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 [email protected].

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 [email protected] 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

Charter Schools: More Attacks, More Misunderstanding

A new report from Indiana University’s Center for Evaluation and Education Policy (CEEP) notes continuing misunderstanding about charter schools – while spurring even more headlines throughout the state that are actually adding to that confusion rather than clearing up gross misperceptions. Indeed, the report has already caused one state legislator, Rep. Vernon Smith (D-Gary), to call for a moratorium on charter schools.

At the heart of CEEP’s report is the short-sighted suggestion that charter schools in Indiana are performing no better than traditional public schools.

To draw that conclusion, the report ignores the academic starting point of charter school students and notes only that charter school students are passing ISTEP at similar rates as traditional public schools in the same geographic area.

Yet, it has already been well-documented – and inexcusably ignored by CEEP – that most charter schools enroll the poorest performing students from the district in which they are located. It is the student who is struggling whose parents seek an alternative, not the student who is already doing well. Thus, if the ISTEP pass rates for charter schools match the districts in which they are located, then the more important story is that charter schools are showing greater success with students who did not do well in their former schools. Continue reading

New State School Chief to be Chosen in November

After 16 years, Suellen Reed’s reign as superintendent of public instruction is nearing the end. Voters will choose this November between a new Republican nominee, Dr. Tony Bennett, who is currently the superintendent of the Greater Clark County Schools, and the Democrat nominee, Dr. Dick Wood, who just retired as superintendent of Tippecanoe School Corporation.

Over the next several months, we can expect to hear at least some debate on which of these gentlemen will best carry on the 16-year legacy of Reed. School leaders, who are largely happy with Reed, will be looking for someone who can continue on her role as chief defender of all that is good in public schools. Meanwhile, those of us interested in reform will be looking for a candidate who can return leadership and new ideas to the office. 

It is difficult to say what Reed and her supporters will tout as her accomplishments. She opposed most of the leading reforms that occurred during her tenure, including: revision of our state standards, reform of the ISTEP test and establishment of Core 40 as a graduation requirement. She was also largely silent during consideration of charter school legislation and then nearly killed the movement in its infancy with her administration of charter school funding. 

In the absence of other leadership, Gov. Daniels has tried desperately during his first term to provide substantial deregulation for our schools, to force greater financial efficiencies and to raise the dialogue on teacher quality. As Reed has been painfully silent on these issues, many of us are hoping that a new superintendent will help lead on these and other issues that are critical to the future of our schools. 

Perhaps most importantly, many — both in education and outside — are looking forward to a much improved Department of Education. Multiple stories by the Indianapolis Star and others have highlighted the dismal job the department has done on managing critical data such as high school graduation rates. But as highlighted by outside reviews by independent groups like Crowe Chizek, the problems with data are just the beginning of a management overhaul that is long overdue. 

The Indiana Chamber does not endorse candidates in the state superintendent race, but we will be watching carefully what each of these candidates has to say. Nobody can question the passion with which Reed has performed her job for the last four terms, but for the sake of our state, the next superintendent needs to transform that passion to ideas and leadership. 

Let us know your thoughts in the comment section.

Indiana Legislature Adopts School Choice — By Accident

Analysts are continuing to discover the consequences — some intended and some probably not — of the major tax and fiscal reforms contained in HEA 1001-2008.  Perhaps one of the biggest unintended consequences is that Indiana will soon join over 40 other states in allowing parents to send their children to public schools outside of their own district.

For years, Hoosier parents have been allowed to pay tuition, at a rate determined by a formula in state statute, to attend another public school outside of their home district. That rate has been based, approximately, on the amount of per-pupil general fund revenues that have been covered by local property taxes.  For most districts, that amount has been several thousand dollars per student. 

But under HEA 1001, the state will begin paying all of a district’s general fund revenues in January of 2009.  Thus, when schools calculate the amount of local property taxes to determine parent contribution under a "cash transfer" option, that amount will be zero or something close to zero. 

Some school administrators, most of whom had no objections to the transfer policy when parents had to pay thousands of dollars to do it, are now going bonkers. Indeed, the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents may consider a new policy statement this summer that would make it "unethical" for members of the association to accept transfer students. Other school administrators are already talking with legislators to seek their support in "fixing" this unintended outcome. 

Parents who are paying tuition under the current policy, along with those who may seek the option this fall, will need to continue paying the tuition level for the first half of the coming school year. But unless those who oppose parent options get their way in brow-beating superintendents to abandon the option, parents will find a much freer set of options starting in January of 2009.