Future of Schools

24 education bills to watch as Indiana begins its 2016 legislative session

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Lawmakers gathered Tuesday for Gov. Mike Pence's State of the State address.

While lawmakers are sprinting ahead with two major education bills they hope Gov. Mike Pence will sign into law this month, a total of 75 bills filed by lawmakers were assigned to House and Senate education committees by yesterday’s deadline.

That’s a lot, especially for a “short” session of the legislature, with no biennial budget to debate, in 2016.

But we’ve got the highlights below.

Two bills have quickly jumped ahead to full approval by the House or Senate: Senate Bill 200 and House Bill 1003 both aim to hold schools and teachers “harmless” for lower 2015 ISTEP scores. Both are scheduled for votes in the opposite houses next week with a goal of arriving on Pence’s desk by Jan. 19.

What will be the other big issues? Probably the next most high-profile move will be an effort to attract more teachers to the profession.

Bills were filed to start or expand mentoring programs, to increase teacher pay when they take additional education classes or take on on leadership roles and to ease licensing requirements for credentialed out-of-state teachers, among others.

House Education Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, and Senate Education Committee Chairman Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, both said they were reluctant to hear bills that come with new costs. That would require a special allocation outside of the state budget.

“I’ve been told we will not be moving bills (with new costs),” Behning said. “Education continues to be a priority, but I think we’re trying to do things this year where we’re not really getting involved as much into the minutiae of schools.”

Not all bills that are filed get a hearing. Behning, for instance said he did not plan to move a bill requiring cursive writing to be taught as part of handwriting forward for a hearing, effectively killing it. Here are some of the bills most likely to get hearings in committees:

A-F grades

  • 2015 A-F grades. Senate Bill 200, authored by Kruse, would block schools from receiving a lower 2015 A-F grade than they received in 2014. The bill passed the Senate 48-1 and is expected to pass the House later this week.
  • Innovation Network Schools. House Bill 1394, authored by Behning, would require the Indiana Department of Education to reset the accountability clock for schools that convert to Innovation Network schools, autonomous schools run in partnership with an outside organization or charter school that are still under the umbrella of a school district. Currently, schools with six consecutive years of F-grades can be taken over the state. In 2017, the timeline will be shortened to four years.

Testing

  • ISTEP rescore. House Bill 1395, authored by Behning, would require the Indiana Department of Education to hire an outside company to rescore the 2015 ISTEP test. If the scores change, the bill would allow the state to use the new results for calculating future student test score improvement for 2016 A-F school grades. The bill would also create a committee to review Indiana’s current A-F accountability system and see what changes could be made under the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which will replace the No Child Left Behind Act.
  • Replace ISTEP. House Bill 1114, authored by Rep. Clyde Kersey, D-Terre Haute, would replace the state ISTEP test. The new test would include English, math, social studies and science and would likely test the same grades, Kersey said. The test would be administered by the Indiana Department of Education, not a company such as CTB/McGraw-Hill or Pearson. Behning didn’t say he wouldn’t hear the bill, but he said it was doubtful any effort “blow up” the state’s testing program would advance in his committee.

Charter schools

  • Charter school data. Senate Bill 9, authored by Sen. Jeff Raatz, R-Richmond, would remove the requirement that charter schools report certain information to the state, such as student enrollment, students’ names and addresses and what school a student transferred from.
  • Gary charter schools. House Bill 1115, authored by Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, would allow the mayor of Gary to authorize charter schools and create a Gary charter school board.

Teachers

  • Teacher licensing. House Bill 1004, authored by Behning, would allow teachers with licenses from other states to be licensed if they have bachelor’s degrees in the subject areas they teach, at least a 3.0 college grade point average and have passed Indiana’s teacher license subject tests. The bill would also allow districts to give extra pay, without union permission, to teachers who take a position the district considers hard to fill.
  • Teacher career pathways. House Bill 1005, authored by Rep. Dale DeVon, R-Mishawaka, would give extra pay to teachers who are rated effective and agree to mentor peers. The bill would also set out that teachers in their first two years of work who are rated “ineffective” or “improvement necessary” could still be eligible for salary raises.
  • Teacher salaries. Senate Bill 10, authored by Raatz, would allow teachers with fewer than 10 years experience to have their years worked count for more to determine their salaries. A teacher’s experience today cannot factor into more than a third of the salary calculation. The bill would allow experience to count for up to 58 percent of the calculation for those in their first decade of teaching.
  • Aspiring teachers. House Bill 1002, authored by House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, would set up a system for aspiring teachers to get $7,500 per year towards four years of college tuition in exchange for teaching for five years in Indiana schools. To be eligible, students would have to rank in the top 20 percent of their high school graduating class.
  • Teacher bonuses and evaluation. House Bill 1003, authored by Behning, would ensure that teacher bonuses and evaluations are not negatively impacted by the transition to a new test in 2015. ISTEP scores and A-F grades may not be used in a teacher’s evaluation for that year.
  • Teacher grants. Senate Bill 328, authored by Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary,  would create grants for aspiring teachers who are studying subjects in high demand.
  • Teacher shortage. Senate Bill 379, authored by Sen. Peter Miller, R-Avon, would let teachers of special education, science, engineering, technology and math fields negotiate contracts outside and separate from the teachers union that represents them. It would also create a residency program for teachers and try to make it easier for those coming from outside the state to become licensed. Kruse said he has not decided whether to give it a hearing. The Indiana State Teachers Association, the state’s largest teachers union, is opposed to the bill.
  • Dual credit. House Bill 1370, authored by Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Mount Vernon, would allow any teacher already teaching dual credit classes to get college credits in exchange for the number of classes they teach. For example, a teacher who teaches one dual credit course in U.S. History would be able to take one free class, or three credit hours, in that subject.
  • Teacher retention and recruitment. House Bill 1339, authored by Rep. Randy Truitt, R-Lafayette, includes some of the recommendations of state Superintendent Glenda Ritz’s teacher panel that met last summer. It would create a program designed to attract more teachers to the classroom and keep others from leaving the profession. The program would include mentoring and set a goal of having one National Board certified teacher in every public school classroom by 2035. Teachers who earn the rigorous credential could seek reimbursement for fees and receive an annual salary bonus of $1,000. Behning said the cost of some of the recommendations could keep it from getting a hearing.

Curriculum

  • Cursive writing. Senate Bill 73, by Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, would require every school district and accredited private school to teach cursive handwriting. Similar bills passed the Senate in recent years, but not the House. The Senate Education Committee passed this bill 6-4 today.
  • Ethnic history. Senate Bill 268, by Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, would require high schools teach students the history of different racial and ethnic groups in U.S. History courses. A similar bill passed the Senate last year, but was defeated in the House.
  • High school diplomas. House Bill 1219, authored by Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, would require public high schools to offer students the opportunity to earn any diploma the state offers. Currently, schools may offer whichever diplomas they choose. Some schools today do not offer a General Diploma, a less-rigorous course of study that some argue is be a better fit for some students, such as those with special needs.

Funding and administration

  • Title I funding. House Bill 1330, authored by Behning, would require, among other things, the Indiana Department of Education, to make available to schools and districts the formula and data they use to calculate federal poverty aid. Behning said this will provide transparency around the issue, which received attention this year when the U.S. Department of Education said it would reveal how funds were allocated to charter schools, some of which reported in 2015 receiving much less than in prior years. 
  • Special education scholarship accounts. Senate Bill 397, authored by Raatz is designed to allow parents to better control where federal and state aid for students in special education is spent. A state fund would be created to hold money that parents could request be directed to their child’s school or other education service providers, such as tutors. Parents who agree to use this fund are ineligible for tax-funded vouchers.
  • Cost efficiency. House Bill 1045, authored by Rep. Randall Frye, R-Greensburg, would offer grants to help schools create cost savings, such as by establishing processes that reduce administrative work, remove duplication of services or lower building maintenance costs.
  • Consolidation. Senate Bill 307, authored by Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, would allow school districts within the same county to merge administrative services to cut costs, but keep the “historical legacy” of the individual districts. Kruse said a similar bill in 2007 did not pass.

Miscellaneous 

  • Technical corrections. Senate Bill 3, authored by Sen. Pete Miller, R-Avon, would make some technical adjustments, following up on changes enacted by last year’s massive Senate Bill 500.
  • Various education issues. Senate Bill 93, authored by Kruse, would change the definition of “secondary school” to include elementary grades so teachers could participate in a federal loan forgiveness program for “highly qualified teachers in high needs areas.” The bill would also require than any contract the state makes with a company to create ISTEP would require the return of scores to the State Board of Education no later than July 1 after the test has been given. The bill also would change the definition of “developmental delay” to cover children ages 3-9 rather than ages 3-5.

Bills that likely won’t receive a hearing:

  • Standardized tests. House Bill 1030, authored by Rep. Rhonda Rhoads, R-Depauw, would not allow the Indiana Department of Education to require students in public schools to take standardized tests on a computer. Behning said he is “inclined not to hear” this bill because the logistical problems it could create would be a  “nightmare.”
  • Health education. Senate Bill 175, authored by Leising, would require that the state health and education departments to develop academic standards and curriculum on health education. A version of this bill did not pass in 2015, and Kruse said he doesn’t want to “rehash” a discussion not likely to succeed.
  • Mandatory kindergarten. Senate Bill 199, authored by Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, would require Indiana kids who are 5 years old by Aug. 1 be enrolled in kindergarten no later the fall term of that school year. Current law doesn’t require kids start school until they are 7 years old. Kruse said he probably won’t hear the bill because “the majority of our members would not want that.”
  • Expanding preschool. Neither Behning nor Kruse expect to hear similar bills that would expand the state’s preschool pilot program to include 13 counties selected as finalists by the state, but not part of the initial pilot — Senate Bill 203, from Rogers, and House Bill 1270 from Rep. Sue Errington, D-Muncie. Both lawmakers said they were holding off on passing bills that could cost money and still wanted to see how the five-year pilot plays out.
  • Expelled students. Senate Bill 262, authored by Taylor, would block student expulsions unless the student is enrolled in another school, alternative school or alternative education program.
  • ISTEP delay. Senate Bill 139, authored by Leising, would require a two-year delay of ISTEP scores as factors in school A-F grades and teacher evaluations. The bill was assigned to the Rules Committee, which Leising said means it won’t move forward.

study says...

Can charter operators turn around district schools? In Atlanta, two are trying and finding extra challenges

A UNICEF Kid Power Event at Charles R. Drew Charter School in Atlanta, Georgia in 2016. (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images for UNICEF)

When Atlanta Public Schools decided to hand over control of one of its struggling elementary schools, the leaders of a small charter network raised their hands.

In its application to run the school, Kindezi leaders said it had posted strong results at its two charter schools and was ready to spread its model. But the job proved much more difficult than they expected.

The students at the turnaround school were far behind academically, and many were entering and exiting the school, making it tough to establish a new school culture.

“One of the things that we weren’t really prepared for was the level of trauma for a lot of our student population,” said Danielle Washington, the Kindezi turnaround principal. “Knowing superficially — looking at the demographics — what the environment was like [and] actually being in it is very different.”

“Frankly, organizationally, we weren’t ready to do it,” said Dean Leeper, Kindezi’s founder.

A new study on Atlanta’s turnaround efforts shows that Kindezi’s results were uneven, as were results at a few other Atlanta schools taken over by an outside operator.

The Kindezi school had some clear successes: large gains on math tests, as well as moderate improvements in reading. But students’ already-low science and social studies scores dropped sharply, and suspension rates spiked, too.

At three other schools run by another external operator, math scores also jumped — but so did suspensions, and scores in other subjects were flat.

The results come from just one or two years of data, and most agree that a successful turnaround takes more time. The same study also showed tepid results for an improvement strategy that kept the schools under district control.

Still, the mix of findings and reported struggles in Atlanta underscore the challenges of exporting charter models to new environments, especially existing schools. This charter takeover approach has taken root in a growing number of cities, including Camden, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, and San Antonio.

“If you’re going to use charters, you have to realize that even those that are experienced and seasoned are not going to enter into this [turnaround] work totally prepared,” said Joshua Glazer, a professor at George Washington University who has studied charter takeovers in Tennessee. “There is going to be a significant learning curve.”

The challenge: Two external groups, four struggling schools

Two local groups won Atlanta’s competitive application process to take over five schools the district considered low performing: Kindezi and Purpose Built Schools, a nonprofit connected to the Drew charter school.

They won backing from national philanthropy. Two of the schools got $325,000 start-up grants from the pro-charter Walton Family Foundation. (Walton is a funder of Chalkbeat.) The two turnaround groups also got money from RedefinED, a local nonprofit that recently received funding from the City Fund. Walton also paid $900,000 for the research firm Mathematica to study Atlanta’s turnaround strategies.

The four schools the researchers examined saw big changes after the external groups took over. Their teachers were no longer employed by the district, for one, and those who wanted to remain had to reapply for their jobs.

The schools, though, continued to enroll students from the neighborhood, keeping attendance boundaries intact — unlike the enrollment setup for most charter schools.

The results were all over the place.

After one year, Kindezi-school students in grades three through five jumped from the 29th percentile in the district in math to roughly the 43rd percentile — a big improvement. There was also an uptick in English scores.

But results on science and social studies exams (only administered to fifth-graders) fell precipitously compared to similar schools — dropping from the 24th to the 13th percentile in social studies, for instance.

Washington, the Kindezi principal, said that may be a result of her school’s choice to emphasize basic math and reading skills after realizing how far behind students were.

“We had to make some tough decisions on what to prioritize,” she said. “We definitely paid for it on the science and social studies end, but we were able to make some dents [in] reading.”

The Kindezi school also saw a sharp increase in suspension rates, though some staff members suggested that that might be because suspensions had previously been under-reported.

The three other schools — which followed the Drew charter model, with extra learning time and nonacademic support — also had mixed results. In year one, math scores increased and chronic absenteeism declined, compared to similar schools. There were no clear effects in three other subjects, though, and suspension rates jumped 8 percentage points.

In the first school taken over, math scores continued to improve in year two, but there were still no gains in other subjects. And, alarmingly, chronic absenteeism increased by 8 percentage points.

Turnaround leaders say challenges are greater than in charter schools

Barbara Preuss, who oversees principals at Purpose Built Schools, said her network had found that the students at turnaround schools were much different than the students they had previously served.

“Our children live in an environment where they experience a lot more trauma than children that are attending Drew charter,” she said. “We also are dealing with a high transiency rate, which the charter school does not have.”

In response, Preuss said the schools have brought therapists and social workers to schools; connected families to pro bono housing lawyers; and begun offering after school programs, providing dinners, and stocking food pantries. The schools have even directly employed two dozen parents to help with things like attendance and family events.

Preuss said the schools had seen attendance rates grow and student turnover and suspensions decline this year.

Washington said the Kindezi school had adapted as well, adding time for science and social studies in the second half of this year.

Leeper said the experience offers a lesson to other charter leaders.

“I do think some of the charter world … we underestimate the challenges that are faced in the traditional public schools,” he said. “It definitely is humbling.”

That sentiment, Glazer said, mirrored what he heard from charter leaders who had attempted takeovers in Tennessee. “That could be right off the pages of our transcripts from Memphis,” he said.

Atlanta’s district-focused turnaround strategy also didn’t produce major improvements

Having charter school operators take over struggling district schools has succeeded at raising test scores in New Orleans and in Boston. In Memphis, though, the strategy had no effect, even after five years.

Meanwhile, school turnarounds have proven difficult with or without charter schools.

Atlanta’s other turnaround strategy, beginning in the 2016-17 school year, flooded 13 district schools with additional support, including math and reading specialists, an extended school day or year, and coordinators to connect students with out-of-school support.

Results were uneven at those schools, too, the Mathematica study found, with bumps in math scores in year two but no other clear improvements.

“You can find examples of places that have successfully turned schools around other district management and you can find examples of places that have successfully turned around using charters,” said Brian Gill, one of the Mathematica researchers. “It’s not as if there is any clear indication that one of these approaches is superior to the other.”

Code of conduct

Tennessee’s ‘parent dress code’ bill clears first legislative hurdle

PHOTO: Chalkbeat/Marta W. Aldrich
The State Capitol in Nashville is home to the Tennessee General Assembly.

Every Tennessee school district would have to develop a code of conduct for parents and other school visitors under a bill that narrowly advanced out of a House subcommittee on Tuesday.

The measure aims to tamp down on problems that arise when visitors show up to school wearing inappropriate attire, using inappropriate language, playing loud music, or bringing other unwelcome behaviors on campus.

Rep. Antonio Parkinson

“We’re telling school districts to come up with a baseline level of behavior for any person who steps on campus,” whether it’s a parent, vendor, or guest, said Rep. Antonio Parkinson, a Memphis Democrat who is sponsoring the proposal along with Sen. Dolores Gresham, a Republican from Somerville.

“It’s all about contributing to an enhanced or better learning environment,” Parkinson said.

Parkinson has gotten national attention with his so-called “parent dress code” bill, which he filed after getting complaints from parents about sexually suggestive or gang-inspired clothing that other parents were wearing to school.

The bill passed 4-3, but not before several lawmakers questioned the proposed mandate, especially when school districts already can create a code of conduct for visitors if they see a need.

Rep. Jerry Sexton, a Republican from Bean Station, called the measure “overreach” by state government, and Rep. Ryan Williams, a Republican from Cookeville, agreed.

“I don’t like us telling locals to do something they can do anyway,” Williams said.

Parkinson emphasized the importance of having a process in place so that parents and other visitors understand what’s appropriate attire or behavior when they enter a school building.

The problem “is pervasive because nobody has told people what is expected. What we’re doing is more of an awareness campaign,” Parkinson said.

Rep. Mark White, who chairs the full House Education Committee where the bill is now headed, said he supports the idea.

“When I visit schools, it’s a shame that you have to address this because parents should know better,” White said, citing inappropriate clothing as the biggest problem. “I’ve seen too much of it, and it’s not a pretty sight.”

Rep. David Byrd added that the policy might also cut down on fights at sporting events on school campuses, even as others expressed concern that the proposal could open up school districts to even more problems.

“The reason we don’t have such a code of conduct is because the enforcement is questionable,” said Chuck Cagle, an attorney who represents the state superintendents group.

Tennessee law already requires school districts to develop a code of conduct for students.