Indiana’s K-12 Education Standards Debate — Nearly Settled

Monday is the day the State Board of Education votes on the draft K-12 academic standards. It’s the final hurdle in putting in place new standards for Indiana schools.

The origins of this standards debate were rooted in concerns about federal control. The Common Core academic standards, actually developed by governors and state superintendents, were viewed as a federal intrusion because President Obama and his Secretary of Education supported the standards – and they used federal “Race to the Top” grants to help entice states to adopt the standards.

Indiana selected the Common Core as its standards back in August of 2010  – a full four months after withdrawing from the Race to the Top grant competition. Nonetheless, federal intrusion theories took hold.

So just as the state Legislature mandated and Gov. Pence promised, a process was developed to assure – with absolute certainty – that Indiana had control over its standards. Indeed, no set of standards in Indiana’s history has ever engaged so many Hoosiers and provided for so much public input. They are Hoosier developed, Hoosier adopted and Hoosier controlled.

Ironically, those who pushed the hardest for this review process are now unhappy with the outcome. That’s because, as it turns out, Hoosier educators actually liked the Common Core standards (no surprise to us!) – even when compared to Indiana’s old standards and to other well-respected models.

So, yes, the new standards look a lot like Common Core. But it’s also important to note that Indiana’s old standards were a primary source in the development of Common Core, and Indiana policy leaders were actively involved in that development.  In reality then, the outcome of this review should come as no surprise to anyone.

In the end, Indiana’s new standards are consistent with the process that was demanded by some and promised by others; it has produced a set of standards that Hoosier educators have identified as the best standards for Indiana students. And wasn’t that the original goal of those who opposed Common Core in the first place?

Like it or not, Indiana has identified its own standards; we are adopting them voluntarily; and we have asserted and will maintain complete control over the future of those standards.

NOTE: On Monday, April 28, you can watch the State Board discuss and vote on the draft standards beginning at 9 a.m. EDT.

Complete College on Time with 15 Credits Per Semester

On-time graduation rates at public Indiana colleges and universities are staggeringly low. Only one in 10 students at two-year colleges finish a degree on time, and only three in 10 students finish a four-year degree on time, according to the Indiana Commission for Higher Education’s 2014 College Completion Reports.

The reports provide a robust, comprehensive picture of student success at each public college and university in Indiana. They include data on transfer and part-time students and disaggregated data by race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status to focus attention on persistent achievement gaps.

Statewide, there’s a 24-point completion gap at two-year colleges between the highest-performing racial/ethnic group and the lowest-performing group. At four-year colleges, the gap is 31 points. Additionally, less than 4% of Pell grant recipients graduate on time from two-year colleges. About 17% of students receiving this need-based grant graduate on time from four-year colleges.

Why do these low graduation rates matter? First, graduating on time yields greater returns for students by lowering their cost per degree. The estimated cost of an additional year of schooling to a student is $50,000 in tuition, fees and lost potential income. What’s more: Indiana college graduates borrow over $27,000 for a four-year degree. As loan default rates rise, so does the importance of cutting college costs. The surest way to lower a student’s cost per degree is to finish sooner.

Second, institutions and the state bear significant costs for extra semesters as well, in lost productivity and additional financial aid awards. According to the College Completion Reports, four-year schools spend about $62,000 for each degree produced. About 30% of students don’t complete a four-year degree within eight years, adding to productivity losses for institutions.

Of course, for many students who are working or raising families, attending part-time may be the best option. Unfortunately, as students take additional semesters and hit state and federal financial aid limits, their probability of completing the degree declines. In fact, full-time students are six times more likely to graduate with a four-year degree than part-time students. And students who invest in their education but do not receive a diploma bear the greatest lost, reaping nearly zero return on their investment, according to the Indiana Commission for Higher Education’s Return on Investment Reports.

Fortunately, the state has made great strides on both policy and institutional levels to improve completion rates. For instance, thanks to recent reforms, state financial aid now funds completed credits rather than attempted credits to incentivize completion.

Additionally, credit creep legislation cut the number of credits per degree to 120 for four-year degrees and 60 for two-year degrees. This means students who take 15 credit hours per semester set themselves up to finish on time.

As we work to combat student loan default rates and the rising costs of college, we must continue to ask how we can use dollars more efficiently. Tackling graduation rates, and ensuring those who invest in their education complete it in the shortest time possible, is imperative to minimizing those costs.

To read institution-specific data in the 2014 College Completion Reports, visit the Indiana Commission for Higher Education’s web site.

Hannah Rozow is a senior at Indiana University – Bloomington and a student representative on the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.

A Good Focus: Highland High School’s Parent University

Our Ready Indiana staff recently traveled to Highland High School (Lake County) to talk with parents about their children’s options post-graduation. We were so impressed the Highland guidance team brought parents in to listen to experts on different school, graduation and post-graduation topics. Sometimes we forget that students spend much more time at home than at school — and parents play a major role in students’ decisions!

In our session, we defined “middle-skill” jobs and discussed statistics showing those jobs are most in-demand in Indiana right now. We demoed www.IndianaSkills.com and also discussed the Technical Honors Diploma. We were pleased with the interest parents had in learning about ALL the options their student has during and after high school.

We hope high schools that don’t have a similar program in place consider reaching out to parents with this information so they can help their student make informed post-graduation choices.

Education: Common Core, Career-Ready Standards Debates to Heat Up

(Above) Chamber Vice President Derek Redelman discusses the status of the state’s Common Core academic standards.

Additionally, the following is Redelman’s analysis of SB 91 (authored by Sen. Scott Schneider) on education standards:

As amended, SB 91 re-establishes guidelines for the review and adoption of state standards that is currently underway at the State Board of Education and is expected to be completed prior to July 1. It voids current state standards (Common Core) on July 1. It also eliminates restrictions on the State Board of Education in the development of a new state assessment system to be aligned with the new state standards, and requires the assessment plan developed by the State Board to be reviewed by the State Budget Committee.

Chamber Position: Neutral

Status: Amended and passed by the House Education Committee; now eligible for consideration by the full House.

Update/Chamber Action: As reported here previously, this bill does little other than allowing the standards review, currently ongoing with the State Board of Education, to continue. Yet, the continued rhetoric of Common Core opponents – suggesting for unexplained reasons that this bill somehow bans Common Core in Indiana – is likely a precursor of much more debate to come.

That debate now shifts to the draft math and English standards that were released this week and will now be the subject of public hearings, a month-long public comment period and likely more.

The Indiana Chamber is conducting a review of the draft standards and will share the results in coming days. As many people have anticipated, the draft standards contain a lot of components that are identical to Indiana’s current standards, which are the Common Core State Standards.

Opponents of the Common Core, including Sen. Schneider, have spent much of the last two weeks pronouncing that such an outcome would be an “outrage” and “unacceptable.” They’ve even spent time reviewing the credentials of those involved with the current review and have suggested that too many of these standards and curriculum experts have already shown support for Common Core.

Meanwhile, the closest that Common Core opponents have come to suggesting alternative standards has been their stated preference for Indiana’s 2009 standards, which were drafted but never adopted.

The incredible irony of that position is that Indiana’s 2009 draft standards were used as a primary model in the development of the Common Core State Standards. So if Common Core opponents continue to insist that the new standards cannot look in any way like Common Core, then it will also be impossible for the standards to look like Indiana’s 2009 standards, which Common Core opponents have touted!

But alas, this has been the nature of Indiana’s Common Core debates to date; all indications of the last two weeks suggest that those debates will continue with intensity throughout the next month. Public hearings on the draft standards will occur Monday in Sellersburg, Tuesday in Indianapolis and Wednesday in Plymouth. Online public comment will also continue through mid-March. And if all goes as planned, then the State Board of Education will be presented with new standards to adopt at its April meeting. We certainly look forward to the approach of that long-awaited conclusion – yet we know full well that there is much more still to come in these debates.

Parent: School Choice Voucher is Changing My Son’s Life

The following is the final post in a week-long series of blogs in support of National School Choice Week (Jan. 26 – Feb. 1). This is authored by Patty Scheitler, whose son has benefited from Indiana’s school choice voucher program. (This blog was submitted via Hoosiers for Economic Growth.)

The School Choice Indiana voucher program has opened up many doors for my son. He is able to attend a private high school (Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis), which has already provided him with the tools to succeed. He has very high hopes and dreams of becoming a doctor one day and it would be difficult to reach these goals at the public school he was to attend.

He is now able to take advanced classes, participate in community service projects throughout the city and travel through Brebeuf’s enrichment programs. He has already grown educationally and is challenged appropriately. He has been recommended for a self study program during his sophomore year and is so very excited about it. This opportunity will enable him to qualify for summer programs focusing on medicine and will enhance his chances of being accepted.

The teachers have been amazing and are available, caring and invested in the learning of each student. They take the time to meet and get to know each student on an individual basis and really want to see the student succeed. The voucher program also allows my son to grow as a person. He is exposed to more diversity at his new school and meeting students from all over the Indianapolis area. He has made friends with kids from different backgrounds, religious beliefs and educational experiences.

The main mantra at Brebeuf is “Men and Women for Others” — this quote really explains the feeling my son has at his new school. They really allow the students to reach out to their community and serve in many ways. They feel it is important to grow each student, spiritually, emotionally, physically and educationally. I love this approach and have never experienced anything like it in the public school setting. My son is also given the opportunity to participate in many sports and extracurricular activities. His school really encourages all to participate and most clubs meet during the day instead of after school, which provides more opportunities to participate.

We are so blessed to have received the choice voucher. Every day, my son says how much he loves Brebeuf and is so lucky to be able to attend such a wonderful school!

Klipsch: School Choice a Driver to Build Economic Success in Indiana

The following is the fourth in a week-long series of blogs in support of National School Choice Week (Jan. 26 – Feb. 1). This is authored by Fred Klipsch, former chairman and CEO of Klipsch Group, Inc. — one of the nation’s top speaker companies. He is chairman of the School Choice Indiana board of directors.

I received a solid education through the public school system in Indiana from elementary schiool through college. Both Indianapolis Public Schools and Purdue University provided me with a quality education that prepared me to succeed in business and in life.

Like all things, our public education system has dramatically changed over the last few decades since I was a student, and in my opinion it is no longer delivering the quality education today’s students need to compete in a global economy. At this stage of my life, I sincerely believe that every child, regardless of zip code or income, should have the opportunity to receive the same high quality education that I had. School choice is a tool to provide quality educational options to all parents. By creating competition in the education marketplace, it clarifies the need for public school systems to improve.

Business leaders are sometimes wary of supporting school choice, specifically “vouchers,” and they should not be. Indiana’s voucher program allows low and moderate income parents access to a private school education for their children — an educational option which previously was not available to them. Now parents can choose a quality education for their child in an environment that best meets their educational needs rather than, in many cases, having that child trapped in an underperforming public school.

From a businessman’s perspective, Indiana’s voucher program caps the voucher amount at no more than 90% of public school cost, thereby producing economic savings for the state. School choice is about much more than vouchers, however, and it is about options and competition in the education marketplace. More importantly, vouchers are fulfilling the state’s obligation to provide access to a high-quality education for all children to help deliver the skilled workforce needed for our economy to thrive.

As a nation, we have built our economic success on our belief in free markets. Why, as businessmen and businesswomen, would we not believe that educational success is best achieved through a similar setting? The startling truth is that Indiana students are performing in the middle of the pack when it comes to math and science. As a nation, we are not much better when compared to our global competitors.

We must constantly be working together to improve the quality of education that our young people are receiving, as they are the future business leaders of our state and nation. Supporting policies that provide families with educational options, allow for innovation in the classroom and free our teachers from unnecessary regulations, thereby allowing them to focus on the children, are some of the key initiatives of the education improvement movement. These are examples of why I chose to become more involved in promoting school choice in Indiana — and I urge other business and civic leaders to join me.

Tebbe: Church Celebrates School Choice to Help Parents, Children Thrive

The following is the second in 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. Glenn Tebbe is the executive director of the Indiana Catholic Conference.

Education of children and youth has been a significant part of the Catholic Church’s ministry in Indiana since before Indiana was even a state or a territory. In 1792 Fr. Benedict Flaget established a school in Vincennes to teach reading, writing, along with basics of the faith to the children in the area. In fact in 1801 the first Indiana territorial Governor, William Henry Harrison, asked that Fr. Rivet establish a school supported by the territorial government; He established Jefferson Academy, which is the predecessor of today’s Vincennes University.

Catholic schools have been serving people from all walks of life and all social economic groups for a long time. And, Catholic, as well as the many other non-public, schools have contributed to the well-being of the people of Indiana and the common good throughout the United States. Catholic schools’ curriculum and teachers have helped countless families and young people become productive and loyal citizens as well as providing the foundation for them academically and spiritually.

A commitment to quality education is one of the hallmarks of the Catholic Church. Moreover, a foundational principle is that parents are the first and most important teachers in a child’s life. While they are the first teachers, they cannot and do not educate and socialize them alone. The community, including faith communities, and the state share this common burden by assisting and collaborating with parents to meet their primary obligations.

Programs and policies such as education choice scholarships, scholarship tax credits and charter schools actualize the collaboration between the parents and the state’s responsibilities. The state must make possible the right of parents to choose appropriate educational opportunities best suited to their children’s needs.

Given the critical role parents and families play in the development of children and in building the common good of society, parents ought to have choices in how and where their children are educated. Legislators and state officials have a moral duty to ensure that all parents, though their own choice, have actual access to quality schools, including public, religious and private that are best suited for their children.

Just as Fr. Flaget did in 1792, the Catholic Church still today takes seriously its responsibility to assist parents in educating and nurturing their children and will continue to do so into the future. We celebrate School Choice Week because the Church has always been there to support the common good, just as it did when it responded to Governor William Henry Harrison in 1801.

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.

Ready Indiana Gets New Leader

A former Indiana Department of Education employee who has spent her career exploring successful post-secondary opportunities for students has joined the Indiana Chamber of Commerce in a newly-defined role. Amy Marsh is now the organization’s director of college and career readiness initiatives.

Marsh will oversee Ready Indiana and Indiana Skills. In addition, she will be a key part of the Indiana Chamber’s expanding workforce development efforts.

An Indianapolis native, Marsh is a graduate of Butler University with a bachelor’s in education and a master’s in school counseling.

Previously, she was an independent consultant focusing on career pathways, school counseling, career and technical education and curriculum development. She has worked for the College Board (the company that administers the SAT) as a senior educational manager in the K-12 division. Prior to that, Marsh worked for the Indiana Department of Education as the state coordinator for advanced placement, international baccalaureate and dual credit and as the assistant director of college and career readiness.

Marsh has also been a school teacher, school counselor and director of high school counseling – all at Indianapolis schools.

Chamber’s Top Legislative Priorities in 2014

Eliminating business personal property tax, allowing employers to screen prospective hires for tobacco use and establishing a work share program are among the top legislative priorities for the Indiana Chamber of Commerce in 2014.

“In many categories of commercial and industrial property tax, Indiana is among the very highest states in the country. That’s largely due to our taxing of machinery and equipment. It’s a remaining black mark on our tax climate – an area where we simply can’t compete,” declares Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar.

“All of our surrounding states have done away with the tax except for Kentucky, which taxes personal property at a lower rate than Indiana. It’s past time to remove this burden that can greatly hinder business expansion and innovation.”

On the health care front, the Indiana Chamber is seeking to repeal what is termed the smokers’ bill of rights for prospective employees.

“This is an intrusion into the rights of employers in making hiring decisions. Holding smoking up to the same standards as we hold discrimination based upon race, gender, religion and ethnicity seems arbitrary and without justification,” Brinegar offers.

“There are other behaviors (such as substance abuse and having a criminal record) which are also personal choice and over which employers do have discretion in hiring decisions; this reinforces that the state’s protection for smokers is unnecessary and not well founded.”

One policy the Indiana Chamber believes would benefit employers, employees and the state is a work sharing initiative that would allow employers to maintain skilled, stable workforces during temporary economic downturns.

“Employers would be able to reduce hours without layoffs and provide unemployment compensation to partially compensate workers for their lost hours. Then when circumstances improve, employees could return to full-time work status for the company,” Brinegar explains.

“What’s more, a federal grant is available for three years to pay for the cost of the program. It’s a positive scenario for all parties.”

When it comes to K-12 education, Brinegar says the Indiana Chamber will continue to push for the absolute best academic standards for the state.

“That’s the bottom line. We need to improve student learning, meet the essential college- and career-ready requirement and have an appropriate student assessment system. Those elements all currently exist within the Common Core State Standards program, which we continue to fully support.”

Below are the Indiana Chamber’s top legislative priorities. The complete list is also available on the Indiana Chamber web site (www.indianachamber.com).

CIVIL JUSTICE
Support regulating the practice of lawsuit lending, in which a third party provides a plaintiff a cash advance loan while the legal case is pending. In turn, a plaintiff agrees to repay the advance (which is usually at a high interest rate) from the lawsuit proceeds. This practice complicates the legal process by forcing more cases to go to trial because the plaintiffs can’t afford to settle due to their repayment agreement with the lender. In turn, this causes more and more Indiana businesses to pay expensive legal fees. This lending practice is legal in most states, but regulation and transparency do not exist in Indiana.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
Support a voluntary vehicles miles travelled (VMT) pilot program as a potential replacement for existing fuel taxes. With Indiana’s already insufficient fuel tax revenues for roads/transportation trending down and more fuel efficient and electric/hybrid vehicles on the roads, a new funding mechanism for road maintenance needs to be found. Owners of alternative-fuel vehicles, including electrical vehicles, should pay for the roads they use just like other drivers. Voluntary VMT pilots in other states are currently taking place and Indiana cannot afford to ignore this potential road funding alternative.

Support expanding the patent-derived income tax exemption to the pre-patent phase. This incentive change would allow innovative, high-tech businesses that typically pay high wages to qualify during the earlier patent-pending phase of the (often long) patent application process, thus carrying forward any credit. Many emerging businesses would find this helpful in capitalizing their start-ups and expanding hiring. (Current law states you must have had a patent issued by the federal government before you can apply for the exemption.)

EDUCATION
Support maintaining high-achieving academic standards, such as the Common Core, and allowing the State Board of Education (SBOE) to determine student assessments. Indiana needs standards that improve student learning and meet the college- and career-ready requirement. The testing component of the standards can best be determined by the SBOE.
Support a framework for the future development of publicly-funded preschool initiatives for low-income families. There is critical need for improved preschool opportunities, especially for low-income children whose families may not have the means to provide a high-quality preschool experience or to provide needed learning opportunities in the home. The Indiana Chamber supports publicly-funded preschool programs that are: focused on those families in greatest need, limited to initiatives that maintain parental choice, focused on concrete learning outcomes and integrated with reforms at the elementary school level that will maintain and build upon the gains.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT
Support a water policy to stabilize our economic future and effectively compete with other states. A policy/plan is needed in order for the state to effectively manage its significant water resources, as well as to ensure delivery of an adequate, reliable and affordable supply of water.

HEALTH CARE
Support repealing the smokers’ bill of rights for prospective employees from the Indiana Code. The Indiana Chamber believes that all employers should have the right to choose whether or not to screen and/or hire prospective employees who use tobacco products. Since employers are footing most of the bill for health care costs for their employees, they should be able to have some discretion in determining whether new employees use tobacco products or not.

Support reinstating the wellness tax credit. The Indiana Chamber supports this incentive to start a wellness program, which can increase attendance, boost morale and productivity, as well as positively impact health care coverage costs.

LABOR RELATIONS
Support a work sharing program that will allow employers to maintain a skilled stable workforce during temporary downturns. Employers then could reduce hours without layoffs, enabling workers to keep their jobs – which hopefully could be returned to full-time status once economic circumstances improve. Also part of the equation: Unemployment compensation to partially compensate workers for their lost hours.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT    
Support common sense simplification and reforms to local government structures and practices. Creating the option for counties to have a single county commissioner and county councils with legislative and fiscal responsibilities is one that several Indiana counties desire. There should be incentives to reward local government efficiencies and performance in the delivery of services to taxpayers.

TAXATION
Support legislation to reduce the dependence on the taxation of business machinery and equipment. This tax discourages capital investment, places a disproportionate property tax burden on businesses and puts Indiana at a competitive disadvantage with surrounding states that have eliminated it or are moving to do so.