On Common Core, Indiana declares victory

Back in 1966, when things were starting to go bad in Vietnam, Vermont Sen. George Aiken famously suggested the U.S. should “declare victory” and get out. Did Indiana Gov. Mike Pence just pull an Aiken on the Common Core State Standards?

For a conservative politician with alleged presidential ambitions – i.e., for Mike Pence – the Common Core had the makings of a quagmire. The business community was for it. But to the Republican base, it was anathema, tainted by support from the White House.

Pence’s answer was to declare victory and move on, to reject the Core on principle but embrace standards that, by some accounts, are awfully similar. The State Board of Education approved the new standards Monday..

Indiana adopted the Common Core in 2010, and schools were transitioning to using them. But state legislators caught the anti-Core fever. First they “paused” the standards, and then they repealed them.

Pence got in front of the parade, calling for “uncommonly high” standards “written by Hoosiers, for Hoosiers.” And in the Indy Star, he insisted that’s what he got from a panel of teachers, professors and business people who worked from the Common Core and Indiana’s old standards to create a new set.

“Here in Indiana,” he wrote, “we will use our own standards, we will use our own assessment, and our schools and teachers will choose their own textbooks and curricula. We have proven once again that Hoosiers are best served by Indiana solutions.”

Diehard Common Core opponents fumed that the new state standards are just the Core rebranded. Continue reading


Indiana charter schools lag on serving ELL students

Do charter schools serve their fair share of English Language Learners? It’s not a new question, and across the country, answers have sometimes been hard to get.

In Indiana, data suggest the answer is: Not yet. At least that appears to be the case in urban areas, where most charters are located and where public school districts tend to enroll the most ELL students.

Using 2012-13 figures, the latest available on the Indiana Department of Education website, we get the following for ELL enrollment:

Indianapolis Public Schools attendance district:

  • IPS schools – 13.5 percent
  • Charter schools – 8.2 percent

Marion County, including IPS and the Indianapolis township schools:

  • District schools – 12 percent
  • Charter schools – 7.6 percent

Lake County(some of which isn’t urban):

  • District schools – 5.8 percent
  • Charter schools – 3.7 percent

ELL_bar_graphThese data don’t include Indy charter schools that opened last fall, two of which — Enlace Academy and Excel Center at Lafayette Square — have high ELL enrollment. With data from Brandon Brown, director of charter schools for the Indianapolis mayor’s office, here are more up-to-date figures: Continue reading

Teacher evaluation flap is much ado about not so much

It’s a problem with being a legislator. You pass a law, and you expect everyone will fall in line. And sometimes it doesn’t work that way.

Case in point: Indiana’s teacher evaluations. Results were released last week, and they weren’t what some lawmakers had in mind when they mandated that all teachers be evaluated annually and rated highly effective, effective, needs improvement or ineffective.

Of the teachers who were rated – and quite a few weren’t, either because their districts have multi-year union contracts that supersede the law or for other reasons – over 97 percent were rated highly effective or effective.

Rep. Bob Behning, who sponsored the 2011 legislation in the House, told Chalkbeat Indiana the results showed the system wasn’t working. “We may have let there be too much local control,” he said. “There’s obviously too much subjectivity.”

Some thoughts:

It’s a new system. Even if you think the teacher ratings are a good idea, they’re a new way for schools to do business. The state didn’t provide any extra resources, leaving it to school principals to find time to do the evaluations themselves or scrape together money to hire and train evaluators. Many districts adopted the state’s RISE system and are learning to implement it. Others are creating their own systems. With either approach, they may be feeling their way.

Beware of unintended consequences. The law says any teacher rated ineffective or needs improvement can’t get a raise. As state Superintendent Glenda Ritz suggested, that creates a disincentive for low ratings. Suppose you’re a principal and you’re evaluating a new teacher who shows lots of promise but needs to get better. Do you rate the teacher “needs improvement,” deny a raise and risk driving away a potential future star?

Labels aren’t everything. The undifferentiated ratings don’t necessarily mean the evaluations were a waste of time. Maybe the classroom observations, consultations and data that were part of the evaluations will help teachers improve. “If, as is hoped, the feedback generated from these reviews is more helpful to teaching and learning, then perhaps the year-end score isn’t the most important thing to consider,” Stephen Sawchuk writes in Education Week.

The “bell curve” idea is nonsense. Len Farber nails this in a post for Indy Vanguard. If you randomly pulled people off the street and put them in a classroom, sure, you’d expect some to be lousy at teaching. But teachers have selected to teach. They’ve finished college; many are motivated enough to get a master’s degree. If they aren’t good at it, chances are they figure it out and leave the field. It’s not surprising that most would be competent.

It’s a myth that only in public education are most employees rated effective. California teacher-blogger Paul Bruno makes this point, citing an economics paper that examines why businesses don’t use employee evaluations to reward superior performance. The paper focuses on two large manufacturing firms where 95 percent of managers and professionals were rated good or excellent.

Finally, in nearly 40 years of working in the private and public sectors – and not as a teacher – I have never experienced annual evaluations as a tool for weeding out “bad” employees. I can recall maybe one time that a co-worker was urged to leave for being ineffective. Maybe I’ve been blessed with remarkably tolerant bosses. But I doubt my experience is that unusual.

Indiana schools worse than average for ‘discipline gap’

Indiana schools are among the nation’s leaders in an unfortunate category: the rate at which they suspend and expel students of color. That’s according to the Civil Rights Data Collection report issued last month by the Department of Education.

The report includes extensive data for 2011-12 from nearly all U.S. public schools and highlights equity issues ranging from availability of preschool to distribution of experienced teachers to access to challenging high school courses.

Some of the starkest disparities were in school discipline. Black students faced out-of-school suspension and expulsion at three times the rate for white students. And in Indiana, the numbers were higher:

  • 27 percent of African-American boys were suspended or expelled: the second-highest rate in the nation, tied with Missouri. The national rate was 20 percent.
  • 17 percent of multiracial boys were suspended or expelled. That’s second in the nation, tied with North Carolina and behind Florida. The national rate was 11 percent.
  • 16 percent of African-American girls were suspended or expelled, tied for second with Michigan and Missouri and behind Wisconsin. National rate: 12 percent.
  • 8 percent of multiracial girls were suspended or expelled, tied for second with several states and behind only Rhode Island. The national rate was 5 percent.


Indiana also had some of the largest racial gaps in suspension rates. Eight percent of white male students and 3 percent of white female students were suspended, as were 5 percent of Asian males and 1 percent of Asian females.

Some folks are sure to suggest poverty, class or culture, and not race, account for the disparities in discipline. But researchers with the Discipline Disparities Research-to-Practice Consortium, including Indiana University professor Russell Skiba, have shown it’s not that simple. There’s evidence that African-American youth are more likely to face harsh penalties for offenses that might draw a slap on the wrist for others.

At any rate, discipline is an educational issue, not just a civil rights issue. When kids are suspended or expelled, they aren’t learning, and they’re arguably apt to become discouraged and alienated. As Skiba, Anne Gregory and Pedro Noguera argued in a 2010 paper, the discipline gap and the achievement gap may be “two sides of the same coin.”

More evidence against the myth of charter school superiority

Conventional public schools in Indiana are doing better than charter schools when it comes to helping the state’s poorest children achieve passing grades on state tests. Not a lot better, but enough that it should give pause to those who assume charter schools are superior and we need more of them.

This claim rests on a simple comparison of 2013 ISTEP-Plus passing rates for charter schools and district public schools where more than 80 percent of students qualified for free and reduced-price school lunches. On average, students in the district public schools were more likely to pass the tests.

Now this isn’t sophisticated research, and it certainly doesn’t prove charter schools are inferior. It looks only at the schools’ overall passing rates for math and English/language arts exams, which of course make up just one small measure of school effectiveness. It says nothing about individual schools.

But neither should the result be particularly surprising. It meshes with what University of Illinois professors Christopher Lubienski and Sarah Theule Lubienski have found: that conventional public schools, on the whole, outperform not only charter schools but also private schools. Continue reading