first steps

Next year, Indiana high schoolers will have to meet more “college or career readiness” requirements to graduate

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
During today's graduation pathway panel, the conversation was illustrated by a Cincinnati artist.

A year from now, Indiana high school students will have to meet an extra set of requirements to graduate in an effort to better prepare them for what comes after.

It’s not yet clear exactly what those requirements will be, but a committee led by the Indiana State Board of Education is beginning the process to figure it out. The charge to develop these “graduation pathways” came down from the Indiana General Assembly in the same bill that established the test that will replace ISTEP in 2019.

“We want these pathways to serve as the culmination of a student’s (high school) career,” said committee chairman and state board member Byron Ernest. “We want to show them a true readiness and show businesses and higher education a true readiness of our students.”

State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick, a member of the 14-member graduation pathways committee, said today that the pathways need to be a collaboration between schools, the state, community members and the workforce. It can’t fall to schools alone to fund, manage and be held accountable for new programs.

“It really does have to be a partnership,” McCormick said. “I understand some of the struggles … (the workforce) is in a crisis, too, with employees, but it’s one of those if we are going to solve the problem, we’re going to have to work hard to come up with solutions.”

The panel includes representatives from the Commission for Higher Education, Department of Workforce Development, state board, legislature, Indiana Chamber of Commerce and a few parents and educators. It is set to meet seven more times through early November.

The state board has final authority of which requirements would end up counting, but the law spells out some suggestions:

  • Passing end-of-course, International Baccalaureate, Advanced Placement, dual credit or college entrance exams, such as the ACT or SAT.
  • Earning industry-recognized certificates
  • Passing the placement exam for the U.S. military

Indiana’s academic and technical honors diplomas — which 37.9 percent of students in the state earned in 2015-16 — already include requirements that pertain to AP, IB and dual credit exams, and industry certificates. There’s no guidance in the law about how these pathways would differ from what’s already in honors diplomas.

Much of the conversation at today’s inaugural meeting followed familiar themes found in years of previous discussions by the Indiana Career Council, established in 2013: Indiana employers can’t fill jobs; students leave high school and college unprepared to enter the workforce; therefore, state education and workforce agencies, and employers need to get together to figure out a solution.

Bruce Watson, director of facilities for Fort Wayne Metals, is one such employer struggling to find prospective employees. He addressed the board during public comment.

“I can’t hire people to maintain our growth,” Watson said. “Not everybody needs a four-year degree … this is not a low-dollar, unskilled workforce. This is something significant for a career.”

The discussion today was broad and wide-ranging, covering ideas on work-based learning requirements, how to credential students for high-demand jobs, counselor and teacher shortages, character education, and how to balance the needs of rural, urban and suburban districts.

But the group did manage to agree on a few main points to guide their work going forward: Students should have flexibility to change their minds before they graduate; the pathway system should be equitable and easy to explain to students and parents; and employers should be part of the conversation.

Ultimately, practicality needs to be prioritized, said panel member John Elcesser, executive director of the Indiana Non-Public Education Association, a group that advocates for private schools.

“Can we staff it, can we resource it and can counselors manage it?” Elcesser said. “I think that has to be in the back of our mind.”

You can find the panel’s upcoming meeting schedule here. Meetings are open to the public.

grant money

Denver charter Compass Academy wins $2.5 million to “reimagine high school”

PHOTO: Courtesy Compass Academy

A Denver charter middle school devoted to bilingualism and founded with help from City Year, an AmeriCorps program that deploys young adults to mentor and tutor at-risk students, has won a $2.5 million grant to help design and launch an innovative high school model.

The money is from the XQ Institute’s Super School Project, an initiative backed by Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple’s Steve Jobs. XQ aims to “reimagine high school” by funding novel ideas. Last year, it gave $10 million each to 10 schools across the country.

Compass Academy in southwest Denver applied for one of those big grants. It didn’t win, but XQ gave the school a second look as part of an effort to bring more diversity in geography and school type to its “super schools,” said Monica Martinez, senior school support strategist for the California-based XQ. Compass will receive $2.5 million over the next five years.

“Their idea stood out to us,” Martinez said.

That idea is to pair personalized, community-based learning — dance classes at local studios, science classes at local hospitals — with the type of social and emotional support City Year corps members provide, such as checking in with kids who were absent the day before.

“There’s joy and love in this building,” said executive director Marcia Fulton. Compass students, she said, “feel that somebody understands, and they feel worth.”

Compass also aims to have every student graduate with a seal of biliteracy, a new credential that proves to colleges and employers they can communicate in at least two languages. That goal, Fulton said, was born of a desire expressed by families in the community.

The school opened in 2015 with just sixth grade. When classes begin again next week, Compass will be a full middle school with more than 300 students in sixth, seventh and eighth grades. Last year, 98 percent of students were students of color, 96 percent were eligible for subsidized lunch and 64 percent were English language learners.

Academically, Compass has struggled. Its first year, 14 percent of sixth-graders met or exceeded expectations on state math tests and just 8 percent met that bar in English. The school’s academic growth scores, which measure how much students learned in a year compared to their academic peers, also lagged behind school district averages.

XQ didn’t take the school’s test scores into account, Martinez said. The XQ grants, she said, “are based on a vision and an idea, and Compass was the same way.”

Fulton said the school “did not land where we wanted to land” on the state tests. But she said Compass has made shifts in its scheduling, staffing and approach that she hopes will drive higher academic achievement going forward. The school is currently rated “red,” the lowest category in Denver Public Schools’ color-coded school rating system.

“When you’re lifting up so many powerful components of design, it takes time,” Fulton said. “The funding is about an acknowledgement of the path we’re on. … We are being supported to say, ‘Keep doing what we know is important for all learners in the community.’”

Compass’s charter is for sixth through 12th grade. But Compass does not yet have a building for its high school. The Denver school board voted in 2015 to place Compass’s middle school in underutilized space on the Lincoln High School campus, a controversial decision that drew intense pushback from some Lincoln students, parents and teachers.

Compass has not asked DPS for space for its high school. In fact, Fulton said, the Compass board of directors has not yet decided when the high school will open. She said the board is “committed to identifying and investing in a private facility.”

Earlier this week, 13-year-old student Davonte Ford was at Compass, helping teachers set up their classrooms before the start of school. The rising eighth-grader came to Compass last year from a school where he said he “used to get in a lot of physical altercations.”

“I used to get frustrated sometimes,” he said. “If I got frustrated, I had no one to talk to.”

But at Compass, Ford said, it’s different.

“At this school,” he said, “I have someone to help me.”

mental health matters

Mental health services in Manhattan schools are ‘falling short,’ says report from borough president

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty / © 2013

Mental health services in Manhattan schools provide only a “patchwork” of care that is “falling short” of what students and educators need, according to a report released Wednesday by Borough President Gale Brewer.

Almost 237,000 New York City children under the age of 18 have a diagnosable mental health condition, according to Citizen’s Committee for Children of New York. In schools, mental health services are provided to students in a range of ways, including via school social workers, on-site clinics and mental health consultants.

But too often, the report notes, these services are inadequate.

“Our school mental health system, if you can call it that, is a quilt of mismatched pieces slapped together to do more with less,” Brewer said in an emailed statement.

More than 100 of the borough’s 307 public schools, the report notes, have no mental health services other than consultants provided through ThriveNYC, an initiative started by New York City’s first lady, Chirlane McCray. The consultants are licensed social workers who are supposed help schools assess their mental health needs and connect them with community organizations that can meet those needs.

Yet many counselors and assistant principals interviewed for the report didn’t even know their schools had been assigned a mental health consultant through the program. Others said the training and resources the consultants provided for staff were “a waste of time.”

The city has paid for 100 consultants over the last two years, but these mental health professionals may be stretched too thin, the report notes. Each is assigned to up to 10 campuses and can serve as many as 8,000 students.

“Staff in multiple schools expressed that the mental health consultant’s impact was minimal and that the resources they provided could have easily been found online,” the report notes.

Social workers also face heavy loads. In Manhattan, there is one social worker for every 800 students, the report calculates. Citywide, the ratio is one for every 900 students. But social workers are mostly funded through money set aside for students with special needs and often can’t adequately serve the general school population. In some needy neighborhoods, the education department provides additional counselors through its Single Shepherd initiative.

School-based health clinics, meanwhile, are facing budget cuts due to changes in how they are funded.

In an emailed statement, the education department disputed some of the study’s findings. Spokesman Michael Aciman wrote that evaluations of school sites show that not every campus needs a dedicated mental health clinic, and the current system allows targeted supports where and when they’re necessary.

“Under this administration, we have made unprecedented investments in mental health resources and, for the first time, made mental health supports and services available to every city school,” Aciman wrote. “We know kids can’t learn if they are facing an unaddressed mental health challenge.”

The borough president’s report calls on the city to change the way social workers are funded, waive certain permit fees for school-based health clinics and study the effectiveness of ThriveNYC in schools. At the state level, the report recommends changes in the way clinics are funded and how they bill for services.