legislative update

Education wasn’t supposed to be a big deal for Indiana lawmakers in 2017, but major changes are on the horizon

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos

Indiana’s 2017 legislative session might have began with a focus on roads and transportation, but lawmakers have still devoted a lot of time to a variety of education debates that could wind up making big changes for the state’s schools.

In just a week, Indiana lawmakers are expected to wrap this year’s legislative session. Until then, both sides are debating more controversial bills and putting final touches on others before they are sent to Gov. Eric Holcomb.

Many of these proposals will see further debate over the next week as they go through conference committee, when House and Senate lawmakers come together to reach compromises. Once a compromise is reached, bills will go back up for final votes in the House and Senate. Here’s where everything stands now.

Tying teacher evaluations to tests still troubles Democrats, educators

House Bill 1003, which proposes a plan for a system of tests to replace ISTEP that would be known as “ILEARN,” was up for debate in conference committee on Wednesday.

While the House version of the bill primarily reflected recommendations from a state panel charged with considering how to change the exams, the Senate version was more prescriptive, including suggestions from state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick to use a national college entrance test as the high school graduation exam.

The fact that neither bill version had a provision to remove test scores from teacher evaluations troubled a number of Democrats on the committee and educators who testified.

“Incorporating data based on a test that even the state legislature removed — you put us in a really difficult position when you required us to implement that,” said Scot Croner, superintendent in Blackford County.

Future of online program uncertain as preschool debate continues

Lawmakers also gathered Wednesday to wade through the many proposals on the table regarding Indiana’s preschool program in House Bill 1004, which it its current form would allow all of the state’s 92 counties to participate.

The original House plan expanded the program only up to 10 counties.

During the committee meeting, Rep. Bob Behning, the bill’s author, reminded lawmakers that the state would only include suggested funding levels in the budget bill, not the preschool one — and the budget won’t be finalized likely until late next week. But money still factored into the conversation, with local and state advocates testifying and requesting as much funding as possible, particularly given the optimism around the state’s recent revenue report.

Behning also asked many of the educators and preschool advocates how they felt about a provision in the bill that would allocate $1 million per year for a Utah-based online preschool program called “Upstart,” which says it can prepare kids for kindergarten in 15 minutes per day, five days a week.

Read: How a computer program designed for home-based preschool in Utah could get a piece of Indiana’s education budget

Caryl Auslander, with the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, summed up many of the comments made about the online program:

“We’re not necessarily against Upstart, but we’re really supportive of making sure the limited dollars we have to spend are spent on high-quality programs going forward,” she said.

Lawmakers and those from the public who testified were also split on whether the final proposal should include controversial language that would expand the state’s voucher program to children who receive a preschool grant.

“We believe that language should have been struck,” Joel Hand, with the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, said Wednesday. “We believe that intertwining the voucher program with the preschool debate is really inappropriate.”

State superintendent bill stalls after Senate squabble

At this point, lawmakers have not explicitly indicated they have a problem with the Senate version of House Bill 1005, a move which must be made before the bill can go to a conference committee for further debate.

The proposal would allow Gov. Eric Holcomb, and future state executives, to choose Indiana’s state superintendent, rather than let voters pick in an election. An original version of the House bill proposed starting in 2021, meaning current state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick would serve just one term alongside Gov. Eric Holcomb.

The current version — after some twists and turns in the Senate — now has the appointment beginning in 2025, which means Holcomb wouldn’t be around to make the pick.

But the hold-up isn’t necessarily unusual, House Republican spokeswoman Erin Reece said.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, the bill’s author, told reporters yesterday that he’s still discussing the bill with his caucus and working on other agenda items.

The bill will likely see heavy debate as the Senate and House work out a final version, particularly regarding when the new appointment would begin.

Charter- and voucher-related proposals could affect failing virtual and private schools

Two complicated omnibus bills dealing with charter schools and vouchers will head into their final rounds of negotiations on Monday, and another that creates a voucher-like program to let kids take classes outside their public schools is headed to the governor.

The first omnibus bill, House Bill 1382, would make changes to how the Indiana State Board of Education handles authorizers who want to renew charters for schools that have failed for four years in a row, among numerous other provisions. It also would require virtual schools to adopt “student engagement” policies, which would allow them to remove students showing low participation and poor attendance.

In the Senate, the bill was amended to include changes to how charter school teachers can be licensed. At charter schools, current Indiana law says that 90 percent of teachers must hold a state teaching license, or be in the process of pursuing one. One proposal in the bill would loosen restrictions on which state permits count as full-fledged licenses and give more discretion to the state board to make those decisions.

The second, House Bill 1384, would require the Indiana State Board of Education to consider a school’s rate of student turnover from year to year when it assigns A-F accountability grades, which could have the most impact on both urban schools and virtual schools, whose grades tend to slip when students move in and out throughout a given school year.

The state board would also be tasked with determining a definition for “high-mobility” schools and the Indiana Department of Education would be required to publish a yearly report on the schools’ performance.

The bill also includes two proposals regarding private schools and vouchers. One would allow schools to appeal D or F grades that prohibit them from accepting new voucher students. Another would allow schools to become accredited more quickly, and thus accept voucher students sooner.

The voucher-like program that would be created by House Bill 1007 is known more widely as a “course access” program, and it could represent one way Indiana’s school choice strategy is broadening. Under the program as outlined in the bill, students could use public dollars to pay for outside schooling — one course at a time. Then, those course providers would get a cut of a school or district’s state funding.

The bill passed the House and was amended in committee to allow public school districts to deny students’ requests to enroll in outside courses if those courses are not actually required for graduation, would put a student above a full courseload of credits or are “logistically infeasible.”

School funding plans still coming into focus

Underlying many of the pending education bills is the debate over the state’s next two-year budget, which likely won’t be finalized until late next week.

The Senate proposal calls for raising education funding by $358 million, or 3.25 percent, over the next two years, while the House proposed a smaller $273 million, 2.8 percent funding increase for education last month. However, the House plan would include higher per-student funding.

Much of the Senate increase appears to come from revived provisions for teacher bonuses and boosts to the formula that adds dollars for districts with many poor students.

You can find more on the Senate education funding plan here, and House plan here.

Charter Schools

A new study reveals which NYC charter school networks are outperforming their peers

PHOTO: Creative Commons / Leila Hadd
A KIPP school in the Bronx

All charter schools are not created equal. That’s according to a new study published by Stanford University research group CREDO, which shows some New York City charter school networks are better than others at improving their students’ math and reading test scores relative to surrounding traditional public schools.

The results are part of a broader study released this month that analyzed hundreds of charter schools and networks across 26 states to assess which types of charters are most effective in boosting student learning.

Most notably, the study found that charter school management organizations (CMOs), which CREDO defines as agencies that hold and oversee the operation of at least three charters, perform better than both traditional public schools and charters not aligned with CMOs. Academic growth was defined in the study as the change in a student’s scores from one testing period to the next.

Nationwide, students at CMO-operated charters received an equivalent of 17 days of additional schooling in math and reading compared to similar students in traditional public schools. In New York City, those rates were substantially higher, with students receiving the equivalent of 80 extra days of learning in math and 29 days in reading.

In comparison, non-CMO charter schools in New York City saw students grow only an additional 34 days in math and actually decline in reading compared to students at traditional public schools (The non-CMO reading difference was not statistically significant).

Five out of 11 CMOs in the city saw distinctly better results. Success Academy Charter Schools, which recently won the Broad Prize, came out on top, significantly outperforming most other networks in the city. Its students gained the equivalent of 228 days in math and 120 days in reading instruction compared to their peers in nearby traditional public schools.

However, the study only examined 168 students from the large network, a small share of its total enrollment of roughly 14,000 students in New York City. In an email, CREDO’s Lynn Woodworth told Chalkbeat that many Success students were excluded from the study because they couldn’t be matched to similar students in “feeder” district schools since the network takes few students after the initial enrollment period.

Icahn Charter Schools, Achievement First, Uncommon Schools New York City, KIPP New York City and Democracy Prep Public Schools all posted lower rates than Success — but still outperformed nearby district schools and the city’s average for CMOs.

Students at Icahn Charter Schools received the equivalent of 171 additional days of learning in math and 46 days in reading, compared to students at nearby traditional public schools. Achievement First students were close, with 125 extra days of learning in math and 57 in reading. KIPP New York City, Uncommon Schools New York City and Democracy Prep all posted gains equivalent to roughly 100 days in math and 50 days in reading.

Two networks — Lighthouse Academies and Public Preparatory Network, Inc. — performed closer to the city’s CMO average. And the three other CMOs — Ascend Learning, Explore Schools, Inc. and New Visions for Public Schools — performed comparably to nearby traditional public schools.

“At the average, independent charter schools show lower gains for their students than CMOs,” the report found. “Despite the wide range of CMO quality, larger organizations of charter holders have taken advantage of scale to the benefit of their students.”

First Person

I’m on a Community Education Council in Manhattan. Mayor de Blasio, we need to move faster on school integration

PHOTO: Patrick Wall

Mayor de Blasio,

As the mother of a fifth-grade student in a New York City public school and a member of the Community Education Council in Manhattan’s District 2, I thank you for acknowledging that our public school system does not provide equity and excellence for all of our students.

I’m writing to you understanding that the diversity plan the city released this month is a beginning, and that it will take time to integrate our schools. However, the black and Hispanic children of this city do not have decades to wait for us to make change.

I know this firsthand. For the past six years, I have been traveling out of my neighborhood to take my child to one of the city’s few remaining diverse elementary schools, located in Hell’s Kitchen. In looking at middle schools, my criteria for a school were that it matched my child’s academic interests and that it was diverse. Unfortunately, the only middle school that truly encompasses both is a long commute from our home. After commuting by subway for six years, my child wanted a school that was closer to home. I obliged.  

At my child’s middle school orientation, I saw what a segregated school looks like. The incoming class of sixth-graders includes few students of color and does not represent the diversity of our district. This middle school also lacks a diverse teaching staff and administrators. (Had I not sent my child to this school, I would only be fueling the problem, since my child was one of the few children of color admitted to the school.)

These predominately affluent and white schools are creating a new generation of students who will not know how to interact with others that come from different racial, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. Integrated schools, on the other hand, will provide opportunities for them to learn and work with students, teachers and school leaders that reflect the diversity of our city and the world we live in.  

There are measures we can take that will have a stronger impact in integrating our schools than what is listed in the diversity plan. I am asking that you come to the table with students, school leadership and parents that are directly affected by school segregation and consider our ideas to create schools that are more equitable for all students.  

In the words of Valerie Castile, whose family received no justice in the death of their son Philando, “The system continues to fail black people.” While she was speaking of the criminal justice system, true reform of that system begins with educating our children — who will be our society’s future police officers, politicians, legislators and judges.

Mayor de Blasio, you have the power to spur change. The students and parents of our great city are asking for your leadership in integrating our schools.

Josephine Ishmon is a member of District 2’s Community Education Council. This is her personal opinion and does not reflect that of the CEC.