Ritz and Pence: Who’s blocking whom?

Did Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz head off a plan by Gov. Mike Pence to undercut her authority when she revealed parts of the governor’s legislative agenda the day before he announced it himself? Probably not, but we can wonder.

On Wednesday, after a testy meeting with the State Board of Education, Ritz told reporters the governor and his allies were trying to remove her as chair of the board.

Ritz’s staff produced a document – an Oct. 3 memo between officials with the Pence-created Center for Education and Career Innovation – that proposed doing just that. The memo, a summary of legislative proposals, said it’s a “problem” that Ritz chairs the board. Its proposed solution: Change the law to have Pence appoint the board chair.

The memo also called for: paying teachers bonuses to move to charter schools; treating charter-school networks like school districts for funding purposes; helping low-income families pay for preschool; taking over underused school buildings to potentially give them to charter schools; and awarding grants to teachers for innovative ideas.

On Thursday, Pence released his legislative proposals, and the education plank tracked closely to the Oct. 3 memo. One difference was that, instead of paying teachers to move to charter schools, he would pay them to work in schools that serve high-poverty areas. But as Scott Elliott of Chalkbeat Indiana notes, that probably means charter schools.

The other obvious difference: No proposal to remove Ritz as chair of the education board. Continue reading

Pence on vouchers: strong rhetoric, weak on evidence

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence delivered a passionate speech in support of private-school tuition vouchers Monday at a Washington, D.C., policy summit sponsored by the American Federation for Children. But the data he used to make his case were pretty flimsy.

Pence cited improvement in Indiana public school test scores and high-school graduation rates between 2006-07 and 2011-12 to argue that “competition works,” improving performance across the board. But Indiana didn’t create its voucher program until 2011. Almost all the improvement came before that, when public schools enjoyed a supposed monopoly on taxpayer-funded education.

Passing rates on ISTEP-Plus English and math exams increased from 63.9 percent in 2006-07 to 70.2 percent in 2010-11; then they climbed to 71.5 percent the first year of vouchers. Graduation rates rose from 77.7 in 2006-07 to 86.8 percent in 2010-11, then inched up to 88.4 percent in 2011-12.

Arguing that vouchers caused competition which caused the improvement doesn’t make sense. If anything, the data suggest Indiana schools were doing just fine without vouchers.

Data and logic aside, Pence’s speech had a lot going for it. He made clear he’s no Johnny-come-lately to the cause, giving props to the godparents of the movement, the late Milton and Rose Friedman, Continue reading

Core confusion

A key question rarely got asked this spring as Indiana legislators debated whether to stick with the Common Core State Standards initiative: What do teachers think?

Now we’ve got an answer. According to the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s teachers overwhelmingly support the standards.

The AFT released results from a nationwide teacher survey on Common Core last weekend at the annual meeting of the Education Writers Association. It found that 75 percent of teachers support their states’ decisions to adopt the standards.

On the other hand, many teachers said their schools aren’t doing enough to help them prepare. And more than four in five back AFT President Randy Weingarten’s call for a one-year moratorium on high-stakes testing based on the standards. Of course, Indiana teachers may or may not agree with teachers in other states.

The AFT survey included 800 teachers in the 45 states that have adopted Common Core and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent. It was conducted in March, around the time Indiana lawmakers were debating whether to put the brakes on the standards.

The legislature finally approved House Bill 1427, which calls for a “pause” implementing the standards Continue reading