Indiana Chamber-Ball State Study: Student Performance Suffers in Smaller Districts

School corporation size has a direct impact on student achievement. And more than half of Indiana school corporations are too small to produce the most effective outcomes, according to research commissioned by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce Foundation and conducted by the Ball State University Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER).

Numerous earlier studies, both nationally and by CBER, found that school corporations with fewer than 2,000 students are not able to operate at optimal efficiency to maximize resources going into the classroom. This new study – School Corporation Size & Student Performance: Evidence from Indiana – (full report and Appendix available at www.indianachamber.com/education) also documents significantly poorer academic performance, on average, for students from these smaller corporations. Comprehensive analysis and modeling reveals the following improved outcomes if school corporations contain between 2,000 and 2,999 students:

  • SAT test scores (+20.5 points)
  • Advanced Placement (AP) pass rates (+14.9%)
  • Eighth-grade ISTEP scores (+5%)
  • Algebra and biology end of course assessment (ECA) pass rates (+4%)

“This is not about closing buildings or eliminating schools,” says Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar. “It’s about reducing per-pupil administrative costs to put more money into classrooms, increasing pay for deserving teachers, making more STEM classes available and, most importantly, helping ensure the best possible student outcomes.

“That will drive per capita income and is especially critical for smaller communities,” he continues. “Greater student achievement is the biggest thing we can do for rural economic development and those local residents.”

In 2014, 154 of Indiana’s 289 school corporations had total enrollments of less than 2,000 students. Eighty-five of those corporations experienced enrollment declines of 100 or more students between 2006 and 2014.

Only 21 of Indiana’s 92 counties have a single school corporation. Twenty-two counties have three corporations, 19 have two corporations and 13 have four corporations. The most corporations in a single county are 16 in Lake County and 11 in Marion County.

“With today’s fierce competition for talent, too many young people in our state are suffering due to inadequate preparation for postsecondary education or the workforce,” Brinegar adds. “The data show smaller corporations are getting smaller. In many instances, it’s already too difficult for them to overcome the challenges of limited resources.”

Ball State researchers took into account demographic and socioeconomic factors. For example, the average SAT score of 949.5 in the smallest corporations (between 240 and 999 students) compares to a 989.8 average in corporations with between 2,000 and 2,999 students. Even when economic differences between corporations are factored in, that 40-point raw gap remains at more than 20.5 points.

AP course offerings are one indicator of preparation for higher education, with higher-level math and science courses often a pre-requisite for pursuing STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) majors. Corporations with fewer than 1,000 students offered an average of 2.69 AP courses with enrollment of 8.53 students in 2015. That compares to 5.95 offerings and 22.26 students for corporations with between 2,000 and 2,999 students and even more courses and student participants in larger school districts.

The research reveals “94% of Indiana’s small school corporations (fewer than 2,000 students) are contiguous with another small corporation.”

North Central Parke Community School Corp. was created in 2013 by the merger of the Rockville and Turkey Run school districts. Parke County continues to lose population and district enrollment for the most recent school year was only 1,200. In April, the school board voted to combine (within two years) into one high school and one middle school.

“It’s hard to operate a comprehensive academic program” with so few students, district superintendent Tom Rohr said at the time of the most recent vote. “That’s really … a driving force. Our teachers have gotten behind this. They are saying, ‘Let’s do what is best for kids.’”

College Pays Off Despite Recession

Those who graduated from college in 2008 often say it wasn’t the best time to be entering the working world. As graduates were searching for those first jobs, the economy was shedding them and the world was plunging into recession. If those prospects weren’t dire enough, many of those graduates were also carrying debt from student loans.

Those millennials, however unlucky, fared better than their non-college-educated counterparts, though.

A new longitudinal study from the National Center for Education Statistics – the primary collector of student data on the federal level – found these results by taking a sample of students who were high school sophomores in the 2001-02 academic year and tracking them through 2012. The nationally representative sample was measured for a variety of factors – co-habiting, marriage, unemployment, underemployment, student debt carried – but the economic breakdown in those categories between those who attained a postsecondary degree and those who didn’t is especially telling.

Even though the timing of graduating might not have been ideal, attaining a four-year degree was still a good economic move for these millennials, on average, according to the report, which attempted to control for outside factors in its economic modeling. Put simply, even in the face of a recession, going to college still paid off.

“Individuals with less education had higher unemployment rates, while those with more education had higher employment rates and were more likely to be working full-time,” the report stated.

By 2012, 78% of those who had earned a bachelor’s degree were working more than 35 hours a week. Eleven percent were working fewer than 35 hours, 5% were unemployed and 6% were out of the labor force.

Of the members of the cohort who only had high school degrees, 64% were employed 35 hours or more a week, with 12% working fewer than 35 hours – similar to the number of those with a bachelor’s degree – and 14% and 10% were unemployed and out of the labor force, respectively.

In addition to employment, earning power was also differentiated along educational lines. Those surveyed who had a bachelor’s degree earned, on average, $17 an hour. Those surveyed with a high school diploma earned, on average, $13.

The study notes that it’s still early to be drawing overly expansive conclusions from its data.

“It is important to note that this section only addresses cohort members’ early career and labor market outcomes,” it reads. “At age 25-26, many individuals are just starting their careers; some are still enrolled in undergraduate or graduate studies; and others will return to school for additional training later in their careers.”

Still, as the study notes, early labor data is often correlated with later outcomes.

Report: Competency Focus Mostly on Adults

Three states considered bills that would have enacted competency-based education policies in 2016 and five considered such bills in 2017, according to a new report from the Education Commission of the States.

A number of states (including New Hampshire) and districts (including Chicago) are using or contemplating competency-based learning in K-12 schools. A group of prestigious private high schools recently began pushing for colleges to accept competency-based high school transcripts, which highlight students’ skills and accomplishments instead of more-traditional grades.

But the state legislatures seem to mostly be contemplating how to use competency-based education to serve adults. Lexi Anderson, the report’s author, notes that states’ competency-based education bills mostly target the growing population of people over 25 who are enrolled in postsecondary education.

“[C]ompetency-based education serves to award credit/degrees to students for meeting specific skill competencies agreed upon by faculty, industry leaders, and workforce representatives,” she writes. “This innovative delivery model could create greater access to postsecondary education for returning adults, low-income students, and working adults needing additional skills.”

Government Book Getting August Update

Here Is Your Indiana Government: 2017-18 Edition is the most comprehensive guide to governance in the Hoosier state. Since its development in 1942, this book has been used by communities and hundreds of thousands of students (from sixth grade to college level) to learn about Indiana and how Hoosiers govern themselves. A variety of local government and agency updates will be included in the new edition.

Topics include:

  • Interesting facts about Indiana (demographics, state song, motto, origin of county names, notable natives, etc.)
  • Historical highlights of Indiana government development
  • State government (explanation of its departments/agencies and their functions, updated budget information, contact information including phone numbers and web addresses)
  • County government (origins of the counties, the elective county administrative officials and their function, council function, powers of the counties, services)
  • Cities and towns (creation, city classifications, incorporated towns, municipal government, public works)
  • Township government (divisions, schools, boards)

Here Is Your Indiana Government is sponsored by Questa Education Foundation and will ship in August.

Large quantity discount pricing is available as follows:

  • 1 to 9 copies: $21.50 each
  • 10 to 25 copies: $14.50 each
  • 26 to 50 copies: $12.00 each
  • 51 to 75 copies: $10.50 each
  • 76 to 100 copies: $9.50 each
  • 101 or more: $9.00 each

Call (800) 824-6885 with questions or if you’re interested in purchasing the book as an ePub (online edition).

We Can Check These Education Matters Off the List (For Now)

For the last decade, the Chamber has strongly advocated to have a state-funded high quality pre-K program for children from low-income families. While we were successful in achieving a small pilot program for five counties a few years ago, we were able to significantly increase the state’s investment this legislative session. The Chamber helped to lead a strong coalition of community leaders, businesses, philanthropies and providers to achieve $44 million appropriated in the two-year budget (HB 1001) to expand the pilot. We can now increase the number of counties from the original five to up to 20, with a preference given to rural areas.

Separately, we successfully advocated for a lowering of the county match of dollars from a base of 10% down to 5%. In addition, we worked on offering up to 20% of the appropriated dollars to be used for capacity-building grants to allow for providers to grow more high-quality placements. This was a priority for both the House and Senate leadership, as well as Gov. Holcomb and the final bills passed with strong bipartisan votes of 82-16 and 31-19, respectively.

The Chamber also were able to pass a bill (SB 248) that would allow small school corporations situated in the same or adjoining counties to consolidate services if 20% of legal voters in both school districts petition the trustees of their respective school corporations. A small school consolidation grant that was originally included in this bill was moved into the budget to help offset costs. The Indiana Chamber has been supportive of this legislation in previous sessions and most recently, the Indiana Chamber Foundation has commissioned and is finalizing a study that shows the direct correlation between smaller school corporations and lower postsecondary attainment for students.

The Chamber has had a long-standing policy to support the opportunity to reduce administrative costs by merging or consolidating administrative services in smaller school districts, which we believe will in turn reduce the duplication of programs or services, increase cost efficiencies relating to the use of school facilities, plus reduce debt and provide for establishing other cost-cutting measures.

And we can now check off a legislative agenda item that the Chamber has been advocating for over 30 years to complete. House Bill 1005 will move the Superintendent of Public Instruction from an elected to appointed position. We had originally advocated for this bill with an effective date of 2021 (and therefore no election in 2020); however, the Senate version of the bill died by surprise on the Senate floor on third reading. That meant to consider the House version (which was virtually identical), the content had to be “substantially different” than the failed bill, per Senate rules.

Therefore, the Senate amended the bill to change the effective date to 2025 and include a residency requirement of two years and have certain educational experience. The Chamber did not support these changes as we felt that Indiana’s education leader should be the best person available and no other appointed state agency position has such required qualifications. However, it was decided by Senate leadership and counsel that the changes had to remain for the measure to proceed. So while we are extremely happy that we were able to get the position appointed, we are disappointed with the additional requirements. The Chamber will continue to advocate for these to be stripped from statute in subsequent sessions, although we feel that it will likely be a very difficult lift.

Workforce Survey: Business Input Needed

The greatest asset of any business is its people. Unfortunately, many organization are facing challenges in workforce and talent development efforts. The Indiana Chamber seeks to provide assistance through various policy and program efforts.

Currently, the Indiana Chamber Foundation’s 10th annual survey of Indiana employers is taking place. Hundreds of human resources professionals and company leaders have already shared their insights on skills shortages, training needs, incentives and more.

The Chamber Foundation is partnering with Walker, an Indiana-based customer experience consulting firm. The survey sponsor is WGU Indiana. Check out its brief video on “Why We’re Different”:

Among the recent trends: Companies that left Indiana jobs unfilled in 2015 due to under-qualified applicants increased to 45% – compared to 43% and 39%, respectively, for the prior two years.

In addition, 27% of respondents identified filling their workforce and meeting talent needs as ­­their biggest challenge. Another 49% categorized the talent needs as “challenging but not their biggest challenge.” The 76% total exceeds the numbers for 2015 (74%; 24% biggest challenge) and 2014 (72%; 20% biggest challenge).

View more on the 2016 results. If you have not received the survey from Walker and are interested in participating or learning more, contact Shelley Huffman at shuffman@indianachamber.com or (317) 264-7548.

Indiana Chamber Opposes Teacher Evaluations Bill

The Indiana Chamber opposes SB 35, which provides that a school corporation may use objective measures of student achievement as part of a teacher evaluation plan. (Current law provides that the use of an objective measure of student achievement is required as part of a teacher evaluation plan.)

While there are potentially some issues with teacher evaluations and those issues should be addressed at a more comprehensive level, it is a longstanding Chamber policy that teacher evaluations are extremely important and that student objective measures should be included in the evaluation process.

Note that last year, HEA 1395 (which did decouple the test results from the evaluations for one year) passed with the Chamber’s qualified support. This is because we felt that the administration of the ISTEP test – not the exam itself – was flawed. There is already local control when determining how much student objective measures will be attributed toward teacher evaluations and what objectives should be included in addition to the statewide assessment.

In addition, while many complain about including student objective measures in evaluations, it does not seem to have a negative impact in effectiveness ratings for teachers (98% were rated effective or highly effective in the most recent evaluations).

The bill was heard in the Senate Education Committee last Wednesday and held until this week for amendment and vote.

Concerns Over Education Matters Bill

The Indiana Chamber opposes, in part, SB 108, which eliminates the requirement that the Department of Education must publish a model compensation plan. It also:

  • Eliminates a requirement that each school corporation shall submit its local compensation plan to the department
  • Eliminates a requirement that the department must publish the local compensation plans on the department’s web site
  • Removes requirements that the: (1) department shall report any noncompliance of a school that fails to submit its compensation plan; and (2) State Board of Education shall take appropriate action to ensure compliance
  • Makes changes to the time frame, from four to six years, in which the State Board may take over a failing school
  • Provides that a principal or superintendent, or the principal’s or superintendent’s designee, may recommend an individual to participate in the Indiana high school equivalency diploma program

The Indiana Chamber testified against the provision concerning failing school interventions. We feel strongly that the trigger threshold of State Board of Education intervention should be kept at the current rate of four years instead of the drafted language of six years. It is important to keep our schools strong and accountable for our students, and six years is simply waiting too long to act regarding an underperforming school; our students deserve better.

The bill was heard in the Senate Education Committee last Wednesday and held until this week for amendment and vote.