Indiana legislators and “reformers” love letter grades…so communities (via their schools) are graded as A through F using already invalid ISTEP scores. Those grades are good for things like getting campaign donations from privatizers, bashing public school teachers, and directing real estate agents to where the money is, but not much else.
Now that the Network for Public Education has given Indiana a grade of F because of the failure to actually help improve student achievement and public education, legislators will likely complain that these grades aren’t valid…that they’re biased (irony alert)…or even more likely, they’ll ignore them completely.
An editorial in Sunday’s (Feb. 14, ’16) Journal Gazette summarizes the report about Indiana…
Indiana earns Fs for supporting teacher professionalism, resisting privatization and investing school funding resources wisely. It earned Ds for rejecting high-stakes testing and giving children a chance for success. Indiana public schools continue to serve the vast majority of students. Public school enrollment this fall was 1,046,146 students, compared to 84,030 non-public students.
The poor mark for high-stakes testing won’t surprise anyone familiar with the state’s continuing struggles with ISTEP+, the standardized test administered to students in grades 3 through 8. Indiana also is among a handful of states requiring third-graders to pass a reading test to be promoted to fourth grade.
The state did get a B in school finance…and a D in High Stakes Testing and Chance for Success, though, as we’ll see I disagree with the High Stakes Testing grade.
The grade card then, is 3 Fs, 2 Ds, and a B – not the worst in the nation (thanks to Arizona, Idaho, Texas and Mississippi), but certainly not anything to be proud of.
The complete report from Network for Public Education (NPE) can be found here…
My comments, and my grades, along with NPE’s, cover three of the categories. These three alone would be enough reason to change the political leadership in Indiana in November (if not sooner). Add to that the refusal of the Republican governor to work cooperatively and respectfully with the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, an actual teacher, and we have a serious situation for Indiana’s school children.
[On an interesting side note, the current State Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI), Glenda Ritz, used to be a Republican. She switched parties in order to help us get rid of former SPI and “reformer” extraordinaire, Tony Bennett. She recognized that his and then Governor Mitch Daniels’ policies were damaging the public schools in our state. Suellen Reed, the SPI before Tony Bennett, also a Republican, is currently on the advisory board of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, a pro-public education group fighting “reform” and privatization. She served for 16 years as SPI under Democratic and Republican Governors in a congenial atmosphere which disappeared with the Daniels/Bennett administration.]
FAIL: HIGH STAKES TESTING
Indiana uses the ISTEP to grade schools and evaluate teachers, neither of which is a valid use of a tool meant for measuring student achievement. Last year’s ISTEP mess has at least encouraged the legislature to rethink the test and likely go with a different provider. However, grading schools and teachers using student achievement test scores will probably continue no matter what test is used.
Indiana also uses the ISTEP to label each school and school system on an A through F scale. Schools and neighborhoods are then either damned or lauded. That judgement is based, for the most part, on the economy of the families whose children attend the school since standardized tests have a direct correlation with family income. The D and F labels attached to low-income schools are detrimental to the community, to its families, and to its children. Students and their families are punished for having low incomes. Teachers are punished for working in high poverty schools.
Furthermore, Indiana uses a reading test, IREAD-3, to prevent students from being promoted from third grade to fourth. The rationale is that they need a year to catch up. Research into retention has shown time and again that students who are behind in third grade don’t catch up through retention, and in fact, fall even further behind. The money for IREAD-3 would be better spent on early intervention (see here, and here, and you might as well check this out, too).
NPE used various criteria in which to give Indiana a D. They also figured their grade before the monumental failure of last year’s ISTEP. My feeling is that the overuse, abuse, and misuse of tests in Indiana is reason enough to award the state a BIG RED F.
NPE Grade – D
My Grade – F
FAIL: PROFESSIONALIZATION OF TEACHING
NPE graded states on their ability to treat teachers with respect as professionals. Indiana fails.
The legislative chairs of the respective education committees (Robert Behning, chair of the House Education Committee, and Dennis Kruse, chair of the Senate Education and Career Development Committee) seem to take pleasure in depriving public school educators of their rights. In 2011 they led the drive to
- eliminate due process for teachers. In the past administrations which wished to terminate a teacher had to allow the teacher a hearing with an impartial mediator. This allowed the teacher to present her case in front of someone who was not involved with the school system and could rule impartially. We call this Due Process. The law was changed in 2011. Now, teachers who are to be terminated can request a meeting with the superintendent or the school board. The chances of a fair and impartial hearing are reduced. This is what was meant by the term tenure in K-12 education in the state. Indiana teachers no longer have it.
- reduce collective bargaining to only salary and insurance. Teachers and school systems no longer have the right to negotiate things like class size, evaluations, prep time, or parent teacher conferences. Teachers now must do what they’re told, despite the damage it might do to student learning. The collective bargaining law changes (actually all the law changes in 2011) were meant to punish the teachers unions in Indiana, which they have done, but they also limit the flexibility that school systems have in negotiations as well. The supermajority in Indiana doesn’t seem to understand (or care) that negotiations and bargaining is a process that takes two parties: the teachers and the school system.
- use student achievement test scores to evaluate teachers. Why is it that there are fewer “bad” teachers (based on student test scores) in wealthy areas? Why is it that schools in high-poverty areas always seem to have many more “bad” teachers? Because student test scores reflect the level of parental income. Using student achievement test scores to evaluate teachers (and schools) is quite simply a misuse of tests and should be stopped.
- force schools to abandon the step-scale for teacher pay and eliminate seniority. Apparently the supermajority and its “reformer” donors don’t consider experience a benefit in public schools. I wonder if they would be happy with an inexperienced teacher for their own child…an inexperienced surgeon taking out their appendix or an inexperienced attorney defending them in court. The truth is, experience matters, in every job or profession.
The legislature and the governor also have a problem listening to the elected educational professional in the government, the State Superintendent of Public Education, Glenda Ritz. Instead they’ve worked tirelessly, and successfully, to limit her influence on Indiana’s education policy. Apparently they believe that the auctioneer that leads the Senate education committee, the florist that leads the House education committee, and the radio talk show host who sits in the governor’s chair, all know more about public education than someone who
- is a National Board Certified Teacher with two masters degrees
- is a former Teacher of the Year
- has 33 years of teaching experience in public education
Or perhaps it’s that she’s a Democrat and former union leader who got more votes than their “reformist” friend, Tony Bennett…
Here’s an irony for you…the legislature is “studying” the reason for the looming teacher shortage.
NPE Grade – F
My Grade – F
FAIL: RESISTANCE TO PRIVATIZATION
Public Education is a public trust. It should be funded and controlled by the public through democratically elected school boards. President John Adams wrote,
“The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.”
Indiana has the most expansive voucher program in the nation, diverting millions of dollars from public schools to private, mostly parochial schools.
Indiana politicians also favor privately run charter schools over public schools by methods such as loan forgiveness (even when the school closes), additional special-favor loans to charter schools, and support for the proven failure of virtual charter schools.
In Indiana “failing” public schools end up as “failing” charter schools, which then become “failing” parochial schools getting taxpayer dollars. Instead of redistributing tax money reserved for public education to private corporations and religious organizations, the state ought to help students in struggling schools. In the past, Indiana was one of the few states where struggling schools got higher funding than schools in wealthy areas. That changed in 2015. Now, the better you do on standardized tests, the more money you get.
…changes in the funding system proposed Monday appear likely to funnel most of those extra dollars to wealthy and growing suburban school districts, while some of the poorest and shrinking districts could actually get less money.
So, instead of putting money where it’s needed, the state “rewards” schools for high performance, forcing students in poorer areas to do more with less. Those same students are then “blamed” for “failing” and their schools get closed or turned over to a charter company. The failure of the state to provide for the students is blamed on the school, the teachers, and the students, and privatization gets the PR boost, and the profits, it was after all along.
NPE Grade – F
My Grade – F
The state of Indiana is lead by a “reformist” governor and a “reformist” supermajority in both houses of the legislature. Their goals appear to be the complete privatization of public schools, the deprofessionalization of public school teachers, and the elimination of Indiana’s teachers unions, all accomplished through testing.
Things are not likely to change soon. Politicians talk a good game, but they are driven by the need to be reelected, which means they respond to those who pay their campaign expenses, i.e. donors. And the biggest contributors are the corporate donors who use public education tax revenue as a source for profit.
If Indiana wants to improve its public schools…and we ought to pause to think about whether or not that’s actually true…which will benefit all our children and our communities, we’re going to have to change things. Poverty is the main cause of low achievement. As long as Indiana’s 22% child poverty rate, the same rate as the nation’s, continues, we’ll have struggling students. At this point it will take several generations to undo the damage done by the last 12 years of the supermajority legislature and the last two governors.
There are no “silver bullets” when it comes to improving schools. The myth that “three great teachers in a row” can close the achievement gap has always been a ploy. However, if states are willing to invest time and money guided by the right values, we will see steady progress for our public schools and our nation’s children.