expanding reach

State Board of Ed: Expand free preschool to more (but not yet all) 4-year-olds

PHOTO: Meghan Mangrum

The Indiana State Board of Education today joined education advocates, lawmakers and the state’s next top education official in supporting an expansion of free preschool programs for low-income kids.

“Preschool, as all research has shown, gives our schoolchildren a leg up in their education,” said board member Gordon Hendry. “If we’re going to improve, if we’re going to have a significant impact on education in this state … we should expand the early education program.”

The state first launched a pilot program in 2015 that awards scholarships to Indiana’s neediest 4-year-olds to help them attend high-quality public and private preschools. But the popular program, supplemented by a city-supported version, only serves a fraction of kids who qualify. Fewer than half of the 4,200 poor families in Marion County who applied this year are expected to win preschool scholarships.

Board members today approved a resolution calling on the state legislature to expand the program to more poor kids, but they didn’t echo calls from some advocates that the program be expanded for all children. Some board members have said they’d like to see the state go further.

“The same people who question (preschool’s) importance are the ones paying for it for their own children,” said board member Vince Bertram, who was not present for the resolution approval today but supported the resolution in a meeting last month. “We know the results, we know years of research on early childhood education. I think this is a funding issue. We need to stop saying we are piloting this.”

A push to expand preschool to every four-year-old in the state took a hit last week when state Superintendent Glenda Ritz, who had advocated for an ambitious universal free preschool program, lost her re-election bid to Republican Jennifer McCormick, a superintendent from Yorktown.

But McCormick also wants to see preschool expand — as long as priority goes to poor kids who need it most.

McCormick said at a recent debate in Fort Wayne that eventually she wants to have a universal access program by 2020, though her plan would grow the program more slowly than Ritz’s would.

The idea of expanding the pilot program has been gaining steam with major support from civic leaders, who presented their version of a preschool pilot expansion plan to lawmakers this past summer. Lawmakers eventually expressed support for the proposal so long as local philanthropic groups continue to contribute.

The current pilot program awards preschool scholarships to needy families using a lottery. The program is funded by the state and is supplemented in Indianapolis by a separate program that uses money from the city, businesses and private foundations. Both programs are in high demand.

The board today also passed a resolution supporting efforts to reduce the costs of textbooks and class materials for families. Ritz has already called for a $1,000 textbook tax credit, but McCormick has said she’s not sure whether any families should be getting a textbook tax break, as it could further reduce state revenue.

“This is something that we feel the legislature should give serious consideration to,” Hendry said. “(They should) explore programs that would limit or eliminate out-of-pocket expenses for all parents and families.”

Indiana is one of eight states in the United States that charges families for textbooks and materials.

Every Student Succeeds Act

Indiana is working on a plan to make sure every school — not just white, affluent ones — has high-quality teachers

PHOTO: Grace Tatter
Kathleen Cucci reads aloud to her students during group time.

Even though several years of teacher evaluation data have shown the vast majority of Indiana teachers are highly rated, poor students and students of color are still more likely to have ineffective, inexperienced teachers than their peers.

Indiana is examining how teachers are divided up among schools as part of its work on a new education plan to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. The new law focuses more on on equity and inclusivity, something civil rights advocates and state officials have praised.

“We have a lot of kids in Indiana who don’t have access to quality teachers,” said Indiana State Board of Education member David Freitas. “ESSA says we have to specifically address that.”

According to the state’s education plan, poor students and students of color in Title I schools (those that receive extra federal aid based on rates of poverty) are more likely than their affluent, white peers to have teachers who are ineffective, inexperienced and don’t meet Indiana certification requirements.

Here’s how the data breaks down.

  • Poor students are 3.7 times more likely to have ineffective teachers; Students of color are 8.5 times more likely;
  • Both poor students and students of color are slightly more likely to have teachers who don’t meet certification requirements;
  • Poor students are 1.54 times more likely to have inexperienced teachers; Students of color are 1.63 times more likely;
  • Both poor students and students of color are slightly less likely to have highly effective or effective teachers.

Despite the relative differences in teacher experience and quality in the list above, it’s worth noting that 88 percent of Indiana’s 68,386 teachers were rated “effective” or “highly effective” in 2015 (the most recent data available), with just 0.38 percent rated “ineffective.”

State officials said there could be many reasons why low-rated teachers tend to be more present in high-poverty, predominantly non-white schools. Those schools might not be able to pay teachers as much or offer them as much support, making it harder to attract more experienced educators.

But groups of educators, policymakers and community members who worked with state officials to draft the plan focused on issues of training and support, leading the state to develop a number of strategies to pursue going forward that could help keep good teachers in the classroom. Those strategies could include extending student teaching, overhauling performance evaluations to focus more on improvement rather than simple ratings and helping districts access funding to improve ongoing teacher training.

This struggle is not new to Indiana — teacher-related discussions for the past several years have focused on recruiting and retaining teachers. So far, legislative progress has been slow. Some bills championing prospective teacher scholarships and mentoring programs have won approval, but they have received relatively small amounts of funding, if any.

By 2023, Indiana education officials have a goal to cut the inequitable rates of teacher experience and quality in half.

The Indiana Department of Education submitted the ESSA plan to Gov. Eric Holcomb for approval earlier this week. It is due to federal officials in September.

the secretary speaks

In departure from Trump, Betsy DeVos calls out ‘racist bigots’ in Charlottesville

PHOTO: U.S. Department of Education
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos condemned “white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other racist bigots” in an email to her staff Thursday — without mentioning President Trump, whose equivocal stance on the racist violence in Charlottesville last weekend has drawn widespread criticism.

“While we should be anticipating and celebrating students’ returns to campuses across the country, we are engaged in a national discussion that has stirred ugly, hate-filled conversations and reopened hurtful wounds from shameful portions of our nation’s past,” DeVos wrote.

The letter was more pointed — describing the racist views as “cowardly, hateful and just plain wrong” — than DeVos’ initial tweets on the events. She has been silent since those posts until now.

 

In her email to staff, she emphasized that individuals, and schools, had a part in combating hatred.

“We can all play a role. Mentor a student. Volunteer at a school. Lend a helping hand and offer a listening ear,” she wrote.

But DeVos did not specify what role, if any, the department’s policymaking would play. She has received persistent criticism from civil rights groups for proposed federal budget cuts, her stance on discrimination of LGBT students, and her appointment to head the Office of Civil Rights. (DeVos specifically notes that, “Our Department, and particularly the Office for Civil Rights, exists to ensure all students have equal access to a safe, nurturing, quality learning environment free from discrimination or intimidation.”)

Meanwhile, criticism of Trump and Devos from education advocates has intensified in recent days.

New York City charter school leader Eva Moskowitz — who was initially considered for the job DeVos now holds, and who led Ivanka Trump on a school tour — released a strongly worded letter condemning the Trump administration (though she did not mention DeVos). On Twitter, Kevin Huffman, the charter-friendly former Tennessee education commissioner, called on DeVos to resign, saying, “It is not viable to serve all kids under a POTUS who defends and encourages white supremacy.”

This is on top of persistent hostility from many left-of-center charter advocates, including one of DeVos’s predecessors, Arne Duncan, who called bumps in federal spending for charters “blood money” if they came alongside to Trump’s proposed cuts to education.

The note was sent to staff, rather than posted as a press release. DeVos has not been shy in the past about weighing in on topics beyond education — she quickly issued a statement praising Trump’s decision to leave the Paris climate change agreement, for example.

Here’s the text of her letter:

Team,

I write today with a heavy heart for our country. While we should be anticipating and celebrating students’ returns to campuses across the country, we are engaged in a national discussion that has stirred ugly, hate-filled conversations and reopened hurtful wounds from shameful portions of our nation’s past.

There is fear, pain, anger, disappointment, discouragement and embarrassment across America, and I know, too, here within the Department.

Last weekend’s tragic and unthinkable events in Charlottesville, which stole three innocent lives and injured many more, were wholly unacceptable. The views of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other racist bigots are totally abhorrent to the American ideal. We all have a role to play in rejecting views that pit one group of people against another. Such views are cowardly, hateful and just plain wrong.

This is what makes our work so important. Our Department, and particularly the Office for Civil Rights, exists to ensure all students have equal access to a safe, nurturing, quality learning environment free from discrimination or intimidation.

Our own difficult history reminds us that we must confront, head-on, problems when and where they exist with moral clarity and conviction. Our nation is greater than what it has shown in recent days.

Violence and hate will never be the answer. We must engage, debate and educate. We must remind all what it means to be an American, and while far from perfect, we must never lose sight that America still stands as the brightest beacon for freedom in the world.

My hope is that we will use this as an opportunity to show that what unites and holds America together is far stronger than what seeks to divide and draw us apart. We can all play a role. Mentor a student. Volunteer at a school. Lend a helping hand and offer a listening ear.

Our work is truly the bridge to a stronger future. Let’s recommit ourselves to ensuring the future is brighter for all.

Betsy