The basics of education in Indiana

The basics of Common Core standards in Indiana: A reconsideration

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

(This story is one in a series exploring the basics of key issues in education in Indiana. For a list of the issues and links to the other stories in the series, go here.)

Indiana was an early adopter of national Common Core standards, but, after a change in the political dynamic, the state’s commitment to the Common Core soon waned.

In early 2014, the state became the first in the nation to reject Common Core after first adopting it, when the Indiana legislature passed a bill voiding the state’s prior adoption. For the 2014-15 school year, the state rushed to put in place new standards created by state-supervised committees of educators and experts.

Common Core is a set of academic standards developed by an association of state governors aimed at ensuring students graduate high school ready to enter college or begin careers. Supporters say the standards raise expectations and will make students more internationally competitive.

But some Indiana critics argued the standards were not as strong as they were billed to be and that they reduced local control over curriculum because they were too strongly connected to the priorities of the U.S. Department of Education. Others complained that Common Core perpetuated a standardized testing focus in schools.

Implementation is “paused”

Back in 2010, Indiana was a leading state in pushing for Common Core adoption.

At the urging of two of its high profile champions, former Gov. Mitch Daniels and former state Superintendent Tony Bennett, the Indiana State Board of Education adopted the standards as its own that year with little fanfare. But a growing backlash against Common Core prompted the state to reconsider whether it will stick with it.

The initial effort to reconsider Common Core in 2012 petered out in the legislature. Common Core had strong support at the time from Daniels, Bennett, key legislative leaders and all 11 members of the Indiana State Board of Education.

But just a year later, opposition to the Common Core had grown. New Gov. Mike Pence has said he is uncertain about the Common Core while new state Superintendent Glenda Ritz favored a re-evaluation of the standards. State Sen. Dennis Kruse, who chairs the senate’s education committee, announced he no longer supported the Common Core. An opposition group, led by a pair of Indianapolis moms, pushed lawmakers to step back from Common Core. Ultimately, lawmakers approved a bill that “paused” implementation of the Common Core, requiring the state education department to study the standards and make recommendations.

In 2014, Common Core opponents persuaded state Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis, to propose a bill to void their original 2010 adoption and require new standards.

Conservative leaders in the Republican Party got behind the bill, saying they feared following Common Core would ultimately lead to a loss of state control over standards. The U.S. Department of Education and President Obama supported Common Core and asked states to adopt the standards in return for release from some of the consequences of the federal No Child Left Behind law, which was evidence enough to some of them that Common Core was too connected to federal priorities.

The bill passed and was signed by Pence, earning praise for the governor for getting rid of Common Core.

Indiana in 2011 committed to adopting “college and career ready” standards as part of an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education that released the state from some of the accountability requirements of the 2002 federal No Child Left Behind law. So even after the state dumped Common Core, it had to reassure federal officials the new standards adhered to many of the same principles.

What’s tested is taught

Some school districts had already implemented the Common Core for all grades by 2013. But the state’s recommended implementation schedule had only required Common Core standards through second grade.

State tests begin at third grade. So the initial plan called for new Common Core linked tests in 2014-15. Indiana was originally part of the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC), one of two consortia of states creating Common Core linked tests, and had planned to adopt PARCC tests in place of the state ISTEP exam in 2014-15. But in 2013, new Gov. Mike Pence announced Indiana would withdraw from PARCC and seek a different approach for testing.

The quick change of direction on standards knocked Indiana off schedule for connecting its new standards to state tests, quickly creating new difficulties for schools trying to prepare students to pass those tests. Because the state had an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education to have standards in place and new tests in 2015, it was forced to speed up the process for communicating the new expectations to teachers.

Schools offered training in the new standards over the summer of 2014 but teachers began the new school year without as much training as they usually receive on new standards. For example, all teachers had at least a year to prepare for Common Core under the roll out plan before the change in standards, and many had several years to get ready.

New tests bring new issues

There is also the issue of the future cost of testing. The Indiana Office of Management and Budget in the summer of 2013 produced a fiscal impact study that showed the state could save some money if it used Common Core tests produced by the consortia rather than adapting ISTEP or creating their new tests.

In 2013-14, Indiana was expected to spend about $34.3 million to administer ISTEP. OMB found the cost would be less — between 31.4 million and $33.2 million — if the state simply adopted Common Core tests built by one of the consortia. Reworking ISTEP to qualify it as “college and career ready,” or creating a new home-grown state test, would cost about $34.7 million, or more than any other option, the OMB reported.

For 2014-15, the state will adapt ISTEP to include new questions that test “college and career readiness.” Bids also are being received by testing companies that hope to eventually create a new state test, which will share the “readiness” goal of Common Core.

For 2015, Indiana was in a difficult position. A completely new state exam won’t be ready before 2016. But the old ISTEP test didn’t measure college and career readiness, as federal education officials expect.

So for one year, The state sought to create a transitional test, using some questions typical of past versions of the test and some that mirror what the new test will look like. But when that made the test much longer, Pence balked. That sparked a war of words with Ritz that ended with a bill that was rushed through the legislature to waive state rules and allow the test to be shortened.

The state is continuing to overhaul its state tests for the future so they connect to its new standards.

-Updated December 2015

The basics of...

The basics of Jennifer McCormick: Political newcomer struggles to set herself apart

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Jennifer McCormick

This is one of two stories summarizing the basics facts about Indiana’s two major party candidates for state superintendent. A more detailed story about Jennifer McCormick’s policy positions can be found here. To learn more about Glenda Ritz, go here. To see all of Chalkbeat’s “basics” stories, go here. To read all of Chalkbeat’s 2016 election coverage, go here.

Tune in to our live blog on Election Day for highlights from the field and updates on the races as results trickle in.

As the political newcomer to this year’s race for Indiana state superintendent, Republican Jennifer McCormick has had to spend a lot of time telling voters who she isn’t.

She isn’t Glenda Ritz, she’s said, emphasizing that as a former teacher and principal who has spent the last 12 years as a top administrator in the Yorktown school district, she has experience as a steady, organized manager that she says Ritz lacks.

And she says she isn’t Tony Bennett, the education reform-darling who lost in a huge upset to Ritz in 2012, either.

In fact, McCormick falls somewhere between the two: She’s a career public school educator and district leader with policies not entirely unlike Ritz’s. But she also has the backing of the Republican party and advocates who’ve pushed to expand charter schools and private school vouchers.

Although McCormick has been more supportive of charter schools and vouchers than Ritz has been, the Yorktown superintendent says she’s concerned about the way school choice efforts divert money from public schools and vehemently denies suggestions that she would want to see them expand.

On the campaign trail, McCormick has tried to steer the conversation away from controversial policy matters toward what she sees as her strong suit: Her years of leadership running schools and districts.

The New Castle native has spent her career in Yorktown, a traditional public school district in northeastern Indiana that enrolls about 2,500 students K-12. Her school district is wealthier, whiter and faces few of the challenges that confront urban and rural districts across the state.

Yorktown school board president Tom Simpson said McCormick has worked to provide more computers and tablets to students and has made a point of ensuring that teachers are trained to use and teach with the devices. She’s also worked over the years to help the district adapt to its growing population.

How she’ll govern

It’s still not clear what kind of relationship McCormick would have with lawmakers if elected. Although her policies don’t necessarily line up with those of Republican legislative leaders, the fact that she brings none of Ritz’s baggage after four years of clashes with Republican Gov. Mike Pence could ease tensions and lead to smoother working relationships.

But McCormick’s lack of policy experience and adamant statements that she won’t engage in “politics” could also mean she underestimates the work needed guide her vision through the sometimes-thorny Indiana legislature.

Plus, should both she and John Gregg, the Democrat running for governor, prevail, there’d once again be a political division between the state’s top education leader and top executive, who is responsible for appointing the majority of members to the state board of education.

On the issues

McCormick’s positions on many state education issues are similar to those of her opponent. She largely agrees with Ritz on the need for an A-F grade overhaul, more school funding, and adding support and pay for teachers.

Here’s a rundown of her positions:

Vouchers. McCormick said while she supports the power of parents to choose the best school for their children, she’s not interested in expanding programs that divert money from public schools.

Testing. While Ritz has called for a new kind of test that would be given to students in chunks throughout the year and provide feedback to teachers, McCormick said she would be in favor of adopting the SAT, or something like it, for high school students and keeping a simple, ISTEP-like test for elementary and middle school students.

Preschool. While Ritz has campaigned strongly for a “universal” preschool plan for all Indiana four year-olds, funded with what she anticipates would be $150 million per year from the state’s budget, plus federal and private grants, McCormick has called for a more conservative approach — at least at first. She says the state should prioritize students who are struggling or from low-income families rather than offer pre-K to kids with more resources.

2016 Indiana governor race

The basics of Eric Holcomb on education: Moving past the policy wars

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
The 2016 Republican nominee for Indiana governor Eric Holcomb.

This is one of two stories summarizing the basics facts about Indiana’s two major party candidates for governor when it comes to education. A more detailed story about Eric Holcomb’s policy positions can be found here. To learn more about John Gregg, go here. To see all of Chalkbeat’s “basics” stories, go here. To read all of Chalkbeat’s 2016 election coverage, go here.

Tune in to our live blog on Election Day for highlights from the field and updates on the races as results trickle in.

Eric Holcomb has promised to be different from his predecessor when it comes to education if elected governor.

The Republican candidate says he’ll avoid the loud political fights that defined Gov. Mike Pence’s battles with Democratic state Superintendent Glenda Ritz.

But Holcomb’s education policies are largely in line with Pence’s.

The Republican candidate took Pence’s place on the ballot in July after Pence dropped out of the race to join Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump as his vice presidential running mate.

As a result of his late entry into the race, Holcomb’s education policies are less detailed than his opponent, Democrat John Gregg who is making his second run for governor after losing a close race to Pence in 2012.

Holcomb has also never before been elected to public office. So, unlike the former House speaker Gregg, he has little track record of votes or positions on the issues.

But in interviews, Holcomb, 48, has emphasized a desire to work more collaboratively with the next superintendent — Ritz or her Republican opponent, Jennifer McCormick — to try to move on from the many battles between Pence and Ritz.

Holcomb also says he wants a better state test to replace ISTEP, but he has struggled to explain how his vision for the exam would be different from the much maligned test that the state has used in recent years.

Early lessons and role models

Holcomb’s mother was a teacher, so he spent hours at her side when she was grading papers, both at home and after school. He credits her as his earliest example of work ethic and the value of learning.

After graduating Pike High School in Indianapolis and Indiana’s Hanover College, he spent six years in the Navy and then got involved in politics. For the next 20 years, Holcomb worked for Indiana Republicans, but nearly all of his work was out of the public eye.

He started out as an aide to Indiana congressman John Hostettler before first dipping his toe into politics with an unsuccessful run for congress in 2000.

He served as a campaign adviser to Mitch Daniels during Daniels’ first run for governor in 2003 then stayed on, working in the Daniels administration for seven years.

In 2010, Holcomb took over as state Republican Party chairman, a job he held for three years before leaving to become chief of staff to Repbulican U.S. Sen. Dan Coats.

Holcomb attempted his second run for office in 2013 when he ran for his boss’ seat after Coats announced his retirement, but ended up dropping out of that race when Pence offered him the lieutenant governor job in March.

If Holcomb wins the election on Nov. 8, it will be his first elective victory, so voters don’t have much a personal record they can review. It’s not clear how closely Holcomb will follow the lead of the two Republican governors he served, both of whom shaped a more aggressive Republican education strategy that included more test-based accountability for teachers, students and schools, and support for expanding vouchers and charter schools.

A different tone at the statehouse

Despite his connections to Daniels and Pence, Holcomb has said he wants to set a new tone as governor that would be more cooperative than during the education battles of the last two administrations.

Under Daniels, the state expanded charter school sponsoring, launched the state private school voucher program, established an A-F school grading system and put in place a tough new teacher evaluation system.

After Ritz, a Democrat, scored an upset win in the 2012 superintendent’s race, Pence moved aggressively to block the policy changes she proposed.

The cumulative effect left many teachers feeling weary of politics and unfairly attacked.

From his introduction as a gubernatorial candidate, Holcomb has pledged to take steps to improve the relationship with the state superintendent and show more overt support for teachers.

Big differences with Democrats remain

On policy, Holcomb and Ritz are still far apart. Consider:

Testing. Ritz wants to junk the state’s ISTEP exam in favor of a series of smaller tests that could be scored more quickly and the results returned faster to teachers to use in the classroom. She has argued her approach would reduce test anxiety around the once-a-year exam for students and make the exams more useful.

Holcomb insists the state test should only be given once a year. He also has called for the scores to be delivered to teachers more quickly but has not explained how to do that while keeping the same basic design as ISTEP.

School choice. Holcomb describes himself as a strong supporter of school choice programs, like charter schools and vouchers. And he said he wants the state to take action to try to improve schools with persistently low test scores, even if it’s not necessarily through controversial state takeovers of local schools that the state tried under Daniels.

Preschool. Even where he agrees with Ritz and Gregg — that the state should expand its preschool pilot program — Holcomb takes a different approach. He said he does not think the state should offer to pay for preschool for any four-year-old who enrolls as Ritz and Gregg have proposed, just those from poor families. He also envisions a slower expansion of the five-county pilot that serves about 1,500 poor children today, perhaps a few more counties at a time.