Takeover of Gary, Muncie, could spell problems for other schools

It’s tempting to think Indiana House Bill 1315 is a concern only for people in Muncie and Gary. But if state officials can abolish local control of Muncie and Gary community schools because of financial problems, they could do the same for your local district.

“There are real stakes here for a number of districts,” said Terry Spradlin, executive director of the Indiana School Boards Association. “They’re seeing that, even though we’re not Gary or Muncie, what happened to them could happen to us.”

HB 1315 doubles down on 2017 legislation that enabled the state to intervene in the Muncie and Gary districts and turn their operation over to emergency managers appointed by a state board.

Most dramatically, it would hand the operation of Muncie Community Schools over to Ball State University and turn it into a charter-like district exempt from state laws on curriculum, transportation and collective bargaining for teachers. In Gary, the bill would convert the elected local school board to an advisory committee that could meet no more than four times a year.

Legislative Democrats and teachers’ unions have been pushing back against the bill, which has been approved by the House. But Ball State and the Republican supermajority seem to strongly support it. The best hope for slowing it down may be via amendments this week in a Senate committee.

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Are IPS schools improving or stagnating? Test scores tell conflicting stories

To hear Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Eugene White tell it, the district’s Arlington, Broad Ripple, Howe and Washington community high schools are well on their way to educational success.

White says passing rates on state tests improved this year by 21 percentage points at Washington, 9 points at Howe and 7 points at Arlington. And Broad Ripple, a performing-arts magnet school, had some of the best results in the IPS district. White said its passing rate for algebra rose to 83 percent in 2011.

But the Indiana Department of Education says the schools have failed to turn themselves around. They are among only seven schools that have earned the lowest possible grade in the state’s Public Law 221 accountability system for six straight years – making them subject to being turned over to school management companies.

Both IPS and DOE are looking at state test scores. But they’re looking at scores for different groups of students, and they’re looking at them in different ways, resulting in very distinct conclusions about how the schools are performing.

White bases his claim for improvement on high school students’ scores – the performance of 10th-graders on Algebra and English end-of-course assessments. He’s comparing preliminary reports of ECA results from 2011 with those from 2010. (The state hasn’t yet released official 2011 ECA results).

But IPS in recent years added grades 6-8 to Arlington, Broad Ripple, Howe and Washington, converting them to “community high schools.” The Department of Education is including the ISTEP-Plus scores of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders in its calculations, along with the ECA scores of 10th graders. Continue reading

School turn-around legislation casts a wide net

How many Monroe County, Ind., residents know that Bloomington High School North, Bloomington High School South and Edgewood High School are failing schools that could be taken over by the state and possibly handed over to private school-management companies?

Probably not many. But that’s one of the consequences of House Bill 1479, one of the education and labor bills that caused Indiana House Democrats to dash to Illinois two weeks ago rather than let the bills become law without public awareness.

The legislation allows for a school that spends five straight years in one of Indiana’s two lowest performance categories to be closed, merged with another school or converted to a “turnaround academy.” Turnaround academies could be handed over to “special management teams,” possibly private businesses, selected by the State Board of Education.

Current law prescribes state intervention if a school spends more than five years in the lowest performance category under the state school accountability law. HB 1479 expands that to the two lowest categories – previously called “academic watch” and “probation” but about to be changed to letter grades, D and F.

As Vic Smith explains on the Indiana Coalition for Public Education website, the categories are set up in a way that makes it very difficult for a high school to get an A, B or C. Continue reading