades to schools; weakening unions; promoting, paying and firing teachers on the basis of student test scores; promoting charter schools and vouchers, etc.

But the Rutkowskis’ approach is more honest and more accurate. Continue reading

Common Core debate: Be careful what you pay for

It’s often noted that the politics of the Common Core State Standards make for odd bedfellows. Disagreements over the standards may also be putting a chill on some intimate political relationships.

You could watch this play out on Twitter as Derek Redelman, vice president for education of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, commented during a recent hearing of the legislative study committee evaluating the Common Core.

The chamber supports the standards, which Indiana adopted in 2010. But a lot of Republicans in the legislature have swallowed the tea party line that they are a federal takeover of the schools – or worse. Early this year, the legislature voted to “pause” the implementation of the standards and study their effectiveness and cost.

On Tuesday, the study committee was supposed to be considering a report by the state Office of Management and Budget on the cost of implementing the standards. But testimony veered off into the usual anti-Core rhetoric, and some lawmakers followed.

Redelman was tweeting his frustration.

Rep Rhoads trying to downplay OMB testimony. Consistently, the only info she finds credible is from CommonCore opposition. #closedminds.

Rhoads is Rep. Rhonda Rhoads, R-Corydon, who in 2010 ousted long-time Democratic House member Paul Robertson thanks in part to at least $23,000 in campaign contributions from Indiana Business for Responsive Government, the chamber’s political action committee.

Sen Schneider now joining Rep Rhoads in questioning OMB findings on CommonCore. Apparently, OMB report does not fit their storyline.”

Schneider is Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis. He edged Democrat Tim Delaney in one of the closest Senate races of 2012. According to campaign finance reports, the chamber gave at least $15,000 to Schneider and nothing to Delaney.

Former Rep Cindy Noe encourages state to “walk away from CommonCore.” Funny. Voters did that to her last fall.

Indeed, Noe, a Republican, lost her 2012 re-election bid in an overwhelmingly GOP year — despite nearly $30,000 in contributions from the chamber.

One conclusion to draw is that, whatever their faults, Indiana legislators aren’t bought and paid for. They don’t seem to feel a need to, as the saying goes, dance with who brung them.

But for the chamber, the lesson might be that it’s time to be a little more discriminating when it comes to backing candidates. If the business group is serious about supporting education, it ought to be looking for credible allies on both sides of the aisle.