Are Children Learning

Senate votes to reject Common Core

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Indiana legislators took a substantial step toward doing away with the Common Core today when the Senate voted to void the state’s 2010 decision to adopt the learning standards.

The 36-12 vote saw only Democrats vote against it. Under the bill, Indiana can no longer follow Common Core standards as of July 1. The move came after a year of fast-moving debate that saw many Republicans shift their positions from supporting the Common Core to opposing it.

Debate about the value of the standards, which are meant to ensure that students are ready for college and work, have centered on whether the allow the state enough freedom to decide what children are taught. Legislators and others across the state have pushed back against the Common Core because they didn’t like the way schools were changing to new teaching methods, which some have argued are being pushed by the federal government.

“This is a benefit to us all,” said Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis, the bill’s author. “This is obviously a benefit to the students of Indiana. It’s a positive step.”

But Common Core supporters argue the move is unnecessary, fueled by misinformation and a potentially costly mistake, citing an estimate by the state’s Office of Management and Budget that changing standards could cost Indiana $24 million.

Sen Earline Rogers, D-Gary, said opponents misunderstand the purpose of Common Core. The standards, she said, only dictate what topics are learned, not how the information is taught.

“There is a difference between standards and curriculum,” she said. “A lot of times parents get mixed up between the two, and not just parents but legislators also.”

The July 1 Common Core expiration date in the bill coincides with the dictates of the of a bill passed by the legislature last year, which called for a “pause” of implementation of Common Core. That bill required a review of Common Core standards and a new vote of the state board by July 1.

The Indiana Department of Education and Indiana State Board of Education began a review of standards last fall. State Superintendent Glenda Ritz said last month the review would result in recommendations for new standards and that the department would deliver them in time for the board to approve them by the deadline.

If the House ultimately supports the bill, it would complete a stunning reversal of fortune for the Common Core. Indiana was one of the earliest and strongest supporters of the academic standards, which 45 states have agreed to make their state standards. The aim was to to set a common standard for what qualified students as ready for college or careers. The standards were promoted in Indiana and nationally by former Gov. Mitch Daniels and Tony Bennett, who was state superintendent under Daniels. The Indiana State Board of Education adopted them as the state’s standards in 2010.

But opposition grew beginning in late 2012. It was led by conservatives, who worried that the Common Core ceded too much authority over what Indiana students learn to the federal government. The U.S. Department of Education under President Obama has endorsed Common Core and sought to persuade states to adopt the standards. Some liberals raised concerns that Common Core represented a deeper commitment to standardized testing, which they oppose.

Even Common Core supporters in recent months have begun to acknowledge the state would likely have to write its own standards because of eroding support. They are advocating for those new standards to still incorporate many of the concepts of the Common Core.

But Schneider said he doesn’t want that to happen either. Parents who oppose the Common Core don’t want the standards renamed, he said. They don’t want to see changes they’ve seen over the past two years in the way their children are taught reversed, Schneider said.

“I share those concerns,” he said. “But at some point we have to trust this process. I think parents will be the eternal watchdogs of this. They’re watching.”

Mapping a Turnaround

This is what the State Board of Education hopes to order Adams 14 to do

PHOTO: Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post
Javier Abrego, superintendent of Adams 14 School District on April 17, 2018.

In Colorado’s first-ever attempt to give away management of a school district, state officials Thursday provided a preview of what the final order requiring Adams 14 to give up district management could include.

The State Board of Education is expected to approve its final directives to the district later this month.

Thursday, after expressing a lack of trust in district officials who pleaded their case, the state board asked the Attorney General’s office for advice and help in drafting a final order detailing how the district is to cede authority, and in what areas.

Colorado has never ordered an external organization to take over full management of an entire district.

Among details discussed Thursday, Adams 14 will be required to hire an external manager for at least four years. The district will have 90 days to finalize a contract with an external manager. If it doesn’t, or if the contract doesn’t meet the state’s guidelines, the state may pull the district’s accreditation, which would trigger dissolution of Adams 14.

State board chair Angelika Schroeder said no one wants to have to resort to that measure.

But districts should know, the state board does have “a few more tools in our toolbox,” she said.

In addition, if they get legal clearance, state board members would like to explicitly require the district:

  • To give up hiring and firing authority, at least for at-will employees who are administrators, but not teachers, to the external manager.
    When State Board member Steve Durham questioned the Adams 14 school board President Connie Quintana about this point on Wednesday, she made it clear she was not interested in giving up this authority.
  • To give up instructional, curricular, and teacher training decisions to the external manager.
  • To allow the new external manager to decide if there is value in continuing the existing work with nonprofit Beyond Textbooks.
    District officials have proposed they continue this work and are expanding Beyond Textbooks resources to more schools this year. The state review panel also suggested keeping the Beyond Textbooks partnership, mostly to give teachers continuity instead of switching strategies again.
  • To require Adams 14 to seek an outside manager that uses research-based strategies and has experience working in that role and with similar students.
  • To task the external manager with helping the district improve community engagement.
  • To be more open about their progress.
    The state board wants to be able to keep track of how things are going. State board member Rebecca McClellan said she would like the state board and the department’s progress monitor to be able to do unannounced site visits. Board member Jane Goff asked for brief weekly reports.
  • To allow the external manager to decide if the high school requires additional management or other support.
  • To allow state education officials, and/or the state board, to review the final contract between the district and its selected manager, to review for compliance with the final order.

Facing the potential for losing near total control over his district, Superintendent Javier Abrego Thursday afternoon thanked the state board for “honoring our request.”

The district had accepted the recommendation of external management and brought forward its own proposal — but with the district retaining more authority.

Asked about the ways in which the state board went above and beyond the district’s proposal, such as giving the outside manager the authority to hire and fire administrative staff, Abrego did not seem concerned.

“That has not been determined yet,” he said. “That will all be negotiated.”

The state board asked that the final order include clear instructions about next steps if the district failed to comply with the state’s order.

Indiana A-F grades

Why it’s hard to compare Indianapolis schools under the A-F grading system

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Because Thomas Gregg Neighborhood School became an innovation school last year, the state uses a different scale to grade it.

A-F grades for schools across Indiana were released Wednesday, but in the state’s largest district, the grades aren’t necessarily an easy way to compare schools.

An increasing share of Indianapolis Public Schools campuses, last year about 20 percent, are being measured by a different yardstick than others, creating a system where schools with virtually identical results on state tests can receive vastly different letter grades.

The letter grades aim to show how well schools are serving students by measuring both how their students score on state tests and how much their scores improve. But as Chalkbeat reported last year, new schools and schools that join the IPS innovation network can opt to be graded for three years based only on the second measure, known as growth. Schools in the innovation network are part of the district, but they are run by outside charter or nonprofit operators.

Of the 11 out 70 Indianapolis Public Schools campuses that received A marks from the state, eight were graded based on growth alone. They included a school in its first year of operation and seven innovation schools.

At the same time, traditional neighborhood and magnet schools with growth scores as good as or better than the scores at A-rated innovation schools received Bs, Cs, and even Ds.

Of the 13 innovation schools that received grades for last school year, eight received As, two got Bs, two got Cs, and one got a D. Only Herron High School was graded on the same scale as other schools. (For high schools, grades incorporate other measures including graduation rates.)

The result is a system that most parents don’t understand, said Seretha Edwards, a parent of four children at School 43, a school that received a failing grade from the state but would have gotten a B if it were measured by growth alone.

“I just think it’s kind of deceiving,” she added. “I don’t think it paints a fair picture of the schools.”

Indianapolis Public Schools deputy superintendent for academics Aleesia Johnson said the growth scores show schools are on a good trajectory.

“If you see that kids are making progress in terms of growth, that’s a good sign that you’re on the right track,” she said.

Still, she acknowledged that “there’s still a lot of work to do” to get students to pass tests and show proficiency.

Johnson pointed out that often-changing standardized tests and different A-F grades can cause confusion for families, and those measures don’t provide a complete or timely picture for families who want to assess their schools or choose new ones. “I don’t think it gives a lot of valuable information,” she said.

Advocates have said the growth only model makes sense because schools shouldn’t be held accountable for the low passing rates of students that they just began educating. But in practice, the policy benefits charter and innovation schools, which enjoy strong support from Republican lawmakers.

“The concept behind the growth-only model was that we measured newer schools based off of what they are able to do for their students, rather than taking them where they received them,” said Maggie Paino, the director of accountability for the education department. “You’re taking strides to get toward proficiency.”

The situation is even more muddled than usual this year. Schools across the state received two letter grades. One was calculated under a state model that relies largely on test scores, and the other was determined under a plan the state uses to comply with federal standards.

In addition to helping parents choose schools, years of repeated low letter grades from the state can trigger intervention or takeover. But the state has deferred in decisions about intervening in low-rated schools to IPS in recent years.

Back in 2012, the state took over four chronically low-performing Indianapolis schools. Since Superintendent Lewis Ferebee took over, IPS has taken aggressive steps to overhaul struggling schools by “restarting” them as innovation schools with new managers. Other struggling schools have been closed.

School 63, which received its sixth consecutive F from the state, might have faced state intervention in the past. But the school is unlikely to face repercussions because IPS restarted the school by turning it over to an outside manager. The Haughville elementary school is now managed by Matchbook Learning.

Shaina Cavazos and Stephanie Wang contributed reporting.