The Indiana State Board of Education is almost certain to continue the state’s unfortunate policy of using A-to-F grades to rate schools, judging by a framework that the board received this week.
The draft accountability framework was presented and briefly discussed at Tuesday’s board meeting. Board staff, who wrote the document, insisted it isn’t set in stone and that it will be up to the board – with input from stakeholders and the public – to decide how the system will work.
“We are trying to be transparent,” said Ron Sandlin, the board’s senior director of school performance. “The point of the framework is to spur conversations about these ideas.”
But the very first recommendation in the document is that A-to-F grades continue. The justification: “Issuing a fair and transparent summative rating ensures communities can quickly assess school performance and establishes effective incentives for schools.”
Note that the school grading system is being developed by the State Board of Education, with most of its members appointed by the governor. Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick, who heads the Indiana Department of Education, has favored a different approach to accountability.
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb called on the State Board of Education to delay the fall 2020 enrollment “count day” to address worries about school funding in the coronavirus era. Instead, the board opted for a different approach – and arguably a better one.
Instead of postponing the count, the board decided Wednesday to have its executive director adjust the state school funding formula “to ensure full anticipated funding for students receiving virtual education due to COVID-19,” in the words of a news release.
It’s been a rough week for the Tony Bennett education reform agenda in Indiana.
Monday, the state House of Representatives voted unanimously to drop a requirement that teacher evaluations be tied to student test scores. And Wednesday, the State Board of Education voted to return the operation of four “turnaround academies” to public school districts in Gary and Indianapolis.
Both votes represented reversals of education initiatives that then-Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett championed in 2011.
In 2012, the Indiana State Board of Education and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett chose Charter Schools USA to run three Indianapolis schools that the state had taken over after years of low test scores.
Thus began a complex tale replete with politics, money and head-spinning networks of relationships – with the fate of the schools, T.C. Howe Community School, Emmerich Manual High School and Emma Donnan Middle School, still in the balance seven years later.
The saga took another turn last week when the state board rejected an appeal by Indianapolis Public Schools to let the schools return to its fold as “innovation network” schools. Instead, it called for Charter Schools USA, through a nonprofit affiliate, to keep running the schools, now as charter schools.
The Indiana Charter School Board could decide Friday whether to award charters to the CSUSA affiliate, called ReThink Forward Indiana. If it does, ReThink will have yet another CSUSA-connected group, Noble Education Initiative, manage the schools. Continue reading
New accountability could be coming to Indiana’s online K-12 schools. A State Board of Education committee is recommending stricter oversight, limits on growth and class size and other measures targeting “virtual schools,” most of which are charter schools.
The board will consider the proposals today. Most would require action by the Indiana General Assembly, which begins its 2019 session in January.
The committee on virtual schools was created in response to low tests scores and other issues at virtual charter schools. In one example, a Chalkbeat Indiana investigation found that Indiana Virtual School graduated few students, had a student-teacher ratio of over 200-to-1 and paid millions of dollars in rent and management fees to a business run by its founder. Continue reading
Leaders of Indiana’s virtual charter schools say they shouldn’t be evaluated as other schools are, on test scores and graduation rates. That’s not surprising: Their test scores and graduation rates are abysmal.
One the one hand, they may have a point. Schools that deliver instruction online are different from so-called brick-and-mortar schools, and arguably they should be judged by different criteria. But accountability for virtual schools should be stronger, not weaker, than for conventional schools.
These statewide schools enroll over 12,000 students and are funded by Hoosier taxpayers to the tune of $80 million a year. Unlike public schools, they aren’t responsive to elected officials or to local communities that they serve. If the state doesn’t hold them accountable, no one will.
All the virtual charter schools received an F from the state in 2017. How bad was their performance? Continue reading
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
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.
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.
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.