Panel to take on virtual charter schools

The State Board of Education’s committee on virtual charter schools will have its first meeting today. It has a formidable task – figuring out how to bring effective oversight to the online schools that have become the fastest-growing education sector in Indiana.

“I think there’s just a real concern about accountability,” said Gordon Hendry, the state board member who will chair the committee. “Virtual charter schools should be accountable for their performance. We spend tens of millions of dollars on them, so we want to make sure the state of Indiana, as well as the parents and students, are getting the very best education possible.”

So far, they don’t seem to be. All four virtual schools that were in operation in 2016-17 received F’s in the state’s school grading system. Test scores and graduation rates were uniformly low, even though virtual schools generally serve less disadvantaged populations than public schools. Critics have referred to the sector as the Wild West for its anything-goes ethos. Continue reading

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Charter-school ‘evaluation’ reads like boosterism

The State Board of Education released its first report on Indiana charter school outcomes this month. The report includes a lot of information, but overall it reads more like pro-charter advocacy than the “formal evaluation” the state legislature requested.

The report claims to compare charter schools with public schools serving similar students and concludes that “brick-and-mortar” charter schools generally do a better job. But it uses a questionable methodology and leaves out important details and performance criteria. Tellingly, it cites pro-charter sources as authorities and unquestioningly adopts talking points about “innovation” and “autonomy.”

The report sets the tone at the start, boasting that “leading experts rank Indiana No. 1” for charter schools. But the only expert it cites is the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, an organization that exists to promote charter schools and that gives Indiana A’s for its charter school support.

“The way it leads off, grading the law — it definitely comes across as kind of a cheerleading piece,” said Indiana University education professor Chris Lubienski, who reviewed the report last week.

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Comment period wrapping up on A-to-F rule

There’s nothing more snooze-inducing than the adoption of state administrative rules. It features technical language, choreographed hearings, public comment periods, legalistic processes – and a sneaking suspicion that the people making the rules have already decided what will happen.

But rules can be important: case in point, the new school accountability rule that the Indiana State Board of Education is in the process of approving. It will set criteria for awarding A-to-F school grades and ultimately have a big influence on the reputations of schools and communities.

So it’s good that some of the people who will be most affected by the rule – teachers, school administrators and school board representatives – have been making clear what they think is wrong with the proposal the board is considering:

  • They say a plan to put less emphasis on test-score growth and more on test-score performance will handicap high-poverty schools and provide an inaccurate picture of school effectiveness. The board’s proposal would cap math and language-arts growth points for elementary and middle schools and eliminate growth as a factor in high-school grades.
  • They worry that adding accountability for science and social studies could lead to more emphasis on testing and test prep if it isn’t handled properly.
  • They question details of the state’s move to a national college-admission exam, like the SAT or ACT, to measure of high-school performance. One official pointed out that students who aren’t college-bound may not take the test seriously, but schools will be judged on their scores.
  • They ask how the accountability rule, including the requirement of SAT or ACT exams, will mesh with new high-school graduation pathways requirements that the board has adopted.

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Hearings underway on school grading changes

Today marks the half-way point for a series of public hearings on the Indiana State Board of Education’s plan to change the way A-to-F grades are calculated for schools and school corporations. These changes aren’t getting much attention, but they could matter a lot for schools.

To the board’s credit, it’s conducting hearings in all corners of the state. Today’s is at 4 p.m. at the University of Evansville. Additional hearings will be March 1 in Madison and March 9 in Indianapolis. The board then will discuss the plan in work sessions March 21 and April 3 and vote on it April 4.

The Indiana Department of Education spent seven months and conducted meetings with teachers, school administrators and members of the public to revise the A-to-F system as part of its plan for implementing the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. But the board came up with a different approach. It gave preliminary approval its new school accountability rule in January.

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Graduation changes could be approved this week

Indiana educators have begun pushing back against a plan to dramatically reconfigure the state’s high-school diploma requirements. Will it matter? We could know this week.

The State Board of Education will meet Tuesday and Wednesday to consider “graduation pathways” that students follow to earn a diploma. The proposal comes from the Graduation Pathways Panel, created by 2017 legislation, which met nine times from August until November.

The panel’s recommendations would require students to not only complete high-school credit requirements but to demonstrate “postsecondary-ready competencies” and “employability skills” by clearing a set of barriers, such as passing tests, earning college credits or completing internships.

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Graduation pathways fast-tracked

You’ve heard of Lake Wobegon, where all the children are above average. Welcome to Indiana, where the children need to be average or above to earn a high-school diploma.

That may be where we’re heading with the recommendations approved Tuesday by the Graduation Pathways Panel and sent to the State Board of Education for consideration. The board could approve the recommendations – a significant change in what it takes to earn a diploma – on Dec. 6.

Panel members say their plan will expand access by creating more pathways that students can follow to graduate. What they don’t say is that each pathway includes barriers that could prevent some students from reaching the goal.

  • Students can qualify via the SAT or ACT exam, but only if their scores meet “college-ready benchmarks,” nearly the average for college-bound test takers.
  • They can qualify by getting a passing score on a military enlistment test, but today’s all-volunteer military doesn’t admit just anyone.
  • They can qualify by passing at least three dual-credit, Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses, but they need at least a C grade.

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Big changes may be coming for high school diploma

A panel of unelected officials is making significant changes in what it takes to graduate from high school in Indiana. The process, initiated by the legislature six months ago, could wrap up in December. Yet it is getting little public attention.

If recommendations from the Graduation Pathways Panel are approved by the State Board of Education, no longer will students be able to earn a diploma by completing the required high-school credits and passing “end-of-course assessments” for algebra and 10th-grade English.

They will still have to earn the credits. But in place of tests, they will have to show they are “college and career ready” and have chalked up “applied learning experiences.” The former can include receiving a respectable score on the SAT or ACT test, completing industry apprenticeships or certifications, or earning advanced-placement credits. The latter can be after-school jobs, service-learning or project-based learning.

The new rules would take effect for students who are high-school freshmen in 2018-19.

The 14-member Graduation Pathways Panel has met from late summer through the fall. The schedule calls for it to finalize its recommendations Nov. 7. Then the State Board of Education could approve the pathways in December. Continue reading