survey says

Religious schooling is the top reason parents use vouchers, survey finds

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Students using vouchers and from charter schools attended a rally for school choice at the Statehouse in 2015.

Parents who use Indiana’s rapidly growing voucher program say the opportunity for their kids to get religious instruction at school was the most important reason they chose their schools.

Vouchers redirect public funds to pay private school tuition for poor and middle-income families. A survey released today by the Indianapolis-based Friedman Foundation, which advocates nationally for vouchers and school choice, found instruction in morals, character and values, along with a belief that private schools were better academically, were the other top reasons parents cited for using vouchers. (Friedman also supports Chalkbeat. Learn more about our funding here.)

Indiana’s voucher program has exploded to become the nation’s biggest for general education students since it was established just five years ago. More than 32,000 kids used vouchers for private school tuition last school year.

The program redirects tax dollars from school districts that voucher students would have attended. Eligibility is determined based on income and family size. The state also has a separate tax-credit scholarship program that supports private school students with scholarships.

Invited to participate via email, 2,056 parents completed the survey. Parents were asked about why they choose their current school, what made them leave their previous school, how they found information about schools and whether or not the public school district supported their decision.

  • Parents were asked to select the most important reasons they choose their private school, and 39 percent said a religious environment was the most important reason. Better academics (20 percent), morals/character/values (19 percent), one-on-one time with teachers (6 percent) and smaller classes (4 percent) were also among the top five reasons.
  • The top reasons parents identified for leaving their previous schools were similar. A lack of a religious environment (35 percent), academic quality (31 percent) and lack of morals or character instruction (31 percent) were the top-cited reasons. Parents were also able to provide open-ended responses to this question.
  • Nearly all the parents surveyed — 93 percent — said they were very satisfied or somewhat satisfied with their current schools, though 53 percent said they were also very satisfied or somewhat satisfied with their previous schools.

Friedman conducted a parent-satisfaction survey in 2013, which found some similar results. In the original survey, 52 percent of parents cited a desire for a religious environment and 62 percent identified better academics as reasons for using the program. Approximately 685 of the parents who completed the survey had participated in the 2013 study.

Read more of the survey results here.

Future of Schools

Spike in refugee students fuels increase in English language learners at two adult charter schools

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Two charter schools serving adults saw Indianapolis’s largest spike in students learning English this year, fueled by a rise in the refugees seeking high school diplomas, officials said.

Excel Center-University Heights and Christel House DORS South, charter schools serving adult students, saw their enrollment of English language learners jump to 44 percent and 63 percent of all students, respectively.

The campuses are less than two miles apart. The south side neighborhood they serve is close to a large population of Burmese refugees, said Jeff Hoover, Senior Director of The Excel Center Network and Operations.

Excel, which has 359 students, overwhelmingly attracts students by word-of-mouth, said Hoover, so enrollment at University Heights has gained momentum among refugees as students graduate and spread the word in their communities.

“They really created a real family type of atmosphere,” he said. “Being in a different country, and feeling that sense of community within a school is certainly … something that would attract me.”

Indiana has a mixed history when it comes to welcoming refugees. Indianapolis has one of the largest Burmese communities in the U.S., and about 14,000 Burmese-Chin refugees now live on the south side of the city, the Indy Star reported last year. Indiana admitted 1,893 refugees in 2016, according to Exodus Refugee Immigration, a nonprofit that works with refugees in Indiana. But under the Trump administration, that number was dramatically cut. At an Indianapolis school dedicated to serving students who are new to the country, enrollment declined in part because of the policy change.

State lawmakers allocated an extra $250 per student this year for schools to help educate students who are English language learners. At schools that have particularly high populations of students learning English, even more money is available.

International students who go to Excel may have high school diplomas or even college or advanced degrees from their home countries, unlike the U.S.-born students there, Hoover said. But Indiana employers and universities don’t always recognize those credentials, so the immigrants go to Excel to earn recognized diplomas.

Students who are English language learners often go through the same program as their peers who are fluent, but it may take them longer to complete diplomas, Hoover said. At the University Heights campus, there is an instructor who can speak some of the dialects spoken by Burmese refugees.

As charter school targeted at serving adults, Excel offers flexible scheduling and onsite childcare.

These 10 Marion County schools saw the number of English language learners enrolled jump over the past year.

  1. Excel Center – University Heights — 44 percent of students are English language learners, up 20 percentage points from last year.
  2. Christel House DORS South — 63 percent of students are English language learners, up 17 percentage points from last year.
  3. James Allison Elementary School in Speedway — 29 percent of students are English language learners, up 12 percentage points from last year.
  4. Homecroft Elementary School in Perry Township — 36 percent of students are English language learners, up 9 percentage points from last year.
  5. Southport Elementary School in Perry Township — 46 percent of students are English language learners, up 9 percentage points from last year.
  6. Westlake Elementary School in Wayne Township — 34 percent of students are English language learners, up 9 percentage points from last year.
  7. Arlington High School in Indianapolis Public Schools — 11 percent of students are English language learners, up 8 percentage points from last year.
  8. James Whitcomb Riley School 43 in Indianapolis Public Schools — 8 percent of students are English language learners, up 8 percentage points from last year.
  9. Douglas MacArthur Elementary School in Perry Township — 35 percent of students are English language learners, up 8 percentage points from last year.
  10. Global Preparatory Academy at School 44 in Indianapolis Public Schools — 23 percent of students are English language learners, up 8 percentage points from last year.

Making history

Watch Chalkbeat’s first-ever Great American Teach-Off here

Participants in the first-ever Great American Teach-Off Tim Livingston, left, Eleanor Vierling, Kaitlin Ruggiero, and Terrance O’Neil. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

On March 7, two teams of educators met in Austin to teach a math lesson — and make history.

The teachers, Eleanor Vierling and Kaitlin Ruggiero, and Tim Livingston and Terrance O’Neil, taught a 20-minute lesson called “contemplate then calculate.” The teachers were participating in Chalkbeat’s first-ever Great American Teach-Off, an event at the SXSW EDU conference.

The goal of the Teach-Off, inspired by some of our favorite TV shows that celebrate the hidden craftsmanship in other professions, was to elevate the craft of teaching.

After both teams of teachers presented their lessons, there was a robust conversation on stage and on Twitter about the best moments.

Watch the entire Teach-Off here and then tell us your favorite moment using the hashtag #teachoff.