Link between vouchers, segregation gets welcome attention

White citizens across the South resisted after the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision that “separate but equal” schools for black and white students were unconstitutional. Most resistance was futile, but Prince Edward County, Va., came up with an approach that endured.

“The white elite of Prince Edward County defied the Brown decision by closing the entire public school system and diverting public education funds into vouchers to be used at a segregated private academy that only white students could attend,” Leo Casey, executive director of the Albert Shanker Institute, writes in Dissent. “As the battles over the implementation of Brown played out, African-American students were denied access to education for five years in a row.”

As Casey explains, the story didn’t end there. Prince Edward County set the stage for the “school choice” ideology that has been embraced by President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Betsy DeVos.

Economist Milton Friedman, the intellectual father of the voucher movement, gave a nod to vouchers-for-segregation in his influential essay “The Role of Government in Education” – written in 1955, the year after the Brown decision. Friedman wrote in a footnote that he deplored discrimination and segregation but deplored “forced unsegregation” even more.

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School turnaround five years later

It’s been five years since the Indiana State Board of Education took charge of five chronically underperforming urban public schools and handed them over to charter-school operators that were supposed to turn them around. How has that worked out?

Not very well, to judge by Indiana’s A-to-F grading system. Since the takeover, the schools have received two Ds and 18 Fs.

That’s a far cry from what Indiana education officials and the charter operators suggested would happen back in 2012. Scott Elliott, then with the Indianapolis Star, wrote at the time that he was “a bit surprised” the turnaround operators wanted four years to raise the schools’ grades to A or B.

In four years, they didn’t come close. Five years could still bring a different story — school grades for the 2016-17 school year won’t be calculated until this fall — but it doesn’t seem likely.

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New exam brings lower proficiency for English learners

Indiana educators expected English learners to struggle with a new language proficiency assessment given in spring 2017. But they were surprised students struggled as much as they did.

“We knew there would be a higher standard,” said Emily Schwartz Keirns, ELL manager for Fort Wayne Community Schools. “What we didn’t anticipate was that the difference would be as dramatic as it was.”

Dramatic is the word. In 2016, 23 percent of the Fort Wayne district’s ELL students scored proficient on the previous version of the exam, which is called WIDA ACCESS. In 2017, the number fell to 1.7 percent.

That mirrored statewide results: 26.2 percent of Indiana’s ELL students were proficient in 2016, but only 2.3 percent were proficient this year.

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McCormick seeks help on graduation rate

Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick has appealed to members of the Indiana congressional delegation for help in addressing a change in how the state is required to calculate high-school graduation rates.

In a letter this week to Indiana’s two senators and nine House members, McCormick describes problems that could result from the change and invites the delegation to help resolve a disagreement between state and federal education agencies.

Jennifer McCormick official head shot

Jennifer McCormick

Under guidance from the U.S. Department of Education, Indiana will no longer be able to include students who earn the general diploma in calculations of the official graduation rate for high schools. About 12 percent of Indiana graduates received the general diploma in recent years.

Had the requirement been in place in 2016, McCormick explains, it would have reduced Indiana’s graduation rate from 89.1 percent to 76.5 percent, a percentage that “does not reflect well upon our state and could negatively impact our economy.”

“This drastic drop in graduation rate due to a simple, federal definition change will cause confusion, reflect poorly upon all of our communities and our state, and could result in decreased emphasis placed upon those students who may not achieve at least a Core 40 Diploma,” McCormick writes. Continue reading

Graduation rate change hits some schools harder than others

News that Indiana won’t be able to count its general diploma when calculating high-school graduation rates came as a blow to many parents and educators. But the change will hit some schools much harder than others. And not necessarily the ones you might expect.

Some schools appear to have moved away from awarding the general diploma, and nearly all their graduates earn the Core 40 or honors diploma, which will count toward the graduation rate. But others continued to rely on the general diploma, awarding it to more than a third of their graduates. Those schools would see a big drop in their graduation rates under the change the U.S. Department of Education is pushing Indiana to adopt.

And high-school graduation rate is expected to be an important factor in the new school accountability system that Indiana will develop to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

In Brown County High School, for example, 42 percent of 2016 graduates earned the general diploma, according to data from the Indiana Department of Education. If those students didn’t count, the school’s graduation rate would have been only 57 percent. Counting those students, its rate was nearly perfect.

Laura Hammack, superintendent of Brown County Schools, said the general diploma is a suitable goal for many students. Some 18 percent of Brown County’s students qualify for special education and are more likely to earn the general diploma. Also, an increasing number of students are focused on career and workforce skills – something the state has encouraged – or plan to enter the military. Core 40 or honors diplomas aren’t required for those paths. Continue reading

Diploma rule a setback for Indiana schools, students

Parents and educators have pushed back for years against attempts to eliminate Indiana’s general high-school diploma, arguing it’s an important option for students who would struggle to earn the more rigorous Core 40 or academic honors diplomas.

Now the federal government has dealt their efforts a blow. Under guidance from the U.S. Department of Education, Indiana will no longer be able to include students who earn the general diploma in calculating school graduation rates.

The change will have an impact on high-school grades, which are partially based on graduation rates. Over 8,600 students earned the general diploma in 2015. That’s 12 percent of high-school graduates.

And for students who struggle to earn the general diploma and likely wouldn’t complete a more rigorous course of study, the change seems to send a message that their efforts aren’t good enough. About 30 percent of students who earn a general diploma are special-needs students.

“The value of the general diploma will be diminished for students who have worked very hard to receive that,” said Sandi Cole, director of the Center on Education and Lifelong Learning at Indiana University and a former high-school special education teacher and department chair.

Indiana schools will still offer the general diploma, and students who earn it can count themselves as high-school graduates. But if the diploma doesn’t figure into accountability, will schools put as much effort into making sure all students earn at least that degree? Continue reading

Board members favor counting test scores more than growth

Indiana education officials took a step forward by deciding in 2015 to count growth as equal to proficiency when using test scores to calculate school A-to-F school grades. Now it sounds like members of the State Board of Education want to turn back the clock.

At least five of the 11 members said last week that they favor giving more weight to proficiency – the number of students who pass state-mandated tests – than to year-to-year growth.

“I think we reached some consensus on some core values. Proficiency is more important than growth,” board member David Freitas said, according a story in to the Indianapolis Star.

“Growth, to me, is much less important than proficiency,” added B.J. Watts, another board member. Members Tony Walker, Byron Ernest and Kathleen Mote agreed, according to the Star.

Freitas and Watts made the same argument but didn’t prevail when the board approved the current A-to-F formula. Mote and Ernest weren’t on the board in at the time. Walker missed the meeting.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick favors keeping the equal weight for growth and proficiency, said Adam Baker, spokesman for the Indiana Department of Education. But she would probably agree to a formula that gave a little more weight to proficiency than to growth, he said.

Until 2014-15, Indiana relied heavily on test-score proficiency in determining grades; growth wasn’t a factor. The result was what you’d expect: Low-poverty schools reliably were rewarded with As. High-poverty schools struggled to avoid getting Fs. Schools with poor students were labeled as failing schools. Continue reading