Redelman: School Choice Week a Reminder of Indiana’s Progress

The following is the first of a week-long series of blogs in support of National School Choice Week (Jan. 26 – Feb. 1) from some of Indiana’s leading figures in this ongoing educational effort. The first is authored by Derek Redelman — the Indiana Chamber’s vice president of education and workforce policy.

When National School Choice Week started in early 2011, Indiana was an emerging state in the school choice arena – but far from a leader. Ten years prior, Indiana had passed a moderately strong charter school law that, by 2001, had accommodated about 22,000 students; and a scholarship tax credit, passed in 2009, was serving a few hundred students. In total, just about 2% of the state’s entire student population was benefiting from school choice laws.

By the end of 2011, the environment had changed dramatically. Indiana had passed a voucher law that national leaders were calling the most expansive school choice program in the country. Two years later, over 20,000 Hoosier kids are receiving vouchers, and one national organization — the Center for Education Reform — now ranks Indiana No. 1 in its Parent Power Index – a state-by-state measure of parent choices.

For context, consider this: In just two years, Indiana’s voucher program reached participation levels that a decent charter school law had taken 10 years to reach. As a state, some might say that we went from “wannabe” status to the nation’s undisputed leader.

But as we reached that status in relatively short order, so might the pendulum swing the other way with equal rapidity. We needn’t look any further than the defeat of State Superintendent Tony Bennett – arguably the greatest catalyst in our recent transformation – for evidence of that potential.

And thus is demonstrated the continuing or even growing importance of events like National School Choice Week. As the Indiana Chamber will do through a series of guest blogs this week, we must remember the families and the purpose of these important efforts; and we must not withdraw from the leadership that has, in large part, been a core of the business community’s engagement.

Indiana is now THE leader in school choice. But just as we surpassed others to leap into that spot, so might we lose that status without continued effort.

National School Choice Week: Start the Celebrations!

National School Choice Week, running today through Friday, is an opportunity to highlight and celebrate the laws and programs that help parents choose the best educational settings for their children. Until recently, Indiana was mostly a spectator to that celebration. Today, we’re the focus of it due to Indiana’s 2011 laws creating our state voucher program and significantly expanding our charter school and virtual education laws.

It’s not that Indiana was void of school choice prior to 2011. We’ve had a charter school law since 2001 and we passed an educational tax credit in 2009. Both were significant accomplishments that the Indiana Chamber was proud to have helped lead. But both also demonstrate the critical importance of implementation and “minor” policy distinctions.

We were the 38th state in the country to pass a charter school law; but there were high hopes when, shortly after passage, our new law was ranked the sixth best in the country. Some of those hopes have been fulfilled, especially with the tremendous successes of charter schools in Indianapolis, but a policy decision by State Superintendent Suellen Reed almost stopped that hope dead in its tracks.

Despite language in the original law stating explicitly that funds for charter school students would follow immediately from their previous schools to the charter schools where they enrolled, Reed determined unilaterally that funds could not flow to charter schools until January of each school year when the school funding formula is reset.

The result was that charter schools in Indiana would be forced to operate for six months without any state funds, a challenge that no other public school in Indiana has ever faced. Ultimately, the issue was partially resolved through the creation of a state-backed, low-interest loan program, but the 2002 decision remains even today as a significant barrier to charter school growth in the state.

The 2009 Scholarship Tax Credit has faced its own tough challenges. One of the main ones is the low level of Indiana’s credit – just 50% of the donor’s contribution. It may sound generous, but in other states, where similar programs have thrived far better than ours, the programs offer 70, 80 and even 100% credits. Indeed, Indiana’s 50% credit is the lowest of any such program in the entire country.

Today, we celebrate a voucher law, passed in 2011, that has produced the largest first-year participation rate of any voucher law in American history. The celebration continues, as this year’s participation doubled that of the first year. Yet, even that success is tempered by some coming challenges.

Among them, Indiana’s law is the only choice law in the country that bans kindergarteners from participating. As some lawmakers have said, they think it’s a good idea to require parents to first give a “test run” to the local public schools – even when the parents know plenty about their options. Indeed, the suggestion of such “test runs” is directly counter to core philosophy of school choice – that parents are best positioned to determine the best educational settings for their children.

So we celebrate this week, and we will revel in the fact that states around the country are now chasing us – trying now to replicate the tremendous successes that we had in 2011. Those successes are well worth celebrating, but much work remains to be done.

In the next three days, this space will feature the thoughts of three Indiana leaders who have helped make choice a reality in Indiana. Robert Enlow, president of the Friedman Foundation, will help put Indiana’s role in a national perspective; Dan Elsener, president of Marian University, will share why choice has been a lifelong passion of his; and Lindsey Brown, executive director of School Choice Indiana, will report on the state of Indiana’s choice options.

We hope you’ll join us in this national celebration and will revel, as we will, in the newly minted attention that Indiana has earned. But as we’ll note in a closing column on Friday, the challenges that remain are more than just policy oriented; in many ways, they sit at the core of our political and policy environments.

Meanwhile, check out the web site for National School Choice Week and look especially for the celebrations and other events that are occurring throughout Indiana. You might even find a celebration near you!

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Derek Redelman is vice president of education and workforce development for the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.

Common Core Remains at Center of Education Stage

The Common Core was a critical component of the Daniels-Bennett education reforms that were pursued over the last four years. Developed through leadership of the National Governors Association and the Council of State Chief School Officers, these math and English standards are designed to provide a common and rigorous benchmark for students that can be compared across state lines and can be benchmarked against our international competitors.  Adoption of the standards is optional, but Indiana is one of 46 states that committed to the standards after a review by the Indiana Education Roundtable and the State Board of Education. The Obama administration has also supported the Common Core by offering additional points in grant competitions to states that have adopted the standards and through two large grants to help support the development of corresponding assessments.  Indeed, Indiana has been one of the lead states in helping to develop one of those assessments.

Unfortunately, that support by the Obama administration has caused some critics to suggest, incorrectly, that the standards have actually been developed by the federal government and/or have been “mandated” by the federal government. Neither accusation is correct. In fact, the real developers of the standards – a consortium of governors and state superintendents – have asked the feds to stop being so “supportive” so that such concerns can be allowed to settle. But here in Indiana, those concerns have emerged most prominently from a small fringe element of the Tea Party that have demanded Indiana withdraw from the Common Core.  Moreover, this opposition is supported by a handful of national researchers from mostly far-right think tanks that have claimed that the standards are poorly designed, lacking in rigor and too expensive to implement. Other researchers and think tanks – along with education officials from Indiana – have rebuked these criticisms; yet, the debate continues.
           
On Wednesday, Indiana took center stage in that debate as local Tea Party activists and national critics joined forces to support a proposed mandate to ban Indiana’s further participation in the Common Core. The Indiana Chamber was the lead presenter among three dozen allies, most of them organized by the education reform group, Stand for Children, which opposed the proposed ban. While the proponents of the ban were limited primarily to a small but passionate number of parents and national think tank representatives, the opponents of the ban included a broad coalition including the Fordham Institute, Lumina Foundation, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, UIndy’s CELL, Goodwill Education Industries, Indiana PTA, Indiana Association of School Principals, ISTA, Indiana Federation of Teachers and more than a dozen classroom and building-level educators.

The Indiana Chamber has acknowledged that some of the critics – at least those focused on contents of the standards rather than hysterical exaggerations of federal intrusion – may have some legitimate concerns that should be evaluated.  But we’ve also noted that those concerns, if legitimate, can be offset by the flexibilities contained within the Common Core and through corresponding adoptions of rigorous assessments and accountability measures. But more importantly, we have urged the Legislature to leave such determinations in the hands of our state’s education leaders, including the Department of Education, the Education Roundtable and the State Board of Education, rather than subjecting our standards to the politicized environment of the Legislature. Indeed, while critics of the Common Core have heaped praise on Indiana’s previous state standards, they consistently overlook the fact that those highly-rated standards were adopted through the same process as was conducted when Indiana adopted the Common Core, and that the Legislature played no role in those adoptions.

Senator Schneider has already drafted one amendment to his bill that would remove the ban from Common Core but would invalidate our state’s previous adoption, require a new adoption process with extensive public input and implement a new ban on Indiana participation in either of the Common Core assessments. Newly-elected State Superintendent Glenda Ritz, who has occasionally expressed some concerns about the new standards, has urged the Legislature to allow Common Core implementation to continue but has promised to conduct a review of the standards that would be completed by the end of 2013. The Indiana Chamber supports the Ritz recommendation and notes that such a review would be helpful for determining how best to use the flexibilities that are allowed in the multi-state agreement. The next step of this debate will likely occur on January 30, when the Senate Education Committee is expected to amend and vote on SB 193.

Graduation Rates Take Center Stage — Again

Since the mid-1990s, the Indiana Chamber has helped lead efforts to secure a more accurate reporting of our state and local graduation rates. Without question, we have made significant progress from the days when school districts like Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) would claim a 90% graduation rate, despite graduating less than a quarter of the ninth graders that had been enrolled four years previously. 

But even as the data have improved, so have the "tricks" being utilized. This time, the primary culprit of the manipulation is an excessive use of waivers from the state’s high school graduation exam. As reported July 1 by the Indianapolis Star, 27% of IPS graduates in 2011 received a waiver from the state’s graduation requirements.  

Now let’s not lose sight of what this means. The current state requirement is for students to pass tests covering 10th grade English and Algebra I, a course that most students take in either the eighth or ninth grade. So the expectations are not very high. Nonetheless, a school can waive students from these low level requirements if there is evidence – through coursework or other exams – that the student has genuinely mastered the material. In other words, the waivers are intended for those extremely rare instances when, due to test anxiety or some other extreme circumstance, the repeated failure of these tests really does not reflect the student’s abilities. 

Instead, some districts like IPS are using the waivers to pass through students whom they have deemed as having "tried hard enough." Let us not worry how those young adults will be received in the real world, where "trying" – and failing repeatedly – will not be sufficient.  There are no "waivers" in the real world – especially for such low expectations.

But alas, IPS is certainly not the only culprit in this mess. Statewide, over 5,000 students (about 8% of all graduates) received waivers from these minimal diploma requirements in 2011. That’s up dramatically from 2004, when the statewide number was just a few hundred – and even those numbers were likely higher than they should have been. 

Additionally, we keep hearing about high schools that are counseling families to withdraw from school with the stated intention of being home schooled – thereby removing those students from the high schools’ student count, regardless of any evidence that any home schooling actually occurred. In 2009, for example, 97 students left Kokomo High School supposedly to be homeschooled – nearly 5% of the entire school. At Michigan City, the number was 87 (4.5% of total enrollment); at Muncie South, it was 83 (over 8%); at Warren Central, it was 94 (2.5%); and so on. 

So while the new "official" graduation rate has inched up to 85%, these and other concerns suggest, once again, that we are dealing with false numbers. Indeed, our own estimates, using several national calculation methods, suggest that the real graduation rate (without waivers) remains at a dismal 70%. That actually is an improvement over the last several years and appears to be a reversal of a steady decline that had occurred since the early 1990s. But it is a far cry from the 85% that is reported officially by the state. 

Representative Bob Behning (R-Indianapolis), chair of the House Education Committee, has already announced that he will have legislation in 2013 to address these issues. Having worked with Rep. Behning 10 years ago to address the previous problems with our state data, we are pleased to see his leadership again. Meanwhile, be leery of the claims that you may be hearing. We sure wish that those gains were real. Indeed, we need them to be real, but the true data strongly suggest otherwise.

Governor Signs Long-awaited Bill to Overhaul Adult Education

The following is an update on HB 1340 regarding adult education in Indiana:

Authors: Rep. Bob Behning (R-Indianapolis), Rep. Jeff Thompson (R-Lizton) and Rep. Sheila Klinker (D-West Lafayette)
Sponsors: Sen. Dennis Kruse (R-Auburn), Sen. Carlin Yoder (R-Goshen), Sen. Scott Schneider (R-Indianapolis), Sen. Karen Tallian (D-Portage) and Sen. Jim Banks (R-Columbia City)

Summary: Moves career and technical education to the Department of the Education (DOE) and assigns oversight to the State Board of Education. Moves adult education to the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) and assigns oversight to the State Workforce Innovation Council (SWIC). Assigns to the SWIC responsibility for the GED diploma program and the planning and implementation of postsecondary career and technical education.

Chamber Position: Support

Status: Signed into law by Governor Mitch Daniels on April 1; effective immediately.

Update/Chamber Action: The issues addressed in this bill have been discussed, in one way or another, for most of the last decade. The specific proposals were highlighted in a set of policy recommendations commissioned in 2009 by the Indiana Chamber Foundation and adopted subsequently by a bipartisan legislative study committee. Yet, until this year, the proposal could not even get a vote in both houses. So it’s a real mark of progress that the votes this year were unanimous and that the bill was one of the first to reach the governor’s desk.

Much of the credit for this success goes to the staff at DWD. They began laying the groundwork several months ago and helped demonstrate to both legislators and adult education providers, who previously had opposed these proposals fiercely, that the overhaul would be a positive development. The Indiana Chamber is proud to have helped in raising these issues and in ushering this bill through the Legislature. We’re also looking forward to our continued work with DWD to implement this overhaul and to realize the promising opportunities to better serve Indiana’s adult learners.

Charter Schools Bill Amended & Approved

The following is an update on HB 1002, regarding charter schools:

Authors: Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis), Rep. Bob Behning (R-Indianapolis), Rep. Mary Ann Sullivan (D-Indianapolis) and Rep. Cindy Noe (R-Indianapolis)
Sponsor: Sen. Dennis Kruse (R-Auburn)

Summary: Allows private universities to serve as charter school authorizers.  Creates the Indiana Charter School Board to serve as a statewide authorizer. (Continues authorizing authority for state universities and the Indianapolis mayor.) Makes unused and underutilized public school facilities available for charter school use. Eliminates limits on charter schools approved by the Indianapolis mayor and on virtual charter schools. Increases funding for virtual charter schools from 80% of average state tuition support to 85%. Cancels interest payments on loans from the state that charter schools have acquired as the result of delayed tuition payments. Makes additional changes. 

Chamber Position: Support
Status: The Senate Appropriations Committee made additional changes this week that would increase funding for virtual charter schools to 85% of the state average rather than 90%, as proposed originally. Additional amendments were made to adjust how charter schools receive first semester funds (an ongoing concern that has caused charter schools to incur substantial operating loans) and to improve accountability for charter schools. The committee approved the amended bill on an 8-2 vote, with Sen. Earline Rogers (D-Gary) and Sen. Karen Tallian (D-Portage) joining Republicans in support of the bill; it is now eligible for consideration by the full Senate. 

Update/Chamber Action:  The Indiana Chamber continued to work much of this week in helping to develop an accountability component for charter school authorizers that would raise performance expectations without putting charter schools at risk of future political swings. We believe that the amendment adopted this week accomplishes that balance. As the bill continues to progress, we join Speaker Bosma, the author of this bill, in wanting to see the triggers for conversion charter schools improved. Those triggers, we believe, should focus on some super-majority of parents in the school, rather than a focus on teachers who often do not live in the school boundaries, do not send children to the school and do not pay taxes in the district. We also note some continuing frustration with a small minority of legislators who remain unwilling to acknowledge that charter schools are public schools and who continue to portray these schools as siphoning funds from "real" public schools.  Nonetheless, we continue to be pleased that this substantial bill is progressing and will continue to work with legislative leaders, the Indiana Department of Education and other charter school supporters to continue improving and advancing the bill. 

Education in Indiana: Charter School Bill Moves to Full House

The following is an update of a very important bill currently being considered by the Indiana House:

Bill # and Title: SB 1002 – Charter Schools
Authors: Speaker of the House Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis), Rep. Bob Behning (R-Indianapolis) and Rep. Mary Ann Sullivan (D-Indianapolis)

Summary: Allows private universities and mayors of second-class cities to serve as charter school authorizers. Creates the Indiana Charter School Board to serve as a statewide authorizer.  (Continues authorizing authority for state universities and the Indianapolis mayor.) Makes unused and underutilized public school facilities available for charter school use. Eliminates limits on charter schools approved by the Indianapolis mayor and on virtual charter schools. Increases funding for virtual charter schools from 80% of average state tuition support to 90%. Cancels interest payments on loans from the state that charter schools have acquired as the result of delayed tuition payments. Makes additional changes.

Chamber Position: Support

Status: House Education Committee considered 15 amendments out of 30 that were filed. Three amendments were accepted, including a substantial amendment developed by the co-authors and two additional amendments offered by Democrats. After eight hours of testimony and debate – five hours last week and three additional hours this week – the committee voted 8-5, along party lines, to recommend the bill’s passage. It is now eligible for consideration by the full House.

Update/Chamber Action: Despite the partisan vote from committee members, it certainly cannot be suggested that this bill has not had extensive consideration and debate. Nonetheless, House Democrats offered a Minority Committee report when the committee action was delivered to the full House. That effort failed, but not before a contentious floor debate in which Rep. Greg Porter (D-Indianapolis) and Rep. Pat Bauer (D-South Bend) portrayed the charter bill as an attempt to undermine collective bargaining. (In reality, the bill allows teachers in charter schools to bargain collectively if they so choose; but most charter teachers choose not to join a union.) This bill is likely to draw dozens of proposed amendments and a long, contentious debate as it moves to the full House. The Indiana Chamber will continue working with the bill’s authors and other charter school supporters to analyze amendments, fend off detrimental changes and drive the bill to final passage.  Meanwhile, we are pleased to note the steadfast support of Rep. Sullivan, who was the only Democrat to buck her caucus on the Minority Committee report. We also noted this editorial from Democrat Mayor Tom McDermott of Hammond, who has called for the bill’s passage.

State Superintendent Begins Overhaul of Teacher Licensing

On a convincing 14-4 vote, the Indiana Professional Standards Advisory Committee has voted to proceed with the rulemaking process to overhaul Indiana’s antiquated teacher licensing system. Under the proposal prepared by State Superintendent Tony Bennett, new teachers in Indiana would be required to demonstrate much more knowledge in their content areas than is currently required. The proposed rules would also tie professional development requirements to school priorities, allow greater input by principals in teacher licensing decisions and provide school districts with more flexibility in the hiring of principals and superintendents.

To be certain, this effort is just beginning – and lots of vested interests are lining up to defeat the proposals. Most impacted are the schools of education that, according to several national education leaders, have created an ineffective training system that is in need of significant overall. But since "overhaul" means, in many ways, that their monopoly on education training would be loosened, the state’s schools of education are working overtime to defeat this proposal.

So far, the schools of education have dominated these discussions; but as the rule-making process goes forward, there will be much better opportunity to hear from the consumers of this system, including employers, parents, school administrators, school board members and even teachers themselves. The Indiana Chamber will stay on top of all developments and will keep our members informed through this and other outlets. In the meantime, you can learn more about the proposed changes in this brief summary document.

What are your thoughts on the proposal? Feel free to share in the comments section or let me know at dredelman@indianachamber.com.

Chamber to Host Indiana Premiere of “2 Million Minutes” Sequel

Bob Compton, one of Indiana’s most successful entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, has made a sizeable splash in national education circles with his production of "2 Million Minutes," a film that compares the lives of high school students in Carmel, Indiana, to those in China and India.

On October 6, the Indiana Chamber will host the Indiana premiere of "2 Million Minutes: The 21st Century Solution," a sequel to the first film that highlights an open enrollment school in the U.S. that is teaching "average" children at an extraordinarily high academic level. This school, located in a largely low-income area, helps demonstrate that American students are capable of competing academically with the best in the world if given the right curriculum, the right teachers and the right inspiration and expectations. Learn more and view a short trailer for the film.

The Indiana premiere will be held on October 6 at 11:30 a.m. in the Indiana Chamber Conference Center. Compton will introduce the film and will lead a brief conversation following its showing. Lunch will also be provided. This is a free event but space is limited and reservations are required.

To learn more, send an e-mail to Amy Elifritz at aelifritz@indianachamber.com or call (317) 264-6865.

Focus on Dollars for Students, Not Districts

The following is a column penned by Derek Redelman, our VP of education and workforce policy, that appeared in several Indiana newspapers. The piece continues to draw attention; see it here in the Muncie Star Press.

It is a myth that suburban and charter schools are favored by the state budget that was just adopted, while Indianapolis Public Schools and other urban districts "took it on the chin,” as the Indianapolis Star article elsewhere on this page phrases it.

In reality, the winners of this state budget are overwhelmingly urban districts like IPS. Sure, some of those districts will face funding cuts; but those cuts are disproportionately small compared to their losses in enrollment. Conversely, growing districts will receive increases, but those increases are disproportionately small compared to their increases in enrollment.

IPS, which is projected to lose nearly 4,000 students over the next two years, will start with $8,580 per student, or $9,429 when federal funds are included. Over the next two years, those amounts rise to $9,014 and $10,254, respectively. (These numbers include all state funding but do not include funds from property taxes).

That’s an increase of five percent in base funding and 8.2 percent when federal funds are included. Cumulatively, that means that continuing students in IPS will receive an increase of more than $13.6 million in baseline funding and more than $26.5 million when federal funds are included.

Contrast that with Hamilton Southeastern, which is projected to gain more than 1,600 students. The district starts with only $5,762 per student and just $5,784, including federal funds. Over the next two years, those funding levels actually fall to $5,701 and $5,772, respectively.

That’s a decline of 1.1 percent in base funding and 0.2 percent when federal funds are included. Cumulatively, Hamilton Southeastern students will lose more than $1 million in baseline funding or just under $300,000 including federal funds.

By the logic of urban school leaders, these enrollment changes are irrelevant. Based solely on changes to district-level funding, they suggest that urban districts will "suffer" while suburban districts and charter schools will be "the winners." Continue reading