The Bennett-Ritz-Common Core narrative that won’t die

Last week’s New Yorker has a long and detailed story about former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and his prospects as a candidate for president. It focuses on Bush’s history as an advocate for “education reform” and his ties to for-profit education services and charter-school companies.

A key question raised in the story is whether the Republican base will forgive Bush for his embrace of the Common Core State Standards – an interesting and important question.

But writer Alec MacGinnis sounds a false note when he suggests Common Core was a significant factor when Glenda Ritz upset Tony Bennett in the 2012 Indiana superintendent of public instruction election. It wasn’t. And hardly anyone who was actually in Indiana during the campaign would say it was.

“In 2012, the Tea Party organized opposition to Bennett’s re-election; e-mails between Bennett’s office and the foundation that summer are full of alarm about the ‘black helicopter crowd,’” he writes. “In November, Bennett lost to an anti-Common Core Democrat who had Tea Party backing.”

So Ritz was “anti-Common Core” and was supported by the Tea Party? I don’t think so. Continue reading

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Legislation seeks to roll back ‘zero tolerance’

Indiana legislators could be on their way to doing something important for the state’s students. Bills have been filed in the House and Senate that would pull back from the harsh school discipline policies that have been in place since the “zero tolerance” philosophy swept the nation in the 1990s.

The measures, Senate Bill 443 and House Bill 1640, were introduced by Republicans Dennis Kruse, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, and Bob Behning, chairman of the House Education Committee. And they have bipartisan support; Democrat Greg Porter is second author of the House bill.

“These are very good bills, with three or four noteworthy provisions,” said Russell Skiba, education professor and director of the Equity Project at Indiana University. “It’s certainly encouraging that the leadership in both the House and Senate is behind this.”

The proposals result from recommendations developed last fall by the legislature’s interim study committee on education. The Children’s Law and Policy Initiative, the Indianapolis NAACP and other groups have been pushing for these sorts of changes.

Driving the bills is concern about overuse of suspension and expulsion, often for minor offenses. Research has found large disparities in how discipline is applied, with minority students punished more harshly than white students for the same offenses. Indiana has some of the worst disparities in the nation, according to federal data. Continue reading

‘Education budget’ would shortchange public schools

Following up on the George Orwell theme from last month: War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength. And Gov. Mike Pence’s state budget proposal is an education budget.

OK, that’s a bit harsh. But public-school supporters probably rolled their eyes when they read that the governor announced his plan by declaring, “This is an education budget.”

First, at a time when Republicans and Democrats in the legislature are saying they want to make school funding a priority, Pence’s budget increases state spending on K-12 schools by just 2 percent in fiscal 2016 and 1 percent in 2017. That’s not enough to keep pace with inflation, let alone to help schools recover from the funding cuts they endured several years ago.

But the worst of it is that much of Pence’s funding increase wouldn’t go to regular public schools. He wants to give an extra $1,500 per pupil to all Indiana charter schools. That would cost $41 million a year at current charter enrollment – a big chunk of the proposed $134 million increase in fiscal 2016.

In other words, 30 percent of the new money will go to charter schools that serve less than 3 percent of Indiana’s public-school students.

Continue reading

No magic to charter schools

I wasn’t going to write about how Indiana charter schools fared this year under the state’s school grading system. But then Gov. Mike Pence released his 2015 legislative agenda, which calls for doubling down on charter schools and vouchers. So here goes.

We’ve had charter schools for over a decade in Indiana, and there’s no evidence they are better than schools run by public school districts. They aren’t a magic bullet. Some charter schools are effective and some aren’t. Just like your local public schools.

And when measured by Indiana’s school grading system – which the governor likes to cite in calling for more high-quality schools — charter schools aren’t better.

Looking at all schools in the state, there’s a huge gap. Among all public schools*, 74 percent were awarded an A or B, and only 9 percent got a D or F. Among all Indiana charter schools that received grades, only 35 percent got an A or B and 60 percent got a D or F. (Fifteen charter schools were not graded, typically because they were new and couldn’t show student growth on test scores).

Statewide - cropped Continue reading