Who Is In Charge

Indiana legislature passes 31 education bills in 2014

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Dumping Common Core and starting a preschool pilot were the top headlines for the legislature this year, but 2014 also brought a host of other significant education changes to Indiana, from establishing a new state agency to track data to allowing gun owners to bring their weapons into school parking lots.

Lawmakers last week wrapped up a busy year for education bills, especially given that this was a non-budget “short” session, ending in mid-March instead of at the end of April. Most of the education bills that were introduced in committees advanced. About two-thirds of the education-related bills that passed a committee in the House or Senate ultimately made it though to Gov. Mike Pence’s desk.

Pence’s personal scorecard did a little better, thanks especially to a late rally that reinstated his top priority — a preschool pilot program — back into a bill from which it had been stripped by the Senate.

In all, six of the eight education bills that were a part of Pence’s education agenda passed, including new supports for dropout recovery charter high schools, a study of career and technical education programs, charter school funding flexibility, changes to the state takeover process for schools and grants and loans for aspiring teachers in science, technology, engineering and math.

The two agenda items Pence didn’t get were his “teacher choice” program, to provide stipends to teachers who switch jobs to work in troubled schools, and a bill that would have provided financial supports for teacher expenses and innovative ideas.

Still, at times Pence struggled to get his education bills to gain traction, and his batting average was better on non-education bills (18 of 20) on his legislative agenda.

Here’s a look at where the 45 education bills Chalkbeat tracked during the session ended up:

BILLS THAT PASSED

Senate bills passed and forwarded to the governor for his signature:

House bill passed and forwarded to the governor for his signature:

  • Preschool pilot. House Bill 1004 establishes a preschool pilot program that could serve as many as 4,000 four-year-olds in five counties.
  • Indiana Knowledge Network. House Bill 1003 creates a new state department whose leader has been described as a new “data czar” for Indiana and allows education data to be used as part of the state’s workforce development efforts.
  • Drop out recovery charter schools. House Bill 1028 requires a study of dropout recovery charter schools, which mostly serve adults, including how to fund them. It lifts a cap on the number of dropout recovery charter schools that can open and specifies that only the state charter school board can approve new ones.
  • Day care safety. House Bill 1036 adds health, safety, education and training requirements for day care centers that receive federal aid administered by the state.
  • Tax cap fix. House Bill 1062 gives districts more flexibility to manage their debt and avoid shortfalls that have resulted from property tax caps in some districts.
  • Charter School compacts. House Bill 1063  allows districts to trade building space or services to charter schools in return for the ability to count test scores from charter schools in the district averages.
  • Career and technical education. House Bill 1064 creates a study of the return on investment of career and technical education programs in Indiana.
  • School transfers. House Bill 1079 allows the siblings of a student who has transferred from one district to another to have preference for making the same transfer.
  • Career and technical education. House Bill 1181 makes career and technical centers eligible for state grants and special funds.
  • Immunity for health issues. House Bill 1204 gives school districts immunity for incidents that arise from student health conditions that were not previously disclosed to the district.
  • Career and technical diploma. House Bill 1213 creates a new career and technical diploma.
  • Student athlete health awareness. House Bill 1290 requires training for coaches and others about the risks of sudden cardiac arrest for athletes.
  • Bus out of service order. House Bill 1303 requires additional notifications if a bus is ruled out of service during inspection.
  • High ability students. House Bill 1319 requires more reporting from schools about students who score in the high ability range on ISTEP.
  • Innovation schools. House Bill 1321 allows Indianapolis Public Schools to forge unique partnerships with charter schools.
  • Allergic reaction injections. House Bill 1323 allows colleges to keep EpiPens and administer them if needed.
  • Bond refunding. House Bill 1340 allows for bonds to be refunded when schools consolidate.
  • Teacher preparation program. House Bill 1388 requires teacher education programs to submit data about their graduates to the Indiana Department of Education and establishes a rating system.

BILLS THAT DID NOT PASS

House bills that passed committee but were not advanced:

  • School bus safety. House Bill 1042 would have allowed traffic cameras on school buses.
  • Excused absences at the state fair. House Bill 1056 was one of two bills addressing this issue, the other, Senate Bill 114, passed.
  • Athletic participation. House bill 1047 would have allowed virtual charter school students to participate in sports at their local public school districts.
  • Expanded background checks. House Bill 1233 would have required school employees receive an expanded background check every five years. It was defeated in a floor vote by the Senate, 24-23.

Senate bills that passed committee but were not advanced:

  • Cursive writing. For the third consecutive year, a bill passed the Senate requiring schools to teach cursive handwriting, and for the third straight year it died without a vote in the House on Senate Bill 113.
  • Tax cap fixes. Senate Bill 143 and Senate bill 163 both were trying to give districts more flexibility to manage their debt and avoid shortfalls that have resulted from property tax caps. A different bill addressing this problem, House Bill 1062, passed.
  • Drop Out Recovery Charter Schools. Senate bill 159 would have continued to fund dropout recovery charter schools, which mostly serve adults, separately from the K-12 funding formula. A different bill designed to resolve funding concerns for the schools, House Bill 1028, passed.
  • Teacher preparation program. Senate Bill 204 would have required teacher education programs to submit data about their graduates to the Indiana Department of Education and establishes a rating system. A similar bill, House Bill 1388, was passed.
  • Teacher choice program. Senate Bill 264 would have made highly rated teachers who take jobs at D- or F-rated traditional public or charter schools eligible for extra pay from state stipends.
  • Music curriculum. Senate Bill 276 would have required schools to assure music is part of the curriculum, including ensembles.
  • School bus driver physicals. Senate Bill 278 would have required school bus drivers to undergo physical exams.
  • Various education matters. Senate bill 284 included provisions that would have made several changes to state law, mostly dealing with issues of unions and their contracts.
  • Winter holiday traditions. Aimed at protecting Christmas traditions, Senate Bill 326 would have permitted schools to teach about winter holidays and use holiday symbols.

newark notes

In Newark, a study about school changes rings true — and raises questions — for people who lived them

PHOTO: Naomi Nix
Park Elementary principal Sylvia Esteves.

A few years ago, Park Elementary School Principal Sylvia Esteves found herself fielding questions from angst-ridden parents and teachers.

Park was expecting an influx of new students because Newark’s new enrollment system allowed parents to choose a K-8 school for their child outside of their neighborhood. That enrollment overhaul was one of many reforms education leaders have made to Newark Public Schools since 2011 in an effort to expand school choice and raise student achievement.

“What’s it going to mean for overcrowding? Will our classes get so large that we won’t have the kind of success for our students that we want to have?” Esteves recalls educators and families asking.

Park’s enrollment did grow, by about 200 students, and class sizes swelled along with it, Esteves said. But for the last two years, the share of students passing state math and English tests has risen, too.

Esteves was one of several Newark principals, teachers, and parents who told Chalkbeat they are not surprised about the results of a recent study that found test scores dropped sharply in the years immediately following the changes but then bounced back. By 2016, it found Newark students were making greater gains on English tests than they were in 2011.

Funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and conducted by Harvard researchers, the study also found the reforms had no impact on student math scores.

And while many Newark families and school leaders agree with the study’s conclusion — that students are making more progress now — they had very different ideas about what may have caused the initial declines, and why English growth was more obvious than math.

Supported by $200 million in private philanthropy, former superintendent Cami Anderson and other New Jersey officials in 2011 sought to make significant changes to the education landscape in Newark, where one third of more than 50,000 students attend privately managed charter schools. Their headline-grabbing reforms included a new teachers union contract with merit-based bonuses; the universal enrollment system; closing some schools; expanding charter schools; hiring new principals; requiring some teachers to reapply for their jobs; and lengthening the day at some struggling schools.

Brad Haggerty, the district’s chief academic officer, said the initial drop in student performance coincided with the district’s introduction of a host of changes: new training materials, evaluations, and curricula aligned to the Common Core standards but not yet assessed by the state’s annual test. That was initially a lot for educators to handle at once, he said, but teacher have adjusted to the changes and new standards.

“Over time our teaching cadre, our faculty across the entire district got stronger,” said Haggerty, who arrived as a special assistant to the superintendent in 2011.

But some in Newark think the district’s changes have had longer-lasting negative consequences.

“We’ve had a lot of casualties. We lost great administrators, teachers,” said Bashir Akinyele, a Weequahic High School history teacher. “There have been some improvements but there were so many costs.”

Those costs included the loss of veteran teachers who were driven out by officials’ attempts to change teacher evaluations and make changes to schools’ personnel at the same time, according to Sheila Montague, a former school board candidate who spent two decades teaching in Newark Public Schools before losing her position during the changes.

“You started to see experienced, veteran teachers disappearing,” said Montague, who left the school system after being placed in the district’s pool of educators without a job in a school. “In many instances, there were substitute teachers in the room. Of course, the delivery of instruction wasn’t going to even be comparable.”

The district said it retains about 95 percent of its highly-rated teachers.

As for why the study found that Newark’s schools were seeing more success improving English skills than math, it’s a pattern that Esteves, the Park Elementary principal, says she saw firsthand.

While the share of students who passed the state English exam at Park rose 13 percentage points between the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years, the share of students who were proficient in math only rose 3 percentage points in that time frame.

“[Math is] where we felt we were creeping up every year, but not having a really strong year,” she said. “I felt like there was something missing in what we were doing that could really propel the children forward.”

To improve Park students’ math skills, Esteves asked teachers to assign “math exemplars,” twice-a-month assignments that probed students’ understanding of concepts. Last year, Park’s passing rate on the state math test jumped 12 percentage points, to 48 percent.

While Newark students have made progress, families and school leaders said they want to the district to make even more gains.

Test scores in Newark “have improved, but they are still not where they are supposed to be,” said Demetrisha Barnes, whose niece attends KIPP Seek Academy. “Are they on grade level? No.”

Chalkbeat is expanding to Newark, and we’re looking for a reporter to lead our efforts there. Think it should be you? Apply here.  

Who Is In Charge

Indianapolis Public Schools board gives superintendent Ferebee raise, bonus

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is getting a $4,701 raise and a bonus of $28,000.

The board voted unanimously to approve both. The raise is a 2.24 percent salary increase. It is retroactive to July 1, 2017. Ferebee’s total pay this year, including the bonus, retirement contributions and a stipend for a car, will be $286,769. Even though the bonus was paid this year, it is based on his performance last school year.

The board approved a new contract Tuesday that includes a raise for teachers.

The bonus is 80 percent of the total — $35,000 — he could have received under his contract. It is based on goals agreed to by the superintendent and the board.

These are performance criteria used to determine the superintendent’s bonus are below: