Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Perspectives in Education: Brad Oliver

Posted By on Wed, Dec 11, 2013 at 4:00 AM

Dec. 10, 2013

Letter to the Editor:

State Board of Education members, including Superintendent Glenda Ritz, participated last week in a strategic planning meeting and an orientation session led by national consultants.

Optimism over board progress made with the help of these consultants diminished quickly when Superintendent Ritz walked directly out of the board's public orientation to hold a press conference accusing the governor of yet another attempt to usurp her authority. Her claim is based on an old email from Oct. 3 mined from a closed DOE email account previously belonging to a current member of the governor's staff. The email consisted of draft recommendations for reorganizing the governance structure of the state board. Such recommendations have been rejected by Gov. Pence, which he had personally conveyed to Superintendent Ritz the previous week.

The recurrence of unsupported accusations by Superintendent Ritz must stop. She routinely casts aspersions against her fellow board members. These include allegations of secret meetings, violations of Open Door law, and her most recent claim of an "improper" motion that involved a board resolution I drafted to evaluate Common Core standards that she would later characterize as "illegal." Not surprisingly, her accusations are unsupported and fail to pass tests of legal scrutiny. In fact, an attorney general legal advisory opinion requested by the superintendent affirmed the legality and appropriateness of the very resolution she claimed to be improper and illegal.

Perhaps of greater concern than unsupported claims is the absence of leadership as chair of the state board. Completion of tasks such as the evaluation and adoption of standards, state assessment development, issuance of school letter grades, and revisions to Indiana's A-F accountability system have been compromised by the lack of adherence to established meeting procedures and basic meeting rules that govern decorum. As an elected leader, Superintendent Ritz has the opportunity and the obligation to cultivate harmonious relationships that contribute to the responsible governance of Indiana's K-12 education system. Leadership efforts to develop greater collegiality and cooperation would be most welcomed.

Dr. Brad Oliver
SBOE member, 6th Congressional District
Muncie, Indiana

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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Perspectives in Education: Active in Urban Ed

Posted on Thu, Nov 14, 2013 at 12:18 PM

Participants interact during a seminar in the 2013 Active in Urban Education conference. - DELANA IVEY
  • Delana Ivey
  • Participants interact during a seminar in the 2013 Active in Urban Education conference.


Last Saturday, education activists met in the Martindale-Brightwood community for Indy's first Active in Urban Education Conference. Organizing groups Parent Power, Education Community Action Team and the Black & Latino Policy Institute were joined by professors and students from Indiana University, IUPUI and Ball State University; Indianapolis public school students and parents; and other community groups. After workshops and dialogues about special education, high-stakes standardized testing and the need for teachers of color, keynote speaker Julie Woestehoff, the Chicago co-founder of Parents Across America, challenged the group to act. Post Conference discussions focused on becoming informed on the the privatization of public schools and specifically major funders of charter schools and other corporate education reforms.

- Update provided by Parent Power members who attended the conference

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Monday, July 1, 2013

Childcare by the numbers

Posted By on Mon, Jul 1, 2013 at 4:00 AM

Child Care infographic image [Source: U.S. Census Bureau]

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Friday, June 21, 2013

Perspectives in Education: Learner's Bill of Rights

Posted By on Fri, Jun 21, 2013 at 10:00 AM

COURTESY OF NICK BYGON
  • Courtesy of Nick Bygon
Editor's Note: "Perspectives in Education" is meant to be an open and continuous forum through which the people of Indianapolis can contemplate the present and future of the city's educational landscape. Anyone interested in contributing a "Perspective" is welcomed and encouraged to do so. Please direct submissions to rtownsend@nuvo.net. To the extent that statistics, data or research findings are referenced, please include hyperlinks or at least cite the primary source of the material.

A LEARNER'S BILL OF RIGHTS by John Harris Loflin

Do you believe children are born curious? If so, how can we maintain and sustain our natural curiously? Which schooling factors kill curiosity and which keep it going? Back in 1992, I researched the positive and negative factors influencing curiosity. A Learner's Bill of Rights resulted. A LBR empowers all students of any age to make sure they are treated as curious human beings (Homo curaos) who are innately motivated to learn.

Use the LBR when you're in class at IPS, IVY Tech, or the university.

A LEARNER'S BILL OF RIGHTS

I am a human being. I have an innate ability to learn. I was born full of wonder, curiosity, and motivated to learn. I view myself and I expect others to view me as capable of learning.

1. I have a right to a safe learning environment.

2. I have a right to accept myself as I am and to be accepted as I am.

3. I have a right to be respected and to define success in my own terms.

4. I have a right to learn at my own speed and in my own way.

5. I have a right to ask whatever questions I have, to say I don't understand, and I have a right not to understand.

6. I have a right to be different, to have my own culture, opinions, and values.

7. I have a right to think for myself, question authority and challenge facts.

8. I have a right to express my own views without ridicule.

9. I have a right to need extra help and to ask for it.

10. I have a right to be treated fairly and to understand the grading process.

11. I have a right to evaluate my teachers and how they teach.

12. I have a right not to base my self-worth solely on my academic performance.

13. I have a right to my own expectations and limitations, to change my mind, to give up, to succeed, to fail.

14. I have a right to make mistakes, to risk, guess, to have more than one way and one chance to show what I have learned.

15. I have a right to be a part of the decision making process that concerns my education, classroom, and school—with my involvement determined progressively by my age and grade.

Explanation of the above rights:

1. I have a right to a learning environment free from violence, drugs, and threats to my psychological and physical well-being.

2. I have a right to be who I am, to like myself, and determine my own identity. I have a right not to fulfill some predetermined image someone else may have of me. It is not the role of the school to go about changing someone's positive character, personality, or cultural identity.

3. I have a right to self-determination and to have my own standards to judge my efforts beyond the formal grading system. I have a right not to compare myself or be compared to others.

4. I want to be recognized as a unique individual. I may learn at a different pace and in a different way from others. I recognize that I may have the ability to excel in some areas and subjects and may have difficulty in others.

5. I realize that knowledge and understanding come from questions. I see that questions can be more important than answers. Questioning helps me transform the world into terms that I can understand. If I do not understand, I will be able to continue asking questions or accept that I do not have to have instant meaning. I can live with an extraordinary amount of uncertainty confusion, ignorance, and suspense. The statement, "I don't know," does not bother me. This does not mean that I want to look to the teacher for all the answers because I want them to encourage me to learn on my own.

6. As an individual I am aware and proud of my cultural heritage and its values. I have a right to be free from the pressure and requirement to conform.

7. I prefer to develop my own judgment. I want to be a critical thinker. My role as a student is not to be a robot, memorizing facts without understanding the source of the data, or just to pass tests. I see that facts may change, and I must be encouraged to make the distinction between fact and opinion. I distrust authorities who discourage others from thinking for themselves.

8. I have a right not to be made fun of, harassed or punished for my point of view.

9. I am not embarrassed or ashamed to need help and ask for it. In order to function at my potential, I may need help and it should be given freely.

10. All methods and standards for determining my grades must be made clear to me as well as the objectives of the class/course so that I may be freely responsible for my efforts. I expect all grades to be determined in a fair and unbiased fashion.

11. Who, but students, know how teachers really perform in the classroom? Who else, besides other teachers, could really help teachers do better? So that my teacher knows what is effective, thoughtful, relevant, and respectful student feedback is necessary.

12. I realize that grading does little to sustain a deeply felt desire and motivation for learning for the sake of learning. Grades are not my reason for learning. I also realize that grades are an important documentation of learning. Yet, at its best, grades are imprecise. Failing grades do not mean I am a failure or unintelligent.

13. I am not afraid of being wrong, giving up or failing. I see my limits and suffer no loss in seeing what I thought was the case is not.In other words, good learners change their minds. In fact, changing the nature of my mind is what I am interested in doing and in doing so, I am not afraid to succeed.

14. I have a right and an obligation to learn from my mistakes.I see my mistakes are eliminating possibilities and so I am getting closer to an answer or solution, not necessarily farther away. A mistake can be a friend and a helpful warning. I am not embarrassed or ashamed when I guess. I do not have to have an absolute, final, unchangeable answer to every problem.I realize that intelligence may be defined as not what you know or how much you know, but what you do when you don't know. I also appreciate that I sometimes need more than one chance or different ways to show that I have succeeded in learning.

15. Freedom and responsibility are two different sides of the same coin. I am accountable only to the extent that I am free to choose. As I grow and progress through school and life, more choice and thus responsibility is my inherent right. It is the duty of the education system to gradually prepare me for participation in a free and democratic society. Providing me with opportunities to share in decisions about my education, classroom, and school can do this.

Visit www.vorcreatex.com for more info. "Like" the LBR page on Facebook. Let me know what you think at johnharrisloflin@yahoo.com/. A Spanish version is available.



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Thursday, May 2, 2013

Perspectives in Education: Reba Boyd Wooden

Posted By on Thu, May 2, 2013 at 3:00 PM

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Editor's Note: "Perspectives in Education" is meant to be an open and continuous forum through which the people of Indianapolis can contemplate the present and future of the city's educational landscape. Anyone interested in contributing a "Perspective" is welcomed and encouraged to do so. Please direct submissions to rtownsend@nuvo.net. To the extent that statistics, data or research findings are referenced, please include hyperlinks or at least cite the primary source of the material.

Open Letter to Governor Pence

In the near future, you will be making one of the most important decisions of your tenure as Governor of Indiana. That is your decision on HB 1003 which would expand Indiana's already problematic school voucher program. You have the power to veto this bill which takes much needed money away from our public schools or to allow even more taxpayers' money to be diverted to private schools.

Indiana is one of only nine states without a publicly funded preschool program. Full-day kindergarten has not yet been funded in all school districts. School vouchers pull the largest amount of money from school systems that serve the most challenging student populations. These are the schools which need the most resources. Low test scores, which are used to rate schools in Indiana, are correlated with low income and are not a fair assessment of the quality of teachers or the school. Children from disadvantaged homes are the ones who would benefit the most from preschool and kindergarten programs. Small class sizes are also essential to a quality education for children - especially at the elementary school level and even more important for students with a variety of problems.

As a high school guidance counselor during the last 13 years of my 37 year public school career, I witnessed firsthand the value of offering vocational education. This, in my opinion, is the single most important factor in lowering the dropout rate and increasing graduation rates.

However, instead of funding these programs in public schools, the school voucher program sends that money to schools that do not have to take all students and are not held to the same high standards set for Indiana public schools. Therefore, both the students who attend these private schools and those left in the public schools suffer.

You can go down in history as the Indiana Governor who stood up for quality public school education or the Indiana Governor who was complicit in destroying our public school system. It is your choice.

Reba Boyd Wooden, Executive Director

Center for Inquiry-Indiana

The Center for Inquiry is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that encourages evidence-based inquiry into science, pseudoscience, medicine and health, religion, ethics, and society. Through education, research, publishing, and social services, it seeks to present affirmative alternatives based on scientific naturalism.

The mission of the Center for Inquiry is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values.


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Monday, April 29, 2013

Letter from School Choice Indiana

Posted By on Mon, Apr 29, 2013 at 3:30 PM

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On Monday, we received a letter to the editor on last week's posting in our Perspectives on Education series about vouchers used on schools with poor ratings under the state system:

Dear Editor,

A recent story in NUVO looked at the issue of school quality and since some of the data on voucher schools was left out, I'm writing to share some additional perspective.

Based on the new A-F labels implemented by the State Board of Education, 83 percent of Indiana voucher schools received grades of A or B for the 2012 school year. That compares favorably versus 58 percent of Indiana public schools that earned an A or B grade.

While the letter grade is an important indicator of quality in our schools, parent satisfaction matters too and voucher families report that their children benefit from being in a school that best meets their individual needs. Many of them comment on how they appreciate access to smaller class sizes, more personalized, one-on-one attention from teachers, family-like environment, tutoring and more. And data shows that benefits like these lead to better graduation rates and higher parent satisfaction.

While most students are well served by their local public school, some families need other options. We applaud the Indiana General Assembly for making the voucher program even better and we look forward to more students having access to a high-quality education that meets their particular learning needs.

Lindsey Brown
Executive Director - School Choice Indiana

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Friday, April 26, 2013

Many vouchers spent on low-rated schools

Posted By on Fri, Apr 26, 2013 at 4:00 AM

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By Samm Quinn

Fort Wayne dad Ethan Birch never thought it would be possible to send his 11-year-old son Keithan to a private school, especially after both were diagnosed with cancer within one year of each other.

Though Keithan's cancer is better today, his father is battling his third bout, which makes it hard for him to work. Still Keithan attends a private school this year, despite the family's financial instability.

But based on the state's accountability system, the new school Keithan chose isn't rated any higher than the one he left. And that's not unusual.

An analysis of Department of Education records shows:

- About one in five students who received a voucher this year is using it at a school rated C, D or F on the state's accountability standards.

Roughly 300 of the state's 9,324 voucher students chose an F rated school. - About 21 percent of students who received vouchers left A or B rated school corporations to attend a private school.

- Supporters of public education find these numbers alarming - especially as lawmakers are debating legislation to expand the program.

"Public dollars should go to public schools," said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz. "I don't think that's a good use of taxpayer dollars to send children to poor performing schools than the public schools they were attending."

Indiana created one of the country's biggest school choice programs in 2011, opening scholarships even to middle class families. This year, 9,324 Hoosier students are using vouchers - also known as Choice Scholarships - to offset much of the cost of tuition at private schools across the state.

Keithan, who is now in fifth grade, would have attended Prince Chapman Academy, an East Allen County public school. Prince Chapman Academy has a C rating under the state's accountability system.

Instead he's using a voucher at Lutheran South Unity School, where he made the honor roll for the first time. It also received a C from the state.

Ethan Birch of Fort Wayne says vouchers helped him send his 11-year-old son, Keithan, to a private school in Fort Wayne after both of them developed cancer and the family struggled to pay their medical bills. - LESLEY WEIDENBENER
  • Lesley Weidenbener
  • Ethan Birch of Fort Wayne says vouchers helped him send his 11-year-old son, Keithan, to a private school in Fort Wayne after both of them developed cancer and the family struggled to pay their medical bills.
But Ethan Birch said his son's school experience is vastly better than where he attended before, despite the same letter grade.

"All the public schools are worried about is the ISTEP test and what their numbers are during that time. I wanted him to go deeper than that," Ethan Birch said. "The personalized attention he receives from the teachers he wouldn't have gotten from the public school."

When choosing a school for Keithan, his father said he liked that Lutheran South Unity School allowed him to pray during class time.

John Elcesser, executive director of the Indiana Non Public Education Association, said when looking at schools, parents aren't focused only on the school's A-F grade. They'll look at religious affiliations, values, school resources, safety and academic programs.

"Parents look for a lot of different factors when they're looking for schools," he said.

For some children public school is such a bad fit, the lower achieving - or equally achieving - private school they choose to attend is a better option, he said.

Elcesser is a supporter of voucher expansion, and said some critics aren't looking at the reasons those private schools received lower grades.

He said he's apprehensive about the metrics for how schools get graded. Statewide, Indiana had 148 schools receive F grades in 2012 and only five of them are private schools with voucher students.

"We're not happy with any schools with Ds or Fs," Elcesser said. "I thought we did well, but we're not satisfied."

For most private schools receiving vouchers, including four of the five failing private schools, 2012 was the first year their students took the ISTEP. Private schools are only required to administer state tests, like ISTEP, if they take on voucher students.

Elcesser said there are other factors that contributed to a failing grade. Private schools are typically much smaller than public schools.

"If one or two students struggle, that's going to impact overall performance," he said.

His reasons, he said, don't necessarily justify the schools' grades but it does explain them.

But opponents of an expansion say vouchers are taking money away from good public schools to give it to these lower achieving private schools.

Rep. Shelli Vandenburgh, D-Crown Point, said she is especially concerned about the students in her school corporation. Nine out of 10 schools in the Crown Point district received an A grade from the state. One school received a B. Yet 30 students left the corporation this school year - and that number could increase with or without a voucher expansion.

Vandenburgh said schools are being negatively impacted by students leaving the corporation with vouchers.

Students are "leaving wonderfully successful, cream of the crop public schools," she said."These choice scholarships are hurting good schools. They are hurting my children."

Crown Point schools aren't the only high achieving public school losing students. This year, more than one in five students who received vouchers left A or B rated school corporations, according to a DOE database.

Fort Wayne Community Schools lost 1,165 students this year and nearly $7 million in state funding. Though the corporation received a C rating from the school, some of its schools are A-rated.

Arlington Elementary School, which received an A from the state and is one of the district's top schools, has had the biggest number of students leaving.

Mark GiaQuinta, Fort Wayne Community Schools board president, said the voucher program is hurting a good school corporation.

"What vouchers do is they turn public school districts into failing school districts, which then justifies the vouchers, so it's a circular argument," he said. "It's having a real impact."

Though Fort Wayne school officials don't know exactly how many students left the district for an F-rated school, they assume most voucher students enrolled in the failing Fort Wayne private school came from their school district.

"While we don't have specific numbers of students who left us to go to an F-rated school, obviously, some - probably most - of the voucher students came from within our boundaries," said Krista Stockman, Fort Wayne Community Schools public information officer.

Cornerstone Christian College Preparatory School, located in Fort Wayne, received more than $500,000 from the state through the voucher program by enrolling 116 students, despite being rated a failing school. School officials did not return a call Tuesday seeking comment.

There are four other failing private schools in Indiana: St. Vincent DePaul School in Elkhart, Jay County Christian Academy, Trinity Lutheran School in Hobart and Indianapolis Junior Academy.

House Education Chairman Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, has been a strong proponent of vouchers and is the author for the voucher expansion bill. He said voucher schools must maintain a C rating or higher to continue accepting voucher students.

If the schools that received D or F grades this year receive similar grades next year, they won't be able to accept voucher students until they bring their performance up to at least C standards.

"Frankly, we have higher standards for our nonpublic schools than we do for our public schools," Behning said. "If they don't do anything after the fifth year, then they lose the opportunity to have any voucher students at all."

Ritz - who was elected state superintendent last year - has been a critic of vouchers from the start. She said failing private schools shouldn't receive state funding meant for public schools.

And she said she doesn't want the state expanding the voucher program and raise the amount of the vouchers to cover more of the school tuition costs.

But Behning said a voucher expansion will help families pay to keep their students in private school.

If Keithan can get a bigger voucher, he'll be able to keep attending the school he's doing so well at. His father said it's getting harder to keep up with the amount of tuition left over after the voucher.

He said Keithan's new school seems to put in more effort than the public school.

"They go so broad with what they're teaching, it's a lot of extra efforts, it seems like to me," Ethan Birch said. "That's why I'm so thankful for at least this year he had an opportunity to experience something like that."

Lawmakers are still working to find a compromise on two different vouchers bills passed by the House and Senate. Some lawmakers are still concerned about F-rated private schools.

Sen. Richard Young, D-Milltown, said he wants the bill's language to include a provision that would keep private schools from receiving voucher money if they received a D or F on the state's grading scale two years in a row.

"Our data shows that students are leaving higher performing public schools to use vouchers to attend private schools in some cases that in fact have a D or F ranking," he said.

Legislators have until Monday to reach an agreement on voucher expansion or the bill will die for the year.

Samm Quinn is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.

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Friday, April 19, 2013

Perspectives in Education: Carpe Diem

Posted By on Fri, Apr 19, 2013 at 4:00 AM

Kayla B. Mayhugh, Carpe Diem-Meridian sophomore - SUBMITTED PHOTO
  • Submitted photo
  • Kayla B. Mayhugh, Carpe Diem-Meridian sophomore


Editor's Note: "Perspectives in Education" is meant to be an open and continuous forum through which the people of Indianapolis can contemplate the present and future of the city's educational landscape. Anyone interested in contributing a "Perspective" is welcomed and encouraged to do so. Please direct submissions to rtownsend@nuvo.net. To the extent that statistics or research findings are referenced, please include hyperlinks or at least cite the primary source of the material.

Carpe Diem-Meridian – Wetting Appetites for Service

By Kayla B. Mayhugh, Carpe Diem-Meridian sophomore

Being a Carpe Diem-Meridian student has renewed my passion for education. It has also instilled a passion for giving back through community service. Students in Action (SIA) is a public service program for schools founded by the Washington, D.C.-based Jefferson Awards. SIA has been at Carpe Diem-Meridian since day one, and it has evolved a great deal over the past few months. We recently won the Gold Medal in the Jefferson Award's regional competition, where we presented to a panel of judges about our public service projects. As the Gold medal winners, we receive $1500 and get to travel to the award ceremony in DC in June. This is a huge accomplishment for a first-year school! Our SIA sponsor, Alyssa Starinsky, is one of the most passionate people I've ever met. It's obvious to everyone who knows her that she truly wants to make the world a better place, and she thinks that children have the power to do it. When she says "we are the future," it stops being a cliché and becomes inspirational.

SIA has brought almost our entire student body together through various service projects, including a Thanksgiving dinner we hosted last November at the Julian Center, a shelter for victims of domestic abuse. A core group of our SIA members joined the Julian Center cooking staff to create a Thanksgiving meal for the mothers and children at the Center. We prepared turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, mixed vegetables, fruit salad, and apple crisp — all handmade! We also ran a game room for the children. For a few hours, their mothers spent some time enjoying a well-deserved rest. By preparing a meal for those less fortunate, we realized that not everyone has access to the luxuries that we do. Though we couldn't provide everything that a Thanksgiving has to offer, we gave deserving women and children a fun, family-style dinner that will hopefully stay in their minds as something more. To us, the meal was our first big project, and it only wet our appetites for more service opportunities.

Lil' Leaders is a leadership retreat that SIA is organizing and hosting for the children of the Julian Center. We believe that the children have great potential to be great leaders, and we want to give them the opportunity to hone their leadership skills while they're still young. Instilling these skills in children makes for better leaders as they blossom into adulthood. To make a lasting impact on these children, we're not going to preach to them about the importance of leadership and service; we're going to play games with them. Through these games, we're going to show the children, and our younger members, how to use their leadership and communication skills to the best of their ability. We're still in the early stages of planning, but we know that the retreat will teach us, as well as our young participants, a lot about the important of service. Our website, www.CDStudentsInAction.org, goes into greater detail about our projects and opportunities for the community to participate in our service events.

The Students in Action program is a life-changing opportunity that I didn't have at any of the other schools I've attended. Carpe Diem-Meridian has made me not only passionate about education, but also the power of service. Sophomore Amanda Wilcher has said "SIA has strengthened [her] networking, communication, and speaking skills" during her time at Carpe Diem. Many of our other members have called Students in Action "life-changing," and I can't help but agree.

Carpe Diem-Meridian has molded me into a better student while Students in Action has molded me into a better person. While each is fantastic in their own right, a combination of the two is priceless. With passionate teachers and caring students, any school has the potential to be a good one. Carpe Diem-Meridian has found the perfect balance of each and managed to make school an enjoyable, amazing experience - while some kids still dread going to other schools. An eighth-grader turned freshman, Sydney Pedigo, says that she'd never go back to a traditional school because of the "lack of opportunity." One of our seventh graders, AbobakrAbedelmalik, likes the "blended learning" aspect of Carpe Diem. When asked about Students in Action, he muses, "Students in Action has honed my communication skills, and taught me to collaborate." Many of our students have become passionate about schooling, and now seek to further their education. I know that, as a freshman, I had no idea what I was doing after high school. I honestly wasn't sure if I'd even do anything. Now, as a sophomore, I have a clear plan for my life, and I couldn't have done it without Carpe Diem.

About Carpe Diem Indiana

Carpe Diem Learning Schools are tuition-free public charter schools using a personalized blended-learning model to educate 6-12th grade students. To learn more about Carpe Diem-Meridian, located at 2240 North Meridian Street, prospective students and parents may schedule individual tours.Call 317-921-7497 or visit the website, www.carpediemmeridian.com.

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Friday, April 5, 2013

Perspectives in Education: Cam Savage

Posted By on Fri, Apr 5, 2013 at 6:00 PM

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Editor's Note: "Perspectives in Education" is meant to be an open and continuous forum through which the people of Indianapolis can contemplate the present and future of the city's educational landscape. Anyone interested in contributing a "Perspective" is welcomed and encouraged to do so. Please direct submissions to rtownsend@nuvo.net. To the extent that statistics or research findings are referenced, please include hyperlinks or at least cite the primary source of the material.

Symbolism matters in education reform debate

By CAM SAVAGE

After four years of Tony Bennett, defenders of the status quo and opponents of education accountability hoped they'd get a superintendent of public instruction who would pump the brakes on education reform, lower expectations and generally leave them alone.

Well, they got one.

So when Superintendent Glenda Ritz took some heat for making her first - and to date only - major initiative a $100,000 renovation of her Statehouse office space, the education establishment breathed a huge sigh of relief. Symbolic perhaps, but a message had been sent.

No more harping from the superintendent's office about improving academic standards for students. No more pressure to increase graduation rates, AP offerings and participation, and no more emphasis on those dreaded measures of student performance known as tests.

Nope, the Ritz administration is going to be one that prioritizes the truly important issues in education, like office space, the Statehouse equivalent to expansive high school football stadiums.

I'm not an impartial observer; I'm far from it.

As a kid I marched with my mother and her fellow teachers' union members around the Kentucky Statehouse in Frankfort (though not understanding why) but have, in the intervening years, become convinced that we are not doing a very good job educating children.

Too few of our children can perform at grade level. Too few take classes that will adequately challenge them and prepare them for college or a career. Too few graduate from high school and too few go on to college. Too few of those who do go on to college are prepared for its rigors when they get there, and not surprisingly, too few matriculate with anything resembling a meaningful degree. Many of those who do, and many who do not, start their adult lives saddled with a suffocating amount of debt. These are the facts and they are not disputed.

And while I have been aware of this tragedy for some time, I didn't become a full-throated education reform radical until I went to work for the Indiana Department of Education and its then transformational superintendent, Dr. Tony Bennett.

Almost all of the teachers, administrators, and parents I interacted with were good people who truly want what's best for students, but very few have any real sense of urgency about it.

You could be forgiven for thinking I'm a blind partisan and Bennett acolyte who is making a big deal of a little thing like a $100,000 office remodel, because I am.

I am a partisan, but unfortunately, education reform isn't truly embraced by either political party in Indiana. It's a relatively small group of both Democrats and Republicans pushing the issue in our state. Contrary to popular opinion, some of the most effective education reformers in Indiana in recent years have been Democrats. But most elected Democrats are still in the pocket of the teachers' unions and most elected Republicans are afraid of them.

And I am an avowed Bennett acolyte, but that's not why I'm disturbed our new superintendent spent $100,000 to renovate her office suite. I'm disturbed because of the message it sent to teachers, parents and students.

Our last superintendent of public instruction began his term by setting goals that 90 percent of Indiana students would graduate from high school, that 25 percent would receive Advanced Placement credits (that means they'd succeed in classes that would prepare them for college) and that 90 percent would pass both the math and language arts I-STEP assessments.

Educators warned him not to do it; they said it wasn't achievable. The ever-skeptical media was, well, skeptical. They wanted the 90-25-90 goals to serve as a "campaign-like" promise. That was never the point. The point was to set high expectations and challenge schools and school corporations to achieve more for their students.

Bennett went so far as to cut $100,000 from his own office budget and use that money to provide merit pay incentives - cash - for teachers and principals in schools who did the most to improve graduation rates. Critics pointed out that it was a small pilot program. They said it was a symbolic gesture, that Bennett was just sending a message.

Symbolism should not always be dismissed. Symbolism can be important. For example, how did Ritz pay for that $100,000 renovation to her office? According to the media, the "money came from savings created by the previous administration."

Are you getting the message?

Cam Savage is a principal at Limestone Strategies and a veteran of numerous Republican campaigns and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. He is a graduate of Franklin College. He can be reached at Cam@limestone-strategies.com.

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Friday, March 29, 2013

Perspectives in Education: Carole Craig

Posted By on Fri, Mar 29, 2013 at 4:00 AM

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If you haven't read the official November, 2012 "What's Possible" education report initiated by Dr. Eugene White and Mayor Ballard, in collaboration with several community organizations, you might assume it is only about creating "high quality seats." The What's Possible community conversations for the Indianapolis community on the topic of education for all IPS students, took place from July through October of this past year, involved 24 small group conversations, 925 door responses, 4,214 phone responses, and 146 student voices. The actual report summarizes the community responses as indicating a desire for preschool, more local decision making, strong and responsive culture and environment, caring and effective principals and teachers, programs and services that meet student and community needs, great neighborhood schools, responsible parents, community engagement, accountability, fairness and equity, and student voice. The two most mentioned words in the report were "community" (70 times) and "parents" (40 times). A close reading of the report suggests the students, families, and residents of IPS desire strong community involvement in schools and a local democratic framework with strong engagement between schools and community members. Responses show little mention of market-based approaches such as charter schools, but rather suggest a more democratic approach. Nevertheless, as more new schools are now coming on board through the "incubation of charter schools," we would hope that the voices of the community will be given great consideration. This also makes it even more important that the oversight process of charter school approval be left with the City County Council; thus demonstrating democratic governance. Respectfully submitted, Carole Craig, Educational Consultant and "What's Possible" planning team member

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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Perspectives in Education: John Krull

Posted By on Thu, Mar 28, 2013 at 3:00 PM

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The Indiana Supreme Court has ruled that school vouchers are constitutional.

That should end much of the legal debate about Indiana's voucher program, the broadest in the country.

It also should be put the focus of the discussion where it belongs - on whether vouchers work.

On that question, the jury still is out.

The court ruled, unanimously, that vouchers did not directly or incidentally benefit religiously based schools. The Indiana Constitution prohibits the state from using public funds to support religious institutions. Teachers' unions and other public education supporters had argued that the vouchers represented direct support for some church-based schools.

The justices disagreed with that argument, but they also made a point of saying that their ruling did not constitute a blanket endorsement of vouchers.

"Whether the Indiana program is wise educational or public policy is not a consideration germane to the narrow issues of Indiana constitutional law that are before us. Our individual policy preferences are not relevant. In the absence of a constitutional violation, the desirability and efficacy of school choice are matters to be resolved through the political process," Chief Justice Brent Dickson wrote in the ruling.

Precisely.

That is why the debate over vouchers now will shift from determining whether they are legal to deciding what they accomplish.

For years, voucher advocates have pounded on the public schools for "failing" to meet critical tests. They have said that public schools do not prepare students well to compete in the world marketplace, that they cost too much and that, because of teachers' unions, they resist any meaningful system of accountability.

Voucher supporters said that giving parents choices about where their children will be educated - and thus introducing competitive market pressures into the education process - would solve those problems. Schools that did not perform would lose students and fail, thus bringing accountability into the system. Test scores would climb because both students and parents would have greater ownership and influence over the educational process, thus increasing the motivation for every portion of the education partnership to perform better.

It was - and is - a seductive dream.

Now we will see if the reality bears any resemblance to it.

Already, there are signs that voucher advocates are backing away from being judged by the same standards they imposed on public schools.

Republicans in the legislature now are pushing to expand the state's voucher program well before any meaningful data has been collected about how effective the program has been. That calls into question the genuineness of their commitment to accountability.

In a telling exchange the week before the Supreme Court ruled, Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, made that point.

Kenley, the powerful and canny chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, asked some pointed questions of Rep. Bob Behning - the Indianapolis Republican who authored this year's voucher expansion proposal - during a Senate Education Committee hearing.

"If we do testing and 80 percent of the students don't function at the level of the public schools, will this program be worth it?" Kenley asked.

Behning's answer to Kenley was revealing.

In effect, Behning argued that vouchers were a new entitlement, one designed to empower parents - and that they should remain in place even if they don't prove effective at either improving student performance or controlling educational costs.

"Parents should get to choose what is best for their children," Behning said.

Really?

That's an interesting notion - and one that would rewrite many laws if it actually were put into practice. Parents, for example, don't get to choose not to educate their children at all even if they think it is in a child's best interest. They don't get to have their children violate child labor laws even if they think it is best for the child. Parents in Indiana don't even get to have their children violate the curfew if they think it is in their children's best interest.

Presumably Behning advanced that idea as a sound bite designed to spare vouchers the same sort of scrutiny public school performance has faced rather than a serious call to repeal mandatory education, child labor and curfew laws.

If so, it likely won't be an effective tactic.

The Indiana Supreme Court's ruled that vouchers are legal.

In doing, the court also gave notice to voucher advocates that their days of conjuring up pretty vision without having to be held accountable for performance are over.

Thanks to the Indiana Supreme Court, vouchers and their supporters have arrived at their put-up-or-shut-up moment.

John Krull is director of Franklin College's Pulliam School of Journalism, host of "No Limits" WFYI 90.1 FM Indianapolis and executive editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Perspectives in Education: Teresa Lubbers

Posted By on Tue, Mar 26, 2013 at 4:00 AM

Indiana Higher Education Commissioner Teresa Lubbers
  • Indiana Higher Education Commissioner Teresa Lubbers
My View: The cost of not completing college

By Teresa Lubbers, Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education

Graduating on time is especially important for students receiving state financial aid because their tuition support runs out after four years. Yet, only half of students receiving state aid today are taking enough courses to finish in four years, and more than half never graduate at all.

To remedy this problem, proposed legislation under House Bill 1348 would link financial aid to student progress, encouraging and rewarding full-time students who complete the minimum number of courses (30 credits per year) required to graduate on time. HB 1348 would also provide Indiana college students with semester-by-semester degree maps that clearly outline the specific courses they need to graduate.

At the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, we are driven by a sense of urgency to increase college completion and student success. In a state that currently ranks 40th nationally in the number of adults with education beyond high school, we simply cannot afford to be satisfied with the status quo. Increasing education attainment is a shared responsibility, one that must be owned jointly by our state, Indiana colleges and Hoosier students themselves.

That's why our Commission has asked the Indiana General Assembly to increase funding for Indiana colleges and student financial aid in the next state budget. It's also why we're calling on our colleges to rein in unsustainable tuition increases and asking Hoosier students to make smarter choices about how they finance and plan their path to a college degree.

Indiana students aren't well served by the promise of college access without completion, and taxpayers have a right to expect a better return on their investment. Anything less would be a disservice to students, their families and our state.

Indiana has one of the most generous college financial aid systems in the country, spending more than $280 million on need-based grants and scholarships in the past year alone. Unfortunately, the hard truth is that far too many Hoosiers start college and never finish, and most do not graduate on time.

Editor's Note: "Perspectives in Education" is meant to be an open and continuous forum through which the people of Indianapolis can contemplate the present and future of the city's educational landscape. A new submission will be posted each Thursday, except for weeks in which the community offered no submissions. Anyone interested in contributing a "Perspective" is welcomed and encouraged to do so. Please direct submissions to rtownsend@nuvo.net. To the extent that statistics or research findings are referenced, please include hyperlinks or at least cite the primary source of the material.

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