Indiana school funding lacks effort

The second annual “The Adequacy and Fairness of State School Finance Systems” report is out. And if it were awarding grades, Indiana could expect a D-minus for effort.

The report, produced by researchers at the Albert Shanker Institute and the Rutgers University Graduate School of Education, builds on the growing scholarly consensus that spending more money on schools leads to better results.

“In other words,” it says, “the evidence is clear that money does, indeed, matter.”

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‘Schools that Succeed’ author: It comes down to belief

Karin Chenoweth has spent 15 years visiting and writing about schools that defy expectations: high-achieving and fast-improving schools that serve many students of color and students from low-income families.

Book cover of 'Schools that Succeed'“Going to these schools, and now districts, I’m finding great commonality,” Chenoweth told me. “All of them marshal the power of schools to solve problems that educators face all over the country.”

How do they do it? They start with an unwavering commitment to the belief that all children can meet high academic standards. They develop systems that enable teachers to collaborate and learn from each other. They use data and assessments as tools to improve instruction and curriculum.

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Systemwide failure on virtual charter schools

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!” — Upton Sinclair

We’ve known something fishy was going on with virtual charter schools since 2017, when a Chalkbeat Indiana investigation exposed shady business practices and lousy test scores and graduation rates at Indiana Virtual School and its sister school, Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy.

A blockbuster report this week from the State Board of Accounts shows just how bad it was – and it was worse than we’d imagined. The report charged that the schools overbilled the state by $68 million by vastly inflating the number of students who were enrolled in and attending classes online.

It also found schools made $85.7 million in questionable payments to vendors in which school officials or family members had an interest. Much of the taxpayer money that the schools received, the report shows, went to a network of for-profit businesses tied to school founder Thomas Stoughton and his associates.

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Making sense of homeschool and dropout figures

Indiana makes it nearly impossible for students under 18 to drop out of school but easy – extremely easy – for them to withdraw to be homeschooled.

That background could help make sense of the revelation that some high schools may be steering students from dropping out to homeschooling. Chalkbeat Indiana broke the story with an investigation that focused on CSUSA Emmerich Manual, an Indianapolis “turnaround academy.”

Manual reported that 60 students from its 2018 graduating cohort left to homeschool – nearly as many as the 83 students who graduated. Chalkbeat reporter Dylan Peers McCoy interviewed a mom who said she signed papers for her son to drop out, only to learn he had been reported as leaving to homeschool.

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‘Hold harmless’ shows flaws in school grades

The Indiana Senate and House have scrambled to approve “hold-harmless” legislation that, as Chalkbeat Indiana says, will render the state’s school letter grades essentially meaningless for two years.

Indiana Statehouse

Indiana Statehouse

A better approach would be to scrap the school grades altogether and get to work on a more fair and meaningful method for assessing school quality. But that might be too much to hope for.

The Senate and House voted unanimously for Senate Bill 2, which says the grades that schools receive for the 2018-19 and 2019-20 school years can be no worse than their grades in 2017-18. Gov. Eric Holcomb called for hold-harmless in his State of the State speech, so he’s sure to sign the bill into law.

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