Pre-K expansion still faces hurdles

An Indiana University research center released a detailed report last week recommending Indiana expand its pre-kindergarten pilot program and explaining how 10 others states have done just that. But on the same day, a state Senate committee slashed funding for pre-K expansion to almost nothing.

And so it goes here in the 201st year of Indiana statehood. We are determined to pinch pennies as tightly as we can, even if it means depriving our youngest citizens of the education they deserve.

The report, from the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at IU, was produced for the State Board of Education. It describes Indiana’s nascent pre-K program – which serves about 1,600 4-year-olds in five of the state’s 92 counties – and contrasts it with programs in other states that started small and grew.

The programs vary in scope, student eligibility and academic requirements. Not surprisingly, states that spend the most money serve the most students. Georgia, for example, provides pre-K in 100 percent of its school districts. Massachusetts, which got a later start, serves 25 percent of districts. Other states examined are Illinois, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Indiana’s pilot pre-K program, On My Way Pre-K, is available only in Allen, Jackson, Lake, Marion and Vanderburgh counties. It was created in 2014 and spends $10 million per year.

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Message for legislators: School funding hasn’t kept pace

Indiana schools still haven’t recovered from the financial hit they took from the recession of 2007-09. And schools that serve poor children have fallen furthest behind where they once were.

Those are key findings from an analysis of school funding from the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University. The report, “Equity Analysis of the 2015-17 Indiana School Funding Formula,” was written by CEEP researcher Thomas Sugimoto for the State Board of Education.

Indiana Statehouse

Indiana Statehouse

The findings should be front and center for legislators as they put together a state budget for the next two years, including a funding formula that will allocate about $7 billion a year to schools.

Sugimoto said lawmakers shouldn’t see the report in isolation but should consider it in light of their efforts to create a fair and effective system for funding education. And the report should improve their understanding of the challenges facing schools where funding has declined, he said.

Indiana schools have been digging out of the hole left by the recession, the report shows, but they’ve not reached daylight. Adjusting for inflation, they operate on less money today than eight years ago. State leaders will say there’s only enough money to give schools a modest increase. But the state has $2 billion in reserves, some of which could be tapped. And tax cuts approved in recent years reduced state revenue by $650 million, according to Purdue agricultural economist Larry DeBoer. Investing that money in education would have put schools on much more solid ground.

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Big costs, little oversight for voucher program

Indiana spent over $131 million last year on tuition vouchers for students to attend private K-12 schools. But the state provides almost no fiscal oversight for the voucher program, according to a recent report from the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University.

Schools that participate in the program aren’t audited. There’s no public reporting or accounting of how they spend the public money they receive. It’s hard even for scholars to track down detailed data that would give a full picture of how the program operates and what it costs taxpayers.

And the lack of oversight and accountability is just one of several ways in which the Indiana program differs from established school voucher programs in Wisconsin, Ohio, Arizona, Louisiana and Washington, D.C., the report finds. Other differences include:

  • Indiana is unusually generous, offering vouchers to more categories of students.
  • Its treatment of special education is unusual, letting parents of special-needs students with vouchers decide if the private school or local public school will provide services.
  • Budgeting is opaque, with funding coming from overall education appropriations rather than a separate line for vouchers in the state budget.

CEEP’s Indiana voucher report is tied to a larger report, “Follow the Money: A Comprehensive Review of the Funding Mechanisms of Voucher Programs in Six Cases,” released last week by the IU research center. Authors are research associate Molly Stewart and graduate research assistant Jodi Moon.

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Indiana voters back school funding

This blog specializes in bad news. But here’s some good news for public education from this month’s elections: Nine of the 10 Indiana school districts that asked voters for permission to raise local property taxes to support education were successful.

Prior to this year, fewer than half the referendums that took place since Indiana’s current school-funding laws went into effect in 2008 won public approval. With the May 2014 results, schools have finally topped the .500 mark: 52 of 102 have succeeded.

School-funding referendums in Indiana come in two varieties: They can raise taxes to build schools; or they can augment state funding for a district’s general fund, which pays teacher and staff salaries and other operating expenses. Over the years, the mix has been about half-and-half between construction and general-fund referendums. But this year, eight of 10 were to boost general-fund spending. All those proposals passed. Some were close, though; three passed with 51 percent or less of the vote.

In at least two – White River Valley in Greene County and Eminence in Morgan County – local officials said losing would force the district to close and consolidate with a nearby school district. Voters didn’t want that to happen. The Eminence measure passed with 87 percent of the vote; WRV with 54 percent. Continue reading

Ritz to speak Monday in Bloomington

The first eight months in office have been eventful for Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz. There should be a lot to talk about when she visits Indiana University Bloomington Monday for a policy chat.

The session, sponsored by the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy, starts at 2 p.m. in the Georgian Room of the Indiana Memorial Union. Jeremy Anderson, president of the Denver-based Education Commission of the States, will moderate.

Ritz, of course, pulled off a shocker by upsetting incumbent Tony Bennett in the November 2012 election. Republican Bennett had a 5-to-1 spending advantage and support from the likes of Jeb Bush and Michael Bloomberg. Ritz had a grassroots movement of teachers and parents on her side.

But it hasn’t been smooth sailing since she took office in January.

// State ISTEP-Plus exams were plagued by computer interruptions in the spring, delaying results and throwing a wrench into school and teacher evaluations.

// The legislature mandated a “pause” in implementing the Common Core State Standards, putting Ritz in the middle of a nasty fight between supporters and opponents of the standards.

// Controversy erupted over the state’s A-to-F school grading system when the Associated Press revealed that Bennett and his staff manipulated the system to boost a charter school’s grade.

// Gov. Mike Pence created a Center for Education and Career Innovation, a new agency that appears to take responsibility for education policy away from Ritz. Ritz said she wasn’t told in advance about the move.

// State Board of Education members, appointed by Pence and his predecessor, Mitch Daniels, regularly balk at Ritz’s recommendations and seem to be taking over some of the superintendent’s budgetary and policy responsibilities.

All this puts Ritz in a tight spot. She has tried to nudge the state away from the hard-nosed approach to education reform that Bennett favored. But to a certain extent, she has to get along with the Republicans who run state government. It should make for an interesting policy chat on Monday.

Three ideas worth considering

With everyone hunkered down over A-to-F school grades, Common Core, and Tony Bennett’s emails, it’s refreshing to hear new and interesting ideas for improving education. Here are three, presented in an Indianapolis Star op-ed by Terry Spradlin of Indiana University’s Center for Evaluation and Education Policy and gleaned from multi-state conversations aimed at creating a “blueprint for college and career readiness.”

Redesign the senior year of high school: Students who are ready for college should focus on AP or dual-credit college classes, Spradlin writes. Students who plan to go to college but aren’t ready should take classes that combine remediation with college gateway credits. Those who aren’t college-bound could use the year to become certified for jobs that are in demand.

Review math requirements for college programs: “It is becoming apparent that the math remediation problem in college is somewhat of a manufactured crisis because of our ‘one size fits all’ singular math pathway,” Spradlin writes. Continue reading

Surprise! Indiana students among world’s best in math and science

The basic assumption behind education reform in Indiana – the belief that drives high-stakes testing and accountability focused on students, teachers and schools – is that our public education system isn’t very good. Or at least that it isn’t what it ought to be.

But what if the assumption is wrong? Here’s some evidence that it is: Hoosier eighth-graders posted some of the world’s best scores in the 2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, which compared math and science achievement for students in 63 countries.

If Indiana were a country, it would have ranked with some of the world’s leaders.

The TIMSS results were analyzed in a policy brief produced in March by the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University and written by David Rutkowski, Justin Wild and Leslie Rutkowski of the IU School of Education. But the report received almost no media attention.

“The only message we’re ever getting, and the impetus behind all this testing that we’re seeing, is that our schools are failing,” Leslie Rutkowski said last week. “We’re really not doing that badly.”

TIMSS measures how well students are learning an internationally accepted curriculum in math and science. It’s given every four years to students in fourth and eighth grades. The last round of testing was in 2011 –- significantly, before Indiana’s high-profile education reforms, including private-school vouchers, more charter schools and test-based teacher evaluations, took effect. Continue reading

Mind Trust CEO: Mayoral control no longer part of IPS transformation plan

When the Mind Trust unveiled its plan to transform Indianapolis Public Schools late last year, a key component was turning control over to the Indianapolis mayor. That’s no longer part of the deal, Mind Trust CEO David Harris said Wednesday.

“It turns out, we were the only people who thought this was a good idea,” Harris said at a Bloomington symposium on urban education. “The reality is, it’s not going anywhere.”

One problem was the fundamental fact that IPS is just one of 11 school districts in Marion County, and its residents are a minority of Indianapolis voters. Another: Mayor Greg Ballard turned out not to be interesting in running the schools.

Harris shared a stage with IPS Superintendent Eugene White, and they found a few points of agreement. Both said Indiana should invest in pre-kindergarten education. And both said it’s crucial to hire and keep good teachers. But, not surprisingly, they expressed different visions for the future of IPS at the Bloomington forum sponsored by the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University.

Harris pushed the plan, which the Mind Trust unveiled almost a year ago, to remake IPS into a system of autonomous “opportunity schools,” with responsibility on the principals, not central administration. “We don’t think the people are the problem,” he said. “We think the structure itself needs to change.”

White said it’s naïve to think you can dramatically change results by changing structure. “You don’t go, in urban education, from where we are to utopia,” he said. “It doesn’t work that way. It has to be a process.”

On early childhood education, White lamented that Indiana not only doesn’t fund pre-kindergarten programs, it doesn’t require school attendance until age 7. Harris said Indiana is “in the Dark Ages on that front;” it’s one of 11 states that don’t fund pre-K.

That puts the two in alignment with the 7,200 Indianapolis residents who responded to a survey Continue reading

Indiana’s teacher evaluation law: some promise, lots of peril

A policy brief released last week by the Center on Evaluation & Education Policy at Indiana University spells out a number of reasons to be concerned about Indiana’s new teacher-evaluation law.

The law, Senate Enrolled Act 1, requires annual teacher evaluations that rely significantly on student test results. All teachers will be put in one of four categories: highly effective, effective, improvement needed and ineffective. Compensation and tenure will be tied to the evaluations, and teachers in the two lower categories won’t get raises and may be at risk of losing their jobs.

The law requires schools to start implementing the new evaluation and merit-pay system in 2012-13. But as the authors of the CEEP report, Rodney Whiteman, Dingjing Shi and Jonathan Plucker, point out, this won’t be easy, and there are bound to be unintended consequences.

Here are a few of the issues that they highlight:

— Tying teacher evaluations to student performance may seem like a no-brainer. But in fact, there’s not much evidence that you can accurately attribute student test scores, or even improvement in test scores, to the effect of a single teacher. Standardized tests are designed to measure whether students meet grade-level standards, not how much they improve from year to year. And can schools develop tests that measure teacher effectiveness in subjects like art, music and physical education?

Research has shown that students learn best when teachers collaborate and share expertise. But most schools will have a limited amount of money available for raises, and it must all go to teachers rated effective and highly effective. “This creates an indirect competition for compensation and an incentive to out-perform colleagues,” the brief says. “Teachers may begin viewing their materials and techniques as proprietary intellectual property and elect to not share that property with their competitors.”

— Finally – and this may be the biggest issue – where will schools will find the time, resources and expertise to design and implement annual evaluations that are fair and meaningful? SEA 1 is an “unfunded mandate,” the authors say. At a time when most Indiana school districts are pinched for money, they may have pull some of their best teachers out of the classroom to develop and carry out evaluations; either that or hire outside experts, at considerable cost.

The brief concludes, “If done correctly, with sufficient time, finances, and people, changing teacher evaluation can be a powerful reform in public education.”

That’s a mighty big if.

Chatting about charter schools

Indiana has been in the charter-schools biz for a decade, so this is a good time to step back and assess what we’ve learned and where we go next. That’s the thinking behind a policy chat Thursday in Indianapolis, sponsored by the Center on Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University.

The public event, at 6 p.m. at the Indianapolis Convention Center, brings together charter-school operators, authorizers and advocates with researchers who have studied charter schools. It’s co-sponsored by the Education Policy Student Association at IU.

Panelists include former Sen. Teresa Lubbers, author of the state’s 2001 charter-schools legislation; Russ Simnick of the Indiana Public Charter Schools Association; Gretchen Gutman of Ball State University, which authorizes many of the charter schools in Indiana; and Kevin Teasley of the Greater Educational Opportunities Foundation, a charter-school operator backed by Indianapolis corporate heavyweights.

Also on hand: Notre Dame sociologist Mark Berends, who directs the federally funded National Center on School Choice and the Center for Research on Educational Opportunity; and Jonathan Plucker, director of CEEP at IU, who will moderate.

Given the otherwise pro-charter make-up of the panel, maybe the academics can keep things grounded. Plucker has been skeptical about some claims of charter-school success, and Berends’ studies have produced complex and sometimes confounding conclusions about charter schools and other types of school choice – e.g., see Jay Mathews’ Washington Post column on the book School Choice and School Improvement, which Berends co-edited.

Charter schools were supposed to find innovative ways Continue reading