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FETC Twitter Chat

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Another event slated for later today. FETC® Education Technology Learning Series Tony Vincent, Educator, Learning in Hand & Shapegrams Tuesday, December 8, 5 p.m. ET #FETC #RemoteLearning #FETCChat He’ll be answering questions on ed tech during this unprecedented time. Even in this busy time, it’s important to continue learning new strategies and perspectives. Attend this ed tech […]

WEBINAR TODAY – Sharing Strategies with Superintendents – @ 4PM ET

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Note this webinar this afternoon. TODAY @ 4pm ET The Resilient Schools Project: Sharing Strategies with Superintendents REGISTER NOW Current Assistant Superintendent Dr. Paula Dillon and former Superintendent Dr. Darryl Adams will explore how districts are responding to COVID-19 impacts, and looking to the future, with a focus on ensuring access, increasing educational equity, new […]

Congratulations Michael, you achieved top stats last week

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An item from one of my open scholarship networks. You have a new achievement View achievement ResearchGate GmbH, Chausseestr. 20, 10115 Berlin, Germany. Imprint. See our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service. The actual achievement was: Good job, Michael! With 1,041 new reads, your research items were the most read research items from your institution Achieved on December 6, 2020

Educators, Don’t Miss The ISTE Sale Of The Year!

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Still more from the folks at ISTE. Save 30% on ISTE products! Calling all educators: We celebrate you with savings! We see you. You’ve been working so hard this year. As a way of saying thank you, we’re offering 30% off all things ISTE*, including: We’ve never offered savings like this before, so be sure […]

‘School choice’ and public schools

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Here’s a little secret about school choice in Indiana: Public schools lose more students to other public school districts than to charter schools or private school vouchers.

According to the Indiana Department of Education’s fall 2020 Public School Corporation Transfer Report, 70,394 Hoosier students transferred from one public school district to another this year. That compares with 44,569 who attend charter schools and 35,150 who attend private schools using state-funded tuition vouchers, the options we think of as “school choice.”

Until a few years ago, Indiana didn’t see so many public-school transfers. School district operations were partially funded by local property taxes. Students could transfer from one district to another, but they were expected to pay “transfer tuition” to cover the costs.

Charter of transfers to public, charter and private schools.

But the state took over the funding of most school operations in 2009, relying largely on state sales and income taxes to pay for K-12 education. With that change, districts no longer needed to charge transfer students. In fact, it was in their interest to enroll out-of-district students – and get more money from the state – as long as they had room.

Gov. Mitch Daniels celebrated the change, arguing it would force schools to improve so they could compete for students. In a speech to the American Enterprise Institute, he said it was “delightful” that school districts were using billboards and direct-mail advertising to lure students.

But there is little evidence that families rely on real measures of school quality in making the decision to transfer. And, as with any competition, the system created winners and losers.

Schools that lose a lot of students to public-school transfers tend to fall into one of two categories. Some are very small, rural school districts like Hamilton Community Schools in northeastern Indiana, with 300 students; Medora Community Schools in southern Indiana, with 154 students; and Tri-Township Schools in northwestern Indiana, with 354 students. Maybe students transfer from those districts to larger districts for more extensive academic or athletic offerings, or maybe because it’s convenient for their families. An argument could be made that those tiny districts should consolidate, but that’s for another day.

The other category of losers includes city districts like Muncie, Marion, Anderson and Kokomo, which are surrounded by nearby suburban or rural districts. Those four districts have seen their enrollment decline by one-fourth since 2009.

Charter of 2009 and 2021 enrollment in Muncie, Marion, Kokomo and  Anderson schools.

Not surprisingly, winners in the competition include districts that surround the districts that are losing the most students. Nearby districts enroll several thousand students whose legal settlement is in the Muncie, Marion, Anderson and Kokomo school districts.

Some urban Indiana districts, like Indianapolis and Gary, lose a lot of their students to charter schools. Fort Wayne loses many students to voucher-funded religious schools. But the Muncie, Marion, Anderson and Kokomo districts lose relatively few students to charters and vouchers. Most of their losses are from students transferring to other public school districts.

We don’t know what motivates families to leave one public district for another; that would be a good topic for social-science research. And the state doesn’t post demographic data for students who transfer, so it’s hard to know if inter-district transfers are changing the racial and socioeconomic make-up of school districts.

We do know that the districts that students transfer to are often less racially diverse and less poor than the districts that they transfer from. Is state policy making it easy for middle-class families to abandon urban districts, leaving those districts with less state funding and a higher concentration of needy students? That’s a question that calls for more study.

Where did all the students go?

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Chalkbeat Indiana reported that enrollment dropped by almost 15,000 students this fall in Indiana public schools. I wrote that the loss to school districts was over 17,000 students. It gets worse. Judging by recent state data, enrollment in local public schools fell by over 24,000 students.

Where did they go? Several thousand moved to online schools, either virtual charter schools or online programs operated by other school districts. Some families apparently opted out of enrolling their 5-year-olds in kindergarten. A majority of the missing students are probably home-schooling.

In terms of state funding, the loss of 24,000 students translates to a loss of nearly $150 million for public schools in the 2020-21 school year. It’s almost as much money as the schools lose to Indiana’s voucher program, which provides tuition funding for students who attend private schools.

All because of COVID-19, which prompted some families to keep their children home from school and others to enroll their kids in online programs rather than send them to school in a pandemic.

Where did I get 24,000? Using Indiana Department of Education data, I noted the difference between the total enrollment reported in fall 2019 and fall 2020. To eliminate the effect of online-only programs, I excluded them from the calculation in both years.

Overall, charter schools increased their enrollment this fall, according to state data. Some new charter schools opened, and others added grade levels. But the big factor was that virtual charter schools, in particular Indiana Connections Academy, grew by about 1,600 students.

Meanwhile, statewide online programs operated by two public school districts, Clarksville and Union School Corp., saw their enrollment grow by about 4,000 students. Most of those students left their local school districts to enroll in the Clarksville and Union online programs.

Another factor is that families probably delayed or skipped enrolling their 5-year-olds in kindergarten, which is not required in Indiana. Figures from the Indiana Department of Education show that statewide kindergarten enrollment in public and charter schools fell by 5,651 from fall 2019 to fall 2020, a decline of 7.2%.  Several large school districts started the year in August with online-only classes, which were sure to be challenging for young children learning their letters and numbers. You can imagine that parents would think, “What the heck, kindergarten isn’t required, let’s just wait a year.”

But transfers to online schools and the decrease in kindergarten students account for only about half of the overall decline in public school enrollment. Some students may have switched to private schools, but the evidence, so far, doesn’t support a public-to-private shift. The number of students who received state-funded vouchers for private school tuition declined from fall 2019, according to state data.

Where did the other students go? Chances are most are being homeschooled, which is largely unregulated and often unreported in Indiana. The question is, will they return to their local public schools when the pandemic is over, or is this a long-term shift in schooling?

1920s Klan fought to control schools

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Schools were a key battleground as the Ku Klux Klan fought to dominate Indiana’s political and cultural life in the 1920s. The Klan promoted Bible reading and prayer in schools and demonized the spread of parochial schools and an imagined Catholic influence in public education.

Klan members thought Catholics were taking over America, Indiana University historian James Madison writes, and “the first point of takeover was public schools. Like generations of American reformers before and since, the Klan saw education reform as necessary for the nation’s revival.”

Book cover of The Ku Klux Klan in the Heartland

Madison’s new book, “The Ku Klux Klan in the Heartland,” focuses on a shameful era in Indiana’s past, when the Klan gained remarkable power and controlled public offices from the Statehouse to local school boards. The organization largely died out within a decade, but its influence continued in racially segregated schools and other aspects of Hoosier life.

Importantly, the 1920s Klan saw itself as mainstream, not an outlier. It promoted patriotism, civic duty and “100% Americanism.” It held massive rallies and marches, complete with marching bands and women’s auxiliaries. It raised money for churches and sponsored musical groups and youth basketball and baseball leagues. Its cross-burnings were spectacles that wowed audiences.

It has been estimated that 30% of white, native-born, Protestant men joined the Klan in Indiana. These were not disaffected loners; they were not the Proud Boys of their day.

“Klansmen came from the middle ranks of white-collar and skilled workers who could afford the $10 initiation fee and the monthly dues,” Madison writes. “Some blue-collar workers joined, but more members were lawyers, physicians, government employees, and owners of small and medium-sized businesses.” Protestant clergy provided important support.

Contrary to popular belief, the 1920s Klan in Indiana did not practice lynching, although it did threaten and intimidate its foes. It saw African Americans and Jews as inferior, but its real enemies were Catholics and immigrants, many of whom had arrived to work in Indiana factories.

First-generation immigrants had reached almost 15% of the U.S. population in 1910, fueling a nationwide backlash. The bogus “race science” of eugenics gained tremendous influence, including among prominent intellectuals. Prohibitionists associated German, Italian and Irish immigrants with the evils of alcohol. The Klan seized on those trends, especially in Indiana.

Education was at the forefront of the Klan’s agenda, which centered on keeping the public schools as preserves of a white, Protestant version of Christianity. Klan publications spread wild claims that Catholic teachers were infiltrating public schools and indoctrinating children.

“A massive parade through downtown Indianapolis in late 1924 featured several floats with school themes and the words ‘One School, One Language, One Bible,’” Madison writes. “Often Klan parades featured a float with a ‘Little Red Schoolhouse’ representing the essence of public education and the rejection of parochial schools.”

State legislators elected with Klan support in 1924 introduced bills to require Bible reading and religious instruction in schools, limit teaching licenses to graduates of public schools and ban the wearing of “religious garb” in public schools; the latter was aimed at Catholic nuns who sometimes taught in public schools in areas with teacher shortages. The bills didn’t pass, but local measures gained more traction. While there had always been some racial segregation in Hoosier schools, Indianapolis, Gary, Evansville and Kokomo opened separate high schools for Black students in the 1920s. (The legislature outlawed school segregation in 1949, but it continued in practice for years after that).

Madison rejects the story usually told about the 1920s Indiana Klan: that it collapsed with the arrest and conviction of its charismatic but vicious leader, D.C. Stephenson, for causing the death of a young woman. ““Blaming a wicked Grand Dragon absolves all others and makes the Klan a fluke occurrence that arrived and disappeared along with Stephenson,” he writes.

“The Ku Klux Klan in the Heartland” also covers the resurgence of the Klan as a small, virulently racist group in the 1960s, but its focus is the large and influential Klan of the 1920s; and what’s striking about the story is its familiarity. The mass events, the celebration of “100% Americanism,” echo in today’s Make America Great Again rallies. The demonization of immigrants sounds a lot like President Donald Trump’s characterization of Mexicans as “drug dealers, criminals, rapists.” The demand for Bible reading in schools foreshadows today’s support of Christian education with state-funded vouchers.

It’s easy to point fingers, however, and this history should also remind us of some uncomfortable truths: One person’s “Hoosier values” can look like hate to someone else. “Us against them” divisions can quickly turn ugly. And the rhetoric of public education can be used to exclude as easily as to welcome.

The Klan era of the 1920s is a not-too-distant mirror reflecting a strange but recognizable image of our own time. What we see will depend on how critically – and how self-critically — we look.

Jenner appointment no surprise

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Gov. Eric Holcomb choosing his chief education adviser to be Indiana’s first secretary of education was about as surprising as night following day. The whole point of making this an appointed position, after all, was so the governor and secretary would be on the same page regarding education. Who better to hold the job than someone who has worked closely with Holcomb on K-12 policy?

That said, Katie Jenner looks to be a reasonable choice. She was a teacher, albeit briefly. She was an assistant principal and assistant superintendent at Madison Consolidated Schools. She worked at Ivy Tech Community College until Holcomb made her his senior education adviser. She has master’s and doctoral degrees in education, along with an MBA.

Katie Jenner (Office of the Governor)

She will take over the duties now carried out by Jennifer McCormick, Indiana’s last elected superintendent of public instruction. Legislators voted to change the name of the position to secretary of education and to make it appointed, not elected.

Jenner has mostly kept a low profile in state policy and politics, and it seems she hasn’t made any real enemies or clashed publicly with other officials. From what little I’ve heard, she is competent, well liked and committed to education. Advocacy groups from across the spectrum say they are eager to work with her (not that they have a choice). I also wish her well and hope she does a great job.

Jason Bearce, vice president of education and workforce development for the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, reiterated the group’s support for having the governor appoint the chief education officer.

“What we are particularly excited about with Katie is in both her prior roles for the Madison Consolidated Schools and Ivy Tech Community College she worked closely with employers to better align K-12 education with workforce needs and opportunities,” Bearce said in a statement.

Keith Gambill, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, said it was “critical” that Jenner has experience in K-12 education as a teacher and administrator.

“We look forward to working with Dr. Jenner to bring leaders together to invest in public schools, support Hoosier educators and provide the highest quality public education for our students,” he said.

But, for better or worse, Jenner will answer to the governor, not to the voters. McCormick, elected in 2016 as a Republican, has been a fiercely independent state superintendent. She has been an outspoken advocate for public school districts, sometimes clashing with supporters of charter and private schools.

Jenner won’t play that role, but will she stand up to legislators and the State Board of Education if they push policies that aren’t good for schools and students? With the state facing tough decisions on school funding, accountability and other issues, we may find out soon.

A-to-F school grades to continue

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The Indiana State Board of Education is almost certain to continue the state’s unfortunate policy of using A-to-F grades to rate schools, judging by a framework that the board received this week.

The draft accountability framework was presented and briefly discussed at Tuesday’s board meeting. Board staff, who wrote the document, insisted it isn’t set in stone and that it will be up to the board – with input from stakeholders and the public – to decide how the system will work.

“We are trying to be transparent,” said Ron Sandlin, the board’s senior director of school performance. “The point of the framework is to spur conversations about these ideas.”

But the very first recommendation in the document is that A-to-F grades continue. The justification: “Issuing a fair and transparent summative rating ensures communities can quickly assess school performance and establishes effective incentives for schools.”

Note that the school grading system is being developed by the State Board of Education, with most of its members appointed by the governor. Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick, who heads the Indiana Department of Education, has favored a different approach to accountability.

Indiana started labeling schools with letter grades in 2011 and made the approach part of state law the following year. Indiana is one of 16 states that use letter grades for school accountability, according to the Education Commission of the States.

The draft framework does call for tweaking the grading metrics. That’ no surprise. The old system essentially collapsed under the weight of tougher state standards, new tests and the COVID-19 pandemic. Indiana’s 2019-20 school grades were meaningless, even more so than usual.

For schools serving students in grades K-8, the system relies primarily on standardized tests and gives equal weight to students’ performance and growth on the tests. The draft framework says Indiana should continue that general approach, but with some changes.

It would cap the grading points that schools receive for test-score growth, trying to balance a system in which growth points are awarded more generously than performance points. And it would adopt variable weighting of growth vs. performance, making allowance for student mobility. It suggests the board consider adding accountability factors for K-8 school grades, possibly including third-grade literacy, science and social studies test scores and attendance.

For high schools, the framework suggests more rigorous measures of “college and career readiness” and a fairer system of calculating graduation rates. Standardized test measures will have to change, because Indiana is dropping its 10th-grade math and English tests in favor of using the SAT for accountability.

Another issue is that Indiana has two school accountability systems: a state system that uses A-to-F grades and a federal system that complies with the Every Student Succeeds Action. That’s confusing, to say the least. The framework touches on the problem but doesn’t spell out how to fix it.

“Indiana should design a state accountability system that prioritizes Hoosier values and strive to use the same indicators for the state and federal models as is allowable under law,” it says.

OK, I’ll just say this: I’ve lived in Indiana for seven decades and I have no idea “Hoosier values” means; and I don’t think the state board could define the term either, especially when it comes to evaluating schools. Yet those words appear six times in a 14-page document.

There’s a lot more to the framework, and you can read the framework or a shorter summary on the State Board of Education website. You can suggest changes by email or through online surveys. Board staff want to finalize the framework by January; then the board will use it to write a new rule spelling out how school grades will work in the future.

I’m glad there will be changes, but I worry they will provide a fig leaf of legitimacy to cover a flawed enterprise. A-to-F grades are a horrible way to measure something as complex as school quality. And we have seen time after time that high grades go to schools serving affluent families and that, with few exceptions, schools serving low-income families and students of color get the D’s and F’s.

A-to-F grades reinforce the illusion that schools are “good” or “bad” based on the populations of students that they serve. That’s not accountability.

Lost enrollment costs schools

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Indiana school districts stand to lose over $100 million in state funding this year because of reduced enrollment attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fall 2020 enrollment in traditional public schools declined by 17,300 students, according to data released last week by the Indiana Department of Education. Each of those students translates to over $6,200 in lost funding from the state.

It’s not yet clear what happened or where the students went. Some families may have opted to homeschool their children rather than send them to school during the pandemic. Some may have switched to private or charter schools.

A significant factor could be families with young children choosing to delay or skip kindergarten. Indiana does not require kindergarten attendance, and children are not required to start school until the academic year when they turn 7.

Over 80% of school districts lost enrollment, according to state data. They include some rural and urban districts that have been shedding students for years, but also suburban districts that have been growing. Hamilton Southeastern schools lost over 400 students; Carmel Clay schools lost over 200.

Indianapolis Public Schools lost the most students: nearly 2,000 according to the state data or approximately 1,200 according to the district’s own figures. (The discrepancy appears to reflect the state omitting from the district’s enrollment two KIPP charter schools that are part of the IPS innovation network; IPS includes the schools in its count).

Fort Wayne, Vigo County and Monroe County schools each lost more than 500 students. In Monroe County, the loss of 535 students will mean a financial hit of $3.3 million, the Herald-Times reported.

Some school districts started the academic year online, and that may have pushed some families to turn to charter or private schools that were offering face-to-face instruction. But it appears a bigger factor was families choosing online programs to avoid in-person instruction during the pandemic.

Charter schools increased their enrollment by about 2,500, but most of the sector’s growth came from a gain over nearly 2,000 students by Connections Academy, an online charter school. Similarly, two school districts that offer statewide online programs in partnership with for-profit K12 Inc. also saw significant growth, presumably because of those online programs. Union School Corp. reported its enrollment grew from 4,396 to 6,468. Clarksville Community Schools grew from 1,635 to 2,987.

The loss of funding comes as schools are facing cost increases related to the pandemic: expenses for online programs, computers and internet connections, protective equipment, cleaning supplies and other needs. Federal funding via the CARES Act helped pay some of those costs, but not all of them.

The big question is whether Gov. Eric Holcomb and the Republican-dominated state legislature will prioritize school funding in the two-year budget they approve in the spring. When it comes to school funding, there’s likely to be more bad news ahead.

McCormick would protect funding, oppose discrimination

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Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick is calling on the state legislature to protect public schools from funding cuts and to protect students and school staff from discrimination.

Her proposals come in a 24-page document targeted to the Indiana General Assembly, which will begin its 2021 session in January. McCormick, Indiana’s last elected state superintendent, will leave office at the end of this year – unless Dr. Woody Myers pulls an upset in the governor’s race and reappoints her.

Jennifer McCormick

“I leave this document to outline the critical policy actions that must be taken, regardless of who fills the seat of Indiana’s top education leader,” McCormick writes. “Our students deserve it, educators demand it, and our communities need it to ensure Indiana’s future success.”

McCormick also urges the legislature to move Indiana to a single system of school accountability, expand internet connectivity for students and take steps to level the regulatory playing field between traditional public schools and charter and private schools. It’s a gutsy agenda, especially considering that McCormick often has crossed swords with Republicans who control the Statehouse and has recently distanced herself from them by endorsing Myers and other Democrats.

In the document, titled EducationFIRST, McCormick notes that the pandemic-caused recession has greatly reduced state tax revenue, which means legislators will be under pressure to cut spending. She says the state should “at a minimum” maintain its current level of support for schools, and it should do its best to protect funding for summer school, textbooks for low-income families and other services.

She proposes a two-year moratorium on opening new charter schools and adding more private schools to Indiana’s voucher system. Continuing to add more state-funded charter and voucher schools, she argues, would mean existing schools will get a smaller and smaller share of the funding pie.

And she would roll back state facilities grants for charter schools from $750 to $500 per pupil, the level where they were two years ago. The grants are intended to help charter schools pay for buildings and some operating costs; unlike public schools, charter schools can’t levy property taxes for those needs.

Probably the boldest parts of her agenda deal with inclusivity and protections for LGBTQ students and staff. This is a legislature, after all, that didn’t adopt a hate-crimes law until 2019 and then refused to say explicitly that gay and transgender Hoosiers were protected.

McCormick points out that one-fourth of Hoosier high school students report feeling unsafe at school, LGBTQ youth are at high risk of being threatened and attacked, and Black students are four times as likely to receive out-of-school suspensions as their white classmates. Her policy proposals would expand anti-discrimination protections for charter schools and voucher-accepting private schools to include gender identity, sexual orientation and marital status.

“Indiana legislators must be committed to creating laws that provide a safe learning and work environment where all members of the school community are treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, or marital status,” she writes.

The Republican leadership in the Indiana House and Senate may not welcome McCormick’s policy proposals, but legislators should push to have them considered.

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