How to beat reform ‘addiction’

John Merrow spent 41 years reporting on education for NPR and PBS “Newshour,” long enough to develop a clear-eyed view of what’s right and wrong with America’s schools. He argues that our obsession with “reform” is an addiction that’s harming students and teachers.

But he insists we can beat it, if we just work the steps. And yes, there are 12 of them.

Book cover“The process of school reform is unquestionably addictive,” he writes in his book “Addicted to Reform.” “Its goals always feel good and sound right. … Unfortunately, as with drug addicts, the high is temporary, lasting only until reality intervenes and it becomes clear that the problem persists.”

Merrow diagnoses the illness in detail. He laments the way schools sort students into winners and losers at an early age. He criticizes overuse and misuse of standardized tests, segregation of schools by race and socioeconomic status, and inequalities in school funding. He calls out schools of education for failing to effectively prepare teachers.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Data raise questions about school staffing – but don’t answer them

Indiana ranks near the bottom of the states for the percentage of school employees who are teachers and near the top for the percentage who provide “support services,” according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics.

I don’t know if those stats are perfectly accurate, but they have become a handy talking point for state legislators who claim to want to raise teacher salaries but don’t want to spend any more money.

Lawmakers have pointed to data, reported to the U.S. Department of Education by the states, that indicate only 37.7 percent of Indiana school employees are teachers. The implication is that teachers could be paid more if only there weren’t so many other school employees.

The National Center for Education Statistics is a reliable and widely cited source. The figure is based on 2015 data, the latest available. Only Ohio, at 31.5 percent, has a lower percentage of school employees who are teachers. The national average is just under half.

Continue reading

Weak laws allow discrimination in voucher, charter schools

School voucher programs and charter schools practice discrimination in enrollment and hiring because they can, according to a recent policy brief from the National Education Policy Center. Federal and state laws permit discrimination in private schools that receive public funding. And charter schools are held to looser standards than traditional public schools when it comes to selecting students.

The policy brief, by education law scholars Julie Mead of the University of Wisconsin and Suzanne Eckes of Indiana University, examines the legal landscape that allows for discrimination and recommends changing laws to ensure publicly funded schools are open to all.

“To the extent that states have determined that voucher programs and charter schools are part of the menu of educational opportunities” they write, “those programs must also ensure equitable access to both students and employees. To do anything else is to return to the days of separate and inherently unequal education.”

Mead and Eckes identify three factors that allow for discrimination.

  • Federal law largely prohibits discrimination in public spaces but may allow it in private spaces such as private schools, even those that receive public funding via vouchers.
  • Private schools and charter schools design their own programs and may not offer adequate services for certain students: for example, students with disabilities and English learners.
  • State legislatures have taken a hands-off approach to discrimination in voucher or voucher-like programs, which now exist in 28 states.

In Indiana, for example, voucher schools are barred from discriminating by race, color or national origin but may discriminate by religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability status or other factors.

The policy brief cites the example of Indianapolis Roncalli High School, which indefinitely suspended a guidance counselor after learning she had married her longtime female partner. The school has received almost $6 million in state voucher funding over the past four years.

It also points to reports that Indiana voucher schools refuse to enroll students because of their religion or sexual orientation and research that finds many charter schools are racially homogenous and enroll fewer special-education students and English learners than public schools.

Mead and Eckes recommend four changes:

  • Congress should prohibit discrimination by schools that receive public funding.
  • Federal agencies should consider withholding funds from schools that discriminate.
  • States should revise voucher laws to ban discrimination by sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, first language and other factors.
  • States should strengthen laws to ensure that charter schools are accessible to all students.

Vouchers and charter schools may have been created with good intentions, Mead and Eckes write, but “we can ill afford to experiment with equity and access in programs funded by public dollars. Insisting that publicly funded programs ensure access to the entirety of the public should be beyond argument.”

Regulations proposed for virtual schools

New accountability could be coming to Indiana’s online K-12 schools. A State Board of Education committee is recommending stricter oversight, limits on growth and class size and other measures targeting “virtual schools,” most of which are charter schools.

The board will consider the proposals today. Most would require action by the Indiana General Assembly, which begins its 2019 session in January.

The committee on virtual schools was created in response to low tests scores and other issues at virtual charter schools. In one example, a Chalkbeat Indiana investigation found that Indiana Virtual School graduated few students, had a student-teacher ratio of over 200-to-1 and paid millions of dollars in rent and management fees to a business run by its founder. Continue reading

Teacher pay tops union’s legislative agenda

Indiana educators watched quietly last spring as teachers in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Arizona staged rallies, protests and even walkouts for higher pay. Look for that to change next month when the Indiana General Assembly convenes for its biennial budget-writing session.

The Indiana State Teachers Association released its 2019 legislative agenda Monday, and boosting teacher pay is at the top of its priority list.

Teresa Meredith

Teresa Meredith

“At the end of the day, it’s about compensation,” said ISTA President Teresa Meredith.

The teachers’ union bolstered its case with the release of a poll that found more than 80 percent of Hoosiers favor increased school funding if the bulk of the money goes to the classroom. Over 70 percent of poll respondents said schools are underfunded and teachers are underpaid.

Indiana schools haven’t caught up from funding cuts in the recession of the late 2000s, and teachers and students have borne the brunt of the penny-pinching. Average teacher salaries have declined 15 percent in the past 15 years after adjusting for inflation, according to a Vox analysis.

“Some teachers haven’t seen a meaningful pay increase in 10 years,” said Meredith, whose union represents teachers in most Indiana school districts.

Continue reading

Proposal would move away from school grades

Indiana would eliminate A-to-F school grades from its accountability system for the federal Every Student Succeeds Act under a proposal from the Indiana Department of Education. Does that mean school grades would go the way of the one-room schoolhouse? Not yet; grades will still be part of the separate state accountability system. But the department’s proposal is a step in the right direction and away from this overly simplistic way of evaluating and labeling schools and school districts.

Indiana StatehouseThe proposal, an amendment to Indiana’s ESSA plan, is open for public comment until Dec. 21. Once it’s submitted by the state, hopefully in January, the U.S. Department of Education will have 90 days to decide whether to approve it.

The amendment would replace A-to-F grades for federal accountability with a system that places schools and districts in one of four categories: “exceeds expectations,” “meets expectations,” “approaches expectations” and “does not meet expectations.”

Like the current system, it would put the heaviest weight on student performance and growth on standardized tests. But it would increase the weight given to other indicators, such as high-school graduation rate, language proficiency of English learners and absenteeism. It would also consider progress schools are making in closing achievement gaps for subgroups – students of color, poor children, students with disabilities, etc. – addressing a flaw in Indiana’s current accountability system.

Continue reading

Do A-to-F grades leave some students behind?

A key element of federal education law since 2002 has been the idea that K-12 schools should be held accountable not only for the performance of their entire student population but for subgroups of students – students of color, poor children, students with disabilities and so on.

But there’s debate over whether Indiana’s accountability system under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act is really doing that. The state tracks and reports the performance of subgroups at the school and district levels, but the results don’t have any impact on overall school grades.

An analysis from the Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington, D.C., policy and advocacy organization, argues that Indiana and 11 other states are missing the boat by not including subgroups of students in their school grades or evaluations.

“Research has shown that simply reporting on performance doesn’t have the same impact as reporting and also holding schools accountable for those results,” said Anne Hyslop, an assistant director of the alliance. “We’re more likely to see improvement when there are consequences.” Continue reading