Some Indiana schools, many of them charter schools or Indianapolis Public Schools “innovation network” schools, got a break on the A-to-F grades the State Board of Education approved Wednesday.
That’s because the schools are new or newly reopened. And Indiana lets schools that have been open no more than three years calculate their grades on their students’ test-score growth from the previous year, ignoring their test-score performance.
For most schools, grades are calculated on a formula that weights performance and growth equally. The growth measurement awards points for how students fare on a “growth to proficiency” table. Schools with low test scores but high growth can raise their marks, but typically by just a letter grade or two.
But schools that are graded solely on growth are more likely to receive A’s, even if their test scores are low. And in some cases, that’s what happened.
Indiana lawmakers intended to clear up confusion about charter-school teacher licensing when they approved House Enrolled Act 1382. They did that, but they also opened the door for charter schools to hire some teachers with no requirements whatsoever.
The new law says 90 percent of the teachers employed by a charter school must have or be in the process of obtaining any Indiana teaching license or permit. That includes a so-called charter school license, a lower bar than the standard license required to teach in a regular public school. It could also include a substitute teaching permit; you can get one if you’re at least 18 and have finished high school.
For up to 10 percent of teachers in a charter school, however, the legislation did away with any requirements at all. They don’t need a teaching license, a college degree or even a high school diploma.
Rep. Robert Behning, author of HEA 1382 and chair of the House Education Committee, said it’s appropriate to give charter schools more hiring flexibility in exchange for being held to higher expectations. He doesn’t think they will hire unqualified teachers.
“The 10 percent of teachers could be qualified professionals who might be considered experts in their field, and who are able to work in a classroom, but who do not currently have a license to teach,” he said in an email response to questions. “Ultimately, staffing decisions fall on the school administrators, who I believe will hire an educator they believe best fits the needs of their students.”
Indiana is in a small club when it comes to having charter schools authorized by private colleges and universities. And the state’s hands-off approach to letting certain faith-based colleges authorize charter schools … well, that seems to be in a category by itself.
This topic came up last month when the Indiana Coalition for Public Education-Monroe County sued over the state’s charter-school law. The lawsuit raised a question: Is Indiana the only state that delegates the power to open a public school – an essential government function — to religious institutions with no state oversight.
Each of the 44 states with charter-school laws has its own approach to authorizing the schools. Fifteen states permit colleges and universities to authorize, according to the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. But seven of those states restrict authorizing to public colleges and universities.
That means there are presumably eight states in which private colleges could authorize charter schools. But in practice, there are only three states where they have done so: Minnesota, Missouri and Indiana.
A disagreement over licensing requirements for teachers in Indiana charter schools is coming to a head with legislation making its way through the General Assembly. It centers on how to interpret language in state law. Depending on how you read the law, it either requires most charter-school teachers to have a standard teaching license — or it doesn’t.
The Indiana Department of Education, which administers teacher licensing requirements, has interpreted the law to say that 90 percent of teachers in a charter school must have a regular teaching license, the kind that would let them teach in a neighborhood public school. The Indiana State Teachers Association agrees; it says licensing requirements should apply to state-funded charter schools just as they apply to public schools.
“We believe the professionals going into the classroom need to be properly trained, not only in content areas but also in pedagogy,” said ISTA Vice President Keith Gambill. “You don’t learn classroom management in a calculus course.”
But some advocates for charter schools, including the Indiana Charter School Board, say the flexibility allowed to charter schools should include more leeway in hiring teachers.
This is how lawmaking is supposed to work. It starts with a friendly talk with a constituent at the county fair and moves on to legislation given a positive reception in a Senate committee. If things go the way they should, it will end up with a new law that provides modest but important help for public schools.
Senate Bill 30 would require the Indiana Department of Education to report to school districts twice a year on the number of local students receiving tuition vouchers and the private schools they attend. Introduced by Sen. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, it’s scheduled for consideration today by the Senate Education and Career Development Committee.
The idea was hatched last summer, when Koch ran into Laura Hammack, the newly appointed superintendent of the Brown County School Corp., at the school district’s popcorn booth at the Brown County Fair in Nashville.
“It was like 8,000 degrees outside and we were covered in popcorn grease,” Hammack recalled.
Koch asked about school issues, and Hammack said she was concerned the district was losing students and, as a result, losing state funding.
“The outgoing superintendent had shared that he expected us to be down about 40 students,” Hammack said. “That would have been a big hit, but in reality we were down 100 students last fall compared to the prior year. That generates a loss of just over a half million dollars to our general fund.”
Students who leave neighborhood public schools for private or magnet schools tend to fall behind academically in the year after they transfer, according to a new study of school choice in Indianapolis.
Students who move to charter schools don’t fall behind, but neither do they move ahead. Their performance is about the same as if they had stayed in their neighborhood school, the study finds.
The authors of the study, Mark Berends at the University of Notre Dame and R. Joseph Waddington of the University of Kentucky, say the findings don’t discredit the potential benefits of school choice, but they raise questions about the conditions under which choice might be a strategy for improving academic achievement.
“It’s sort of a cautionary tale, that school choice is not a panacea,” said Berends, a professor of sociology and director of Notre Dame’s Center for Research on Educational Opportunity.
The study, “School Choice in Indianapolis: Effects of Charter, Magnet, Private, and Traditional Public Schools,” has been accepted for publication and posted by the journal Education Finance and Policy.
Berends and Waddington analyzed several years of ISTEP test math and English/language arts scores for Indianapolis students in grades 3-8. The students attended neighborhood and magnet schools in public school districts as well as charter schools and private schools in the city. Magnet schools are public schools organized around themes, such as international engagement, foreign language immersion and Montessori education; students typically apply for admission to the schools.
Jennifer McCormick, the Republican candidate for Indiana superintendent of public instruction, said this week that she wants to see the data tying school choice to segregation. It’s not hard to find.
A good place to start is the excellent series of stories on race and segregation in Indianapolis schools produced this summer by Chalkbeat Indiana, WFIU and the Indianapolis Star. One story describes how charter schools became some of the most segregated schools in the city, many of them nearly all African-American and a few largely white. Another tells about an Indianapolis Public Schools magnet school where most students are white and almost none qualify for free school lunch.
Here are a few other sources, local and national:
- Marc Stein, an education professor at Johns Hopkins University, published an article in 2015 showing charter school choice in Indianapolis produced “higher degrees of racial isolation and less diversity.” Black students enrolled in charter schools with more black students than the public schools they left; and white students enrolled in charters with more white students. Charters were becoming more racially isolated.
- A study this summer from three leading educational researchers finds that schools have become significantly more segregated by family income in the past two decades. A factor, they say, is the growth of school choice programs, with affluent families taking advantage to place their children in more desirable schools, regardless of where they live.
- A new study by Steven Glazerman and Dallas Dotter of Mathematica Policy Research looks at the factors that cause parents to rate some choice schools better than others. They find that white parents, especially, favor schools where more students were of their own race and class. “Teacher Wars” author Dana Goldstein writes about the study in Slate.
- A research review by William J. Mathis and Kevin Welner for the National Education Policy Center finds choice leads to segregation. “While some choice school enrollments are genuinely integrated,” they write, “the overall body of the research literature documents an unsettling degree of segregation—particularly in charter schools—by race and ethnicity, as well as by poverty, special needs and English-learner status.”
- The Civil Rights Project at UCLA has documented segregation in charter schools for years. A policy paper from the center says charter schools “are more racially isolated than traditional public schools in virtually every state and large metropolitan area in the nation.”