Indiana now has less than a month to satisfy U.S. Department of Education concerns that have put it in jeopardy of facing federal sanctions, and some State Board of Education members are getting antsy.
The state board, which demanded answers from state Superintendent Glenda Ritz in a special meeting last month, is expecting another update Wednesday. The contentious issue caused some fireworks at the board’s last meeting and board members say they still want more information directly from Ritz.
“There has been no update, nothing, to the board,” board member Brad Oliver said. “I am going to ask some questions. I want to know what’s been going on. I’m hearing two stories — that everything is OK and that we have serious issues.”
In early May, the U.S. Department of Education sent Indiana a letter giving the state 60 days — to the end of June — to answer a series of concerns in order to reassure federal officials that it had not violated the terms of a 2012 agreement to relax some federal rules.
That deal, or “waiver,” released Indiana from some sanctions of the 2002 federal No Child Left Behind Law. Most states have received waivers from rules, now widely deemed to be too stringent, that would have required all children to be scoring at grade level on standardized tests by this year.
Federal officials wanted the state to demonstrate how it was meeting the following terms, which the state agreed to as part of its waiver:
- Indiana’s new standards qualify as “college and career ready”
- State-administered tests going forward adequately measure the new standards
- The state’s new teacher evaluation law is being faithfully followed
- The Indiana Department of Education’s monitoring of the lowest scoring schools is working effectively.
Oliver said board members were asked about their availability for a special meeting the week of June 23 to discuss the issue, but he thinks that is too late.
“If we don’t have a plan by June 23, that’s a concern,” he said. “It’s due June 30.”
Ritz’s spokesman, Daniel Altman, said board members should be getting updates from the staff of the Center for Education and Career Innovation. The center, created by Gov. Mike Pence last August, has irked Ritz, who at times has complained that Pence uses it to usurp her duties.
“The state board staff has been on every call we’ve had with (the U.S. Department of Education),” Altman said. “As far as when they update the state board, that’s up to them. If someone on the state board has a problem they can talk to their staff.”
Altman said there has been progress in talks with federal officials.
“We’ve been having regular conversations and are working with them collaboratively,” he said.
But Oliver said he and others on the board have been frustrated that Ritz’s take on the state’s dealings with the U.S. Department of Education haven’t always matched what they hear from CECI staff and others.
In fact, CECI spokeswoman Lou Ann Baker was less optimistic than Altman about the progress that’s been made in phone meetings that have included federal officials along with state education department and CECI staff.
“There have been three phone call and clearly much work is yet to be done,” Baker said.
One state, Washington, lost its waiver earlier this year for failing to comply with its terms and three others have been put on notice that their waivers are in serious danger if changes are not made. Indiana’s letter was unique. The state was not given “high risk” status but it still had more problems to address than most states.
For Washington, losing the waiver will mean less flexibility in how federal education dollars are spent in local schools, a situation Indiana’s state board hopes to avoid.
IPS seeks more control
The meeting agenda says a recommendation to the board regarding “lead partner determinations” is forthcoming, but gives no specifics.
Last month, Indianapolis Public Schools asked if the district could serve as its own “lead partner” for John Marshall, George Washington and Broad Ripple high schools. It asked to fire outside companies that were hired by the state to assist those schools.
Broad Ripple and George Washington were two of seven schools statewide that faced the possibility of state takeover when they reached six straight years of F grades for low test scores in 2011. The state board stopped short of asking outside companies to manage those schools independently from IPS.
Lead partners who have worked with the schools include The New Teacher Project and Scholastic Achievement Partners, both of New York City, and Texas-based Voyager Learning.
IPS last year won permission from the state to fire one of George Washington’s lead partners, New York-based Amplify, replacing it with a consultant who trained school staff in the “eight-step process,” a program of frequent testing and regrouping of students used in several IPS schools.
At the request of then-IPS Superintendent Eugene White in 2012, the state board agreed to assign Voyager to try to improve test scores at Marshall, which entered state intervention after six consecutive F grades, and a group of feeder schools nearby.
But new IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee argued the district could better manage the process internally under a plan he proposed.
Guidance proposed for new standards
The Indiana Education Roundtable, in approving Indiana’s new academic standards in April, asked the Indiana Department of Education to produce the guidance it will give to schools and teachers about how to use the new standards by June 15. The state board is scheduled to discuss that guidance Wednesday.
Guidance is potentially controversial because it may give teachers examples and direction for recommended methods to teach the new standards.
It was guidance for teaching to Common Core, standards used by most states that Indiana rejected earlier this year, that caused much of the concern from critics who feared those standards would lead teachers toward teaching methods that may be in conflict with the way math and English are taught in some Indiana districts.
Already Common Core critics have complained that Indiana’s new standards are mostly similar to Common Core.
State board procedures
The state board has continued to refine its rules for conducting meetings since an explosive November meeting that ended when Ritz abruptly adjourned rather than allow a motion from Oliver.
Among the changes that have since been made are new procedures for placing items on the agenda and for board members to make motions during board meetings.
On Wednesday, the board is expected consider one more change: allowing public comment on items that do not appear on the agenda. The current rules require speakers to restrict their remarks to items that the board plans to talk about during the meeting.
Board member David Freitas was among those who pushed for allowing public comment on any topic, regardless of whether it was already on the agenda.