Indiana school grades align with poverty

Indiana’s A-to-F school grades may say a little about whether schools are effective, but they appear to say a lot more about how many poor children attend the schools.

The 2013 grades, approved recently by the Indiana State Board of Education, track pretty closely with the percentage of children who qualify for free and reduced-price school lunches. The fewer poor kids, the higher the grades, and vice versa.

This is no surprise. Matthew Di Carlo of the Shanker Institute showed it was the case with his analysis of Indiana’s 2012 school grades. And a look at the 2013 grades shows not much has changed.

Like Di Carlo, I divided Indiana schools into four equal-sized groups according to their percentage of free and reduced-price lunch (FRL) students, then looked at the number of As, Bs, etc., in each group. (He used only elementary and middle schools; this analysis includes all schools with grades and FRL data).

A few highlights:

  • Among low-poverty schools, nearly three-fourths got As and almost nine of 10 got As or Bs.
  • Low-poverty schools were three-and-a-half times as likely to get an A as high-poverty schools.
  • Barely 2 percent of low-poverty schools got Ds and Fs; among high-poverty schools, 42 percent got Ds and Fs.
  • Low-poverty schools were nearly 40 times more likely to get an A or B than a D or F; high-poverty schools were more likely to get a D or F than an A or B.
  • 79 percent of all Fs went to schools in the high-poverty group.

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Denial of school voucher data raises accountability issues

It’s a fundamental principle of government transparency: When a government agency spends the public’s money, the public should know who is getting paid and how much.

That’s why it’s disturbing that the Indiana Department of Education rejected requests from the Monroe County Community School Corp. and the Bloomington Herald-Times for information about students who receive state vouchers to attend private schools.

This isn’t a clear-cut case. It pits the principles of transparency and accountability against reasonable concerns about privacy. If the state discloses information about voucher recipients, should it also reveal who receives need-based state aid for college? Should it name people who get food stamps or other public assistance?

Disclosing information about individual students also could run afoul of the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act. The H-T appealed the denial of its request to state Public Access Counselor Luke Britt; and Britt cited FERPA in upholding the DOE decision.

But FERPA seems to make less sense as grounds for withholding data from the MCCSC. It is entrusted, after all, with information about 10,000 students who attend local schools. Continue reading

Pence should reach across aisle for preschool support

Gov. Mike Pence’s support for state-funded preschool could turn out to be a breakthrough for Indiana. It would be nice if he didn’t call his proposal a voucher plan. But its name matters less than its content, and we’re still waiting to see what that will be.

Here’s a suggestion: If the governor is serious about preschool, he should craft a plan that Democrats and public education advocates, not just voucher proponents, can support.

A lot of Indiana Republicans are from the old school that thinks government has no business spending money on early childhood education. They don’t buy into the many studies that show high-quality preschool makes a difference for kids. They’d prefer for every 4-year-old to be at home with Mommy while Daddy goes to work.

It took the state’s GOP leaders five years to approve funding for full-day kindergarten. And they still haven’t agreed that children need to be in school before age 7.

These folks can’t be counted on to support a state preschool program, even if it’s called a voucher program and even if parents can spend the money at private or church-based preschools as well as public preschools. Continue reading

Indiana public schools ‘out-grow’ charter, private schools

School-choice advocates argue that children will get a better education if they can leave public schools for charter or private schools, especially in urban areas. The Indiana Growth Model tells a different story.

It suggests public schools, overall, are performing better than charter schools or the private schools — most of them religious schools — that are getting state vouchers.

The growth model is a statistical tool that measures students’ test-score gains compared to those of students with similar academic histories. It may not be perfect, and critics argue that it shouldn’t be over-used. But it’s unquestionably a better measure of school effectiveness than standardized test scores or school grades, which have been shown to correlate closely to student demographics.

You can download 2012-13 growth scores for all the schools in the state from the Indiana Department of Education website. Sort and rank them, and what do they show? Continue reading

Ritz and Pence: Who’s blocking whom?

Did Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz head off a plan by Gov. Mike Pence to undercut her authority when she revealed parts of the governor’s legislative agenda the day before he announced it himself? Probably not, but we can wonder.

On Wednesday, after a testy meeting with the State Board of Education, Ritz told reporters the governor and his allies were trying to remove her as chair of the board.

Ritz’s staff produced a document – an Oct. 3 memo between officials with the Pence-created Center for Education and Career Innovation – that proposed doing just that. The memo, a summary of legislative proposals, said it’s a “problem” that Ritz chairs the board. Its proposed solution: Change the law to have Pence appoint the board chair.

The memo also called for: paying teachers bonuses to move to charter schools; treating charter-school networks like school districts for funding purposes; helping low-income families pay for preschool; taking over underused school buildings to potentially give them to charter schools; and awarding grants to teachers for innovative ideas.

On Thursday, Pence released his legislative proposals, and the education plank tracked closely to the Oct. 3 memo. One difference was that, instead of paying teachers to move to charter schools, he would pay them to work in schools that serve high-poverty areas. But as Scott Elliott of Chalkbeat Indiana notes, that probably means charter schools.

The other obvious difference: No proposal to remove Ritz as chair of the education board. Continue reading

Indiana growth scores for schools yield surprising results

Which Indiana school districts are the most effective at improving student achievement? Let’s hear it for Eastern Greene School District, a rural, high-poverty district in southern Indiana? And Southwest Dubois School Corp., another small, rural district.

How about the best big school district? Brownsburg Community Schools takes the prize. Some typically high-achieving schools — Carmel, Zionsville and Hamilton Southeastern — are also among the elite. But so are districts that aren’t thought of as high fliers, such as Elkhart, New Albany and Lawrence Township in Indianapolis.

Here’s another surprise. A few charter schools do great at promoting growth, but the overall record for charters is pretty mediocre. The same is true for private schools.

This is according to school ratings on the Indiana Growth Model, a statistical tool that assesses students’ annual improvement in test scores compared to that of others with similar academic histories. The model assigns a growth percentile score to each student.

Indiana has compiled median growth scores for schools and districts for years, but it has never made a big deal out of them. Yet the growth model is arguably a much better measure of school effectiveness than A-to-F school grades Continue reading