ISTEP results are a non-story

It’s a lousy week to be an education reporter in Indiana. ISTEP-Plus test results were released Wednesday by the State Board of Education, so editors are assigning – and readers are expecting – the usual stories. Which schools did best? Which did worst? Which improved, and which didn’t?

Reporters who spend their work lives visiting schools and talking to educators and experts know this is the epitome of a non-news story. They know that years of experience and research tell us that affluent schools will have higher test scores than schools serving mostly poor students. But the stories have to be written.

It’s no surprise that low-poverty schools in the suburbs have the highest passing rates in the Indianapolis metropolitan area. They do every year. And it’s disturbing but not really shocking that barely 5 percent of Indianapolis Public Schools 10th-graders passed their tests. Three of their high schools were about to close; the tests had no consequences for the schools or their students.

That’s not to say test scores or meaningless, or that they should be ignored altogether.

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Repeal ban on in-state tuition for undocumented students

So much bad stuff happened in the 2011 session of the Indiana General Assembly that it was hard to keep up. Truly egregious legislation was passed and signed into law without much attention.

Case in point: House Enrolled Act 1402, a simple law with only the following language: “An individual who is not lawfully present in the United States is not eligible to pay the resident tuition rate that is determined by the state educational institution.”

A companion measure, Senate Enrolled Act 590, included a ban on local or state government making “a postsecondary education award, including a scholarship, a grant, or financial aid,” to undocumented students.

The laws are still on the books. It’s way past time to repeal them.

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School board was right to reject metal detectors

The Monroe County Community School Corp. board in Bloomington, Indiana, deserves a ton of credit for its brave and correct decision to reject an offer of free metal detectors from the state.

In the midst of a panic over school shootings, including the shooting of a teacher and student last spring at a Noblesville middle school, nearly every school district in Indiana jumped at Gov. Eric Holcomb’s offer of free metal detectors. The MCCSC board said no, and for good reasons.

“I think that just the fact that we have these, whether or not we ever use them, diminishes the good feelings our parents and our kids have in our schools,” board member Jeannine Butler said.

That’s exactly right. Parents and students want schools to be safe, but they also want them to be warm, welcoming places, not “hardened” targets that resemble prisons or detention centers. What message does it send if a school acts as if everyone who enters the door is a potential killer?

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Indiana dean’s book recounts clash with state superintendent

Gerardo Gonzalez’s “A Cuban Refugee’s Journey to the American Dream” is an inspiring account of the transformative power of education and hard work. It tells the deeply personal story of how Gonzalez grew from a shy, bullied child to a successful scholar and university administrator.

Gonzalez, dean emeritus of the Indiana University School of Education, left Cuba with his family at age 11 and struggled as a Spanish-speaking immigrant in a strange land. An uninspired student, he enrolled in community college on a lark, fell in love with learning and went on to a stellar career.

In the book, he is generous with praise for the family, friends and mentors. Only two figures appear as adversaries: Fidel Castro and Tony Bennett.

Bennett, the Indiana superintendent of public instruction from 2009 to 2013, clashed with Gonzalez over a proposal called REPA, Rules for Educator Preparation and Accountability. The superintendent and his allies wanted to rewrite teacher certification requirements to require more college credits in subject areas like math and let some teachers become licensed without studying education.

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PDK poll finds support for teacher strikes

Four in five public-school parents would support local teachers if they went on strike for higher pay, according to results of this year’s PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes toward the Public Schools.

Seventy-three percent of the overall public would back a strike by local teachers, the poll found. Even among Republicans, support for a teachers’ strike was 60 percent.

The poll, released this week by Phi Delta Kappa, has tracked public opinion on schools and teachers since 1969. This year’s poll surveyed a random sample of over 1,000 adults in May 2018.

The support for teacher strikes is remarkable at a time when union membership is shriveling, strikes are rare and government officials from state legislators to the Supreme Court have declared war on organized labor. But walkouts last spring by teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kentucky received a lot of attention, and the poll suggest the public was sympathetic.

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School discipline data show discrepancies by race

Black students are suspended from Indiana public and charter schools at about four times the rate at which white students are suspended, according to data from the Indiana Department of Education.

Multiracial students, students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch and special-needs students are also more likely than their peers to be suspended, the data show.

This is alarming but not surprising. Disparities in discipline have been studied by academics and reported by the news media. Some research has found students of color are more likely than white students to be punished for the same behavior. A General Accountability Office report found that black students made up 15 percent of students in public schools but accounted for 39 percent of suspensions.

Experts point to a variety of causes, including zero-tolerance policies, implicit bias by teachers and administrators and a lack of awareness of alternative approaches to discipline.

Out-of-school suspension is tied to lower achievement, higher dropout rates and other adverse outcomes. If students aren’t in school, they aren’t learning and they’re more likely to grow discouraged and give up. Advocates say suspensions contribute to the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

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Roncalli flap could prompt debate on vouchers and discrimination

Hats off to State Rep. Dan Forestal. Responding to a flap over Roncalli High School’s threat to fire a popular guidance counselor, the Indianapolis Democrat said Wednesday that he will introduce legislation to outlaw discrimination by private schools that receive voucher funding from the state.

There’s not much chance the proposal will become law, but it could spark debate about one of the most offensive aspect of Indiana’s voucher program: Schools that receive millions of dollars in state funding are free to discriminate in employment and in the enrollment of students.

The controversy at Roncalli, a Catholic high school in Indianapolis, involves Shelly Fitzgerald, a longtime counselor who was placed on paid leave after school and church officials learned she had been married to a woman since 2014. She told news media that school officials said she could dissolve her marriage, resign, be fired or keep quiet and leave her job at the end of the year.

Roncalli students have received almost $6 million in state tuition vouchers in the past four years, according to reports from the Indiana Department of Education.

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