About indianak12

A conversation about K-12 education in America, Indiana and our community of Bloomington, Indiana.

Teachers cleaning classrooms? It’s already happening

Teachers cleaning their own classrooms and carrying out their trash; high school students crammed 44 to a class, as they are now in a physics class at Bloomington High School North; and the elimination of funding for librarians, art, music, PE and extracurricular activities all could become the norm in Monroe County Community School Corp. schools if the Nov. 2 property tax referendum doesn’t pass, Superintendent J.T. Coopman told members of the Bloomington Press Club Oct. 25.

In the longer term, if Indiana ends up a “referendum state” like neighboring Ohio, the consequences will be more profound, Coopman said. In Ohio, where school funding referendums are routinely used to raise funds, school districts have become divided into haves and have-nots. Those who have passed referendums and have continued to fund quality programming draw families from neighboring communities where citizens have voted against additional funding. The poorer school districts are losing students and, consequently, per pupil funding, compounding issues of equity among students, Coopman said.

Coopman reasoned that if the MCCSC referendum fails, citizens will end up paying much more in juvenile justice costs to rehabilitate students who drop out or lose interest in school than they will in additional property taxes if the referendum passes. And if public schools decline through lack of funding, he said, “businesses leave, people leave, and then a community starts to die on the vine.” Continue reading

Indiana updates: Inequities in the system

Indy Star launches kindergarten series
The Indianapolis Star, which last school year followed the fortunes of students at Manual High School in Indianapolis, is taking on a reporting project at the other end of the education spectrum: observing kindergartners at IPS School #61, where students are predominantly black or Hispanic, and 90 percent of the student body lives in poverty. Reporter Robert King’s first article in the series highlighted the first obvious differences among the new students: those who could understand simple directions and those who couldn’t; those who had been raised with awareness of correct social behavior and those who hadn’t; even those who showed up on the first day with their families, and the one child who showed up alone, with teachers not even knowing his full name until three days had passed.

Dumpster diving teacher provides for her kids
How’s this for an effective way to underscore the inequities among children in different Indiana public schools? Katie Nave, a fifth-grade teacher at IPS School 63, picked up on school supplies discarded by teachers and students in the Carmel schools and hit the jackpot, reports The Indianapolis Star. She came back with enough pencils, paper and other basic supplies to outfit her whole class.
“This is my first year when I’ve been able to give every single one of my kids every supply they would need during the school year,” she told the Star.
Some Carmel Clay schools already help out their neighbors to the south with fundraisers and drives for school supplies and even clothes. After Assistant Superintendent Amy Dudley found out about Nave’s exploits, she suggested a formal supply drive be added to those cooperative efforts so that IPS kids in future won’t have to rely on a Dumpster-diving teacher for their back-to-school needs.

IBJ (mostly) hearts Bennett
The Indianapolis Business Journal gave Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett a largely ringing endorsement for his recent State of Education address, applauding his push for “hard-nosed reforms.” (Read a transcript of the speech here.) The IBJ editorial noted Bennett’s emphasis on teacher and administrator accountability and praised his proposal to grade schools on a scale of A though F. Still, the journal expressed some reservation about the use of test scores as the only measure of school effectiveness. “Students are not widgets,” it said. And it suggested Bennett take up two causes that it said can’t be achieved without money: instituting universal full-day kindergarten and decreasing class size around the state. But overall, the IBJ said Bennett is on the right track, with the most aggressive education agenda since former superintendent H. Dean Evans’s A-Plus reforms passed in 1987.

Indiana updates: Bennett’s 90-25-90

At a stop on his “Season Opener” tour of Indiana communities last week, Superintendent for Public Instruction Tony Bennett told assembled educators at Jasper High School that he wants to see a 90-25-90 compliance rate statewide in three crucial areas by 2012: 90 percent of students passing ISTEP+; 25 percent of high school graduates earning college credit or high academic honors; and a 90 percent high school graduation rate. His comments were reported in the Evansville Courier & Press.

Bennett said the state will continue to pursue a “growth model” to measure academic achievement, tracking individual student progress over time. The model tosses out such terms as “academic probation” and replaces them with letter grades for schools, at least with regard to student performance on ISTEP+ in grades 3 through 8. But the same grading scale doesn’t apply to high schools. Jeff Zaring, administrator of the State Board of Education, told the Courier & Press that high school students will be graded on “college and career readiness.” How? “We’re working on it,” Zaring said.

More from Bennett
In another “Season Opener” stop, this one at Plymouth High School, Bennett relied on a well-worn metaphor to warn educators about the potentially dire consequences of falling behind on reform. “The education reform train is moving very fast down the railroad tracks nationally,” he said, according to the South Bend Tribune. “We’re either going to be driving it, riding the caboose or looking at it from the bottom as it rides over us.”

In response to a question about how schools will pay for professional development required by the state, Bennett said it will incorporate technology and won’t be as expensive as people think, according to the Tribune article.

As for details? Apparently, he’s working on it.

No more budget cuts?
Gov. Mitch Daniels has come in for some criticism about his apparent flip-flopping over additional federal stimulus dollars. He was one of 40 governors who signed a letter in February requesting more money, particularly for Medicaid. But he’s since denounced the extra money, telling Fox News Sunday, “It amounts at this point in time to asking the citizens of responsible states like ours to subsidize those places who have been more reckless. It’s probably not going to help the economy.”

But he’s still going to take the $207 million for education and the $227 million for Medicaid that’s coming the state’s way — even though he believes schools could remain solvent without it.

“That’s our goal, and our current assessment is that we can achieve it, with or without another federal check,” the governor said. “We’ll do all we can to avoid any further reduction.”

Bidders question Bennett/DOE contract connections

The Indianapolis Star reports some skepticism over the Indiana Department of Education’s $500,000 contract with Marian University — whose education department employs Tina Bennett, wife of education superintendent Tony Bennett — to direct a training program for Indiana principals. Principals who go through the program, dubbed the Turnaround Leadership Academy, will be assigned to lead rejuvenation efforts at low-performing schools. Tony Bennett announced the contract last week in a news release that also quoted Marian president Daniel Elsener, a member of the Indiana State Board of Education. The board oversees education policy making, raising further questions among critics about Marian University’s connections to state education leadership. The Department of Education said staffers gave Marian the top evaluation of the eight bidders.

Welcome to School Matters

Welcome to the School Matters: Indiana K-12 blog, our modest attempt to be part of an essential conversation about education in America, Indiana and, especially, our community of Bloomington, Ind.

Why are we doing this? Primarily because we think it’s the right thing to do. Our schools matter more than anything else to the future of our nation and the well-being of our children and youth. Yet it’s not easy to get access to a full range of news and views about education. As a report in December by the Brookings Institution lamented, “During the first nine months of 2009, only 1.4 percent of national news coverage from television, newspapers, news Web sites, and radio dealt with education.”

We are grateful, living in Bloomington, that the Herald-Times has experienced, full-time reporters covering both K-12 and higher education, a rare commitment of resources these days. We’re also inspired by the growth of online communication about school matters, such as the Support Public Education in Monroe County Facebook group and the Support Our Schools online forum. We hope to augment these traditional and new-media sources with news, analysis and links that are timely, accurate and relevant.

We both spent years covering K-12 education for the Herald-Times, and we remain intensely interested in the topic. We find ourselves thinking and talking about education nearly every day. As journalists, we try to make sense of the world by reporting and writing about it. And nothing is more in need of making sense right now than the state of our schools.

The immediate impetus for starting this blog was the MCCSC’s decision, in response to state funding cuts, to reduce spending by $5.8 million and eliminate the jobs of 142 teachers, librarians and administrators – 79 of them through reductions in force and the rest through retirements. Nearly every week has brought new questions to address: Why these reductions and not others? Will state legislation provide a way out? Will the MCCSC launch a tax-increase referendum this fall or next spring? What will it take for a referendum to win?

But local school issues don’t exist in a vacuum. Teaching jobs are being slashed across Indiana. Schools are closing in Kansas City, Detroit … and New Albany. Debates are raging over charter schools, public school choice, merit pay for teachers, school turn-around methods, and how to best prepare, motivate and evaluate teachers. There’s so much to learn, so much to say – let’s get started.