Graduation rates declined

It’s not surprising that Indiana high school graduation rates declined in 2021. It’s probably a little surprising that they didn’t decline more than they did.

According to the Indiana Department of Education, the graduation rate for public and charter schools was 86.69%. That’s down one percentage point from the 2020 rate.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought massive disruption to schooling in 2020-21. Some high school seniors no doubt adapted well to online or hybrid classes, but others didn’t. We heard stories of students who gave up on school, sometimes to work or care for siblings. An analysis by the state DOE found 2020-21 disruptions had an academic impact ranging from moderate to significant for Hoosier students. You’d expect the graduation rate to drop.

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1619 belongs in classrooms

We remember the canonical years from our American history classes: 1492. 1776. 1861-65. It’s past time to add 1619 to the list. I just read the 1619 Project book, and I’m convinced.

It was in August 1619 that Jamestown, Virginia, colonists bought 20 to 30 enslaved Africans from English pirates. “They were among the more than 12.5 million Africans who would be kidnapped from their homes and brought in chains across the Atlantic Ocean in the largest forced migration in human history until the Second World War,” writes Nikole Hannah-Jones in the book’s introductory essay.

Image of The 1619 Project book cover.

Arguably no event had a more pivotal and long-lasting impact on the United States. As the 1619 Project makes clear, chattel slavery and the accompanying doctrine of white supremacy shaped American history and American attitudes, and they continue to do so today.

“The story of Black Americans cannot be disentangled from the story of America, and our attempts to do so have forced us to tell ourselves a tale full of absences, evasions and lies,” writes Hannah-Jones, the project’s creator and lead author.

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Indiana falls short on school funding effort

Indiana just doesn’t try hard enough. That’s a key message from an annual report on school funding from the Albert Shanker Institute and the Rutgers Graduate School of Education.

When it comes to “fiscal effort,” one of the report’s measures of K-12 funding, Indiana lags behind most other states. We spend just 3.06% of our gross state product on K-12 education, compared to a national average of 3.45%. Indiana ranks 36th among the states for fiscal effort.

It wasn’t always that way. In 2007, Indiana spent a respectable 3.73% of its economy on K-12 schools, the report says. Then came the Great Recession. Under Gov. Mitch Daniels, the state slashed funding for schools. Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett declared this was a “new normal,” and schools should just get used to it. Indiana fell far behind its peers for teacher pay.

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The wrong questions

We’re asking all the wrong questions about the shooting last week at a Michigan high school that killed four students and injured seven, some critically:

Here’s the right question: Why can just about any American adolescent get his hands on a 9-millimeter semiautomatic pistol? Furthermore, why do we no longer even think this question is worth asking?

Why did he do it? It’s natural to wonder, but it really doesn’t matter. It’s not like understanding the warped psychology of one school shooter will help us stop the next one. There are 60 million K-12 students in this country; no one should be surprised that a few are capable of horrific actions.

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Surveys go heavy on school issues

Look for Indiana legislators to spend their 2022 session trying to mandate partisan school board elections and restrict political discussions in the classroom. They may also want to ban transgender athletes from competing in school sports and demand disclosure of teachers’ lesson plans.

That’s my conclusion from reviewing issues surveys posted online by House Republicans. While the surveys are ostensibly to get constituent input, they also let lawmakers field-test ideas for legislation.

Statehouse
Indiana Statehouse

About half of the 71 House Republicans have posted their surveys. Using identical, canned language, they ask about vaccine mandates, tax cuts and other topics, but K-12 education seems to dominate. For example, a large majority ask if constituents would support “greater election transparency” by requiring school board candidates to declare their political party affiliation.

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