New State Board of Education member asked board for patience

Early this year, Byron Ernest asked the Indiana State Board of Education for more time to improve the performance of Hoosier Academy Virtual Charter School.

The board agreed, so Hoosier Academy could return to the board in 2016. But next time Ernest will be on the other side of the table; or possibly on both sides of the table. House Speaker Brian Bosma on Wednesday appointed the Hoosier Academy head of school to serve on the state education board.

Hoosier Academy appealed to the board because it had received an F for four straight years under the state accountability system. If a charter school gets four straight Fs, the board may close it, transfer it to a different authorizer or reduce payments to the authorizer (Ball State University, in this case).

Ernest started working for Hoosier Academy in 2014, so he’s not responsible for those Fs. Before that, he spent two years as principal of Indianapolis Manual High School, which the state had turned over to Florida for-profit company Charter Schools USA. It got an F his first year, a D his second.

Before that, Ernest taught agricultural science at Lebanon, Ind, schools. He was Indiana Teacher of the Year in 2010.

Hoosier Academy has had a small school in the east side of Indianapolis, which performs reasonably well. But the great majority of its students – over 3,300 last fall – attend online. And it’s their performance that earned Fs for poor test scores and low graduation rates.

Ernest, backed by Ball State and State Board of Education staff, said the school serves students with “special challenges and circumstances.” For example, they may have withdrawn from their previous schools because of bullying or health problems.

That may be, but it’s hard to see how that makes Hoosier Academy different from neighborhood schools serving large numbers of poor children facing similar hardships. Would state board staff and members show the same patience for those schools?

The officials also said Hoosier Academy has a high turnover rate, with two-thirds of its students enrolled for less than a full year. But turnover shouldn’t hurt its accountability performance. Under Indiana’s A-to-F system, students’ test scores count only if they’re enrolled at the school for 162 days of the year.

Hoosier Academy is part of K-12 Inc., a publicly traded corporation that has faced criticism in other states. You can read all about it in this New York Times story from 2011.

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2 thoughts on “New State Board of Education member asked board for patience

  1. This is stunning, Steve. Why is the head of this school, a school with a questionable educational model and abysmal performance, now serving on the State Board of Education? If they were receiving about $5000 per student (and I don’t know if that’s the case, as I don’t know the foundation amounts of their students; it appears they receive 90% of the foundation amount) this school would be getting $16.7 million from the state of Indiana, annually. Isn’t this a conflict of interest writ large? He works for a corporation that has a large financial stake in school policy in Indiana.

    A company called K-12 Southpoint II gave $1000 in both 2008 and 2012 to re-elect Bob Behning, who is the long-time chair of the House Education Committee.

    • Thanks, Jenny. Good point about campaign contributions. If you search contributions for K12 Management (no hyphen in K12), you’ll see the national company gave a total of $17,500 to Indiana Republican candidates in the fall of 2014, including $5,000 to Mike Pence.

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