Future of Schools

TN leaders showcase career preparatory initiatives at conference in Nashville

PHOTO: Grace Tatter
Kevin Huffman on a panel at the Pathways to Prosperity conference in Nashville this summer.

Tennessee leaders highlighted an array of  state initiatives focused on marrying education and industry at a conference at Vanderbilt University on Thursday.

The conference was a meeting of the Pathways to Prosperity network, a consortium of nine states committed to increasing the number of high school graduates that have the skill set for a career or further education.

That same goal has been the backbone of Gov. Haslam’s time in office so far. Since he was elected in 2010, he has spearheaded the Tennessee Promise, which allows Tennessee high school graduates to attend two years of community college for free; the Drive to 55 initiative, which aims to have 55 percent of Tennessee workers hold postsecondary credentials; and Tennessee Pathways, an outgrowth of the network, which convenes conversations between education officials and industrial managers. Haslam has also been a vocal proponent of raising K-12 standards, which he says is necessary for college and career readiness.  Underlying all of these initiatives is an effort to align K-12 education with post-graduation employment, so students graduate with skills that are needed to bolster the state economy.

Gov. Haslam, Mike Krause, the leader of Drive to 55 and Tennessee Promise, Sen. Mark Norris, the Senate majority leader in the state general assembly, and Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman were among the officials at the conference to share their successes and setbacks with leaders from other states.

Haslam highlighted all of the initiatives in a speech before a panel opened up that allowed leaders to go more in-depth about the programs.

“I am more encouraged than ever about Tennessee and education,” Haslam said.

Krause spoke about a program called Seamless Alignment and Integrated Learning Support, or SAILS. SAILS is a  joint effort of the department of education and community colleges to help seniors in high school with low ACT scores catch up in math before they graduate, so they do not have to take remedial courses in community college.  Of 8,400 seniors who participated in the program statewide, 88 percent were able to skip at least one semester of remedial math in community college, and 68 percent were able to enter community college without any remediation.

“I want to emphasize that these are students who, eight months before, scored below a 19 [out of 36] on the ACT,” Krause said. “To have them fully math-remediation complete within a nine-month period is a testament to the instructional model, and more than anything, the power of  momentum, and telling a student their senior year, ‘you can get ahead,’ rather than telling them in college, ‘you’re behind.'”

“We’re declaring war on math remediation,” he concluded.

Huffman described how the department of education has decentralized its resources, staffing regional offices more heavily than the central office, so education officials can be more in touch with local industries.

But Huffman’s optimism was infused with caution. He repeatedly reminded conference attendees that the state still has room for improvement, noting that ACT scores in the state last year were much lower than desired. “Tennessee still has a long way to go,” he said.



documenting hate

Tell Chalkbeat about hate crimes in your schools

Chalkbeat is joining the Documenting Hate consortium organized by ProPublica to better understand the scope and nature of bias incidents and hate crimes in schools.

You may have heard of the project — it’s already fueled some powerful journalism by dozens of news organizations. We’re joining now both because we want to better understand this issue and because Francisco Vara-Orta, who wrote this piece for Education Week on how those incidents marked the months after President Trump’s election, recently joined our team.

Hate crimes and bias incidents are hard to track. Five states don’t have a hate crimes law at all, and when they happen in schools, data are not uniformly collected by a federal agency. But we know they do happen and that they affect classrooms, with teachers often unprepared to address them.

Without data, it’s harder to understand the issue and for policymakers to take action. That’s why we want to help fill in those gaps.

If you have witnessed or been the victim of a suspected hate crime or bias incident at school, you can submit information through the form below. Journalists at Chalkbeat and other media organizations will review and verify submissions, but won’t share your name or contact information with anyone outside of the Documenting Hate consortium.

IPS School Board Race 2018

Indiana teachers union spends big on Indianapolis Public Schools in election

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
IPS board candidate signs

The political arm of Indiana’s largest teachers union is spending big on the Indianapolis Public Schools board. The group donated $68,400 to three candidates vying for seats on the board this November, according to pre-election campaign finance disclosures released Friday.

The three candidates — Susan Collins, Michele Lorbieski, and Taria Slack — have all expressed criticism of the current board and the leadership of Superintendent Lewis Ferebee. Although that criticism touches on many issues, one particular bone of contention is the district’s embrace of innovation schools, independent campuses that are run by charter or nonprofit operators but remain under the district’s umbrella. Teachers at those schools are employed by the school operators, so they cannot join the union.

The trio was also endorsed by the IPS Community Coalition, a local group that has received funding from a national teachers union.

It’s not unusual for teachers unions to spend on school board elections. In 2016, the union contributed $15,000 to an unsuccessful at-large candidate for the Indianapolis Public Schools board. But $68,400 dwarfs that contribution. Those disclosures do not capture the full spending on the election. The three candidates endorsed by Stand for Children Indiana — Mary Ann Sullivan, Dorene Rodríguez Hoops, and Evan Hawkins — are likely getting significant unreported benefits.

Stand for Children, which supports innovation schools, typically sends mailers and hires campaign workers to support the candidates it endorses. But it is not required to disclose all of its political activity because it is an independent expenditure committee, also known as a 501(c)(4), for the tax code section that covers it. The group did not immediately respond to a request for information on how much it is spending on this race.

The candidates’ fundraising varied widely in the reporting period, which covered the period from April 14 to Oct. 12, with Taria Slack bringing in $28,950 and Joanna Krumel raising $200. In recent years, candidates have been raising significantly more money than had been common. But one recent candidate managed to win on a shoestring: Elizabeth Gore won an at-large seat in 2016 after raising about $1,200.

Read more: See candidates’ answers to a Chalkbeat survey

One part of Stand for Children’s spending became visible this year when it gave directly to tax campaigns. The group contributed $188,842 to the campaign for two tax referendums to raise money for Indianapolis Public Schools. That includes a $100,000 donation that was announced in August and about $88,842 worth of in-kind contributions such as mailers. The group has a team of campaign workers who have been going door-to-door for months.

The district is seeking to persuade voters to support two tax increases. One would raise $220 million for operating funds, such as teacher salaries, over eight years. A second measure would raise $52 million for building improvements. Donations from Stand for Children largely power the Vote Yes for IPS campaign, which raised a total of $201,717. The Indiana teachers union also contributed $5,000.

Here are the details on how much each candidate has raised and some of the notable contributions:

At large

Incumbent Mary Ann Sullivan, a former Democrat state lawmaker, raised $7,054. Her largest contribution came from the Indy Chamber Business Advocacy Committee, which donated $4,670. She also received $1,000 from Steel House, a metal warehouse run by businessman Reid Litwack. She also received several donations of $250 or less.

Retired Indianapolis Public Schools teacher Susan Collins, who is one of the candidates supported by the union, raised $16,422. The Indiana Political Action Committee for Education contributed $15,000. She also received several donations of $200 or less.

Ceramics studio owner and Indianapolis Public Schools parent Joanna Krumel raised $200. Her largest contribution, $100, came from James W. Hill.

District 3

Marian University Executive Director of Facilities and Procurement and Indianapolis Public Schools parent Evan Hawkins raised $22,037. His largest contributions from individuals were from businessmen Allan Hubbard, who donated $5,000, and Litwack, who donated $2,500. The Indy Chamber Business Advocacy Committee contributed $4,670 and web design valued at $330. He also received several donations of $1,000 or less. His donors included IPS board member Venita Moore, retiring IPS board member Kelly Bentley’s campaign, and the CEO of The Mind Trust, Brandon Brown.

Frost Brown Todd trial attorney and Indianapolis Public Schools parent Michele Lorbieski, who is one of the candidates supported by the union, raised $27,345. The Indiana Political Action Committee for Education contributed $24,900. She also received several contributions of $250 or less.

Pike Township schools Director of Information Services Sherry Shelton raised $1,763, primarily from money she contributed. David Green contributed $116.

District 5

Incumbent Dorene Rodríguez Hoops, an Indianapolis Public Schools parent, raised $16,006. Her largest contributors include Hubbard, who donated $5,000; the Indy Chamber Business Advocacy Committee, which gave $4,670 and web design valued at $330; and the MIBOR PAC, which contributed $1,000. She also received several contributions of $500 or less, including from Bentley.

Federal employee and Indianapolis Public Schools parent Taria Slack, who is one of the candidates supported by the union, raised $28,950. The Indiana Political Action Committee for Education contributed $28,500.