Suite Deal: New York Life Partners With Local School

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Partnerships between the business community and local schools are nothing new. More and more are taking place in relation to athletic facilities. In Westfield, New York Life has taken a different approach by hosting a special hospitality suite for the last two years at local high school football games.

“We were looking for an opportunity to get involved with the community and let people know of our presence in the area,” says Alex Clark, a representative with the local office of the insurance and financial services firm. “For us, it allows people to see us every other week. They like to work with someone they know, someone who is helping out in the community.”

img_2380The firm hosts various groups – police and firefighters, school guidance counselors and Westfield alumni as examples – as well as winners of a random drawing for each game. The suite area offers catered food, camaraderie with fellow attendees and an excellent view of the game. (Westfield compiled a 7-2 regular season record this year and will open the playoffs Friday at Lafayette Jefferson).

Group sizes have ranged from 30 to 55, with an average of about 40 attendees at each game. The reactions are all positive.

“There’s a lot of buzz. Parents who are coming say, ‘We’ve heard about it, we were curious, you guys have really done a nice job’ and they’re very appreciative of what we’ve provided for them,” Clark confirms. “They’re thrilled and excited. Once they get to come and see the space, they’re really in shock how nice it is.”

New York Life has the benefit of a 171-year corporate history, but Clark notes, “So much of what we do is built on relationships. People can find products and services we offer anywhere. But they choose to do business with us based on the strength of our company and the relationships between our clients and our advisers.”

A-F School Grades and Accountability Debate Continues

The newly-redesigned Indiana State Board of Education (SBOE) met recently for the second time this year with what seemed to be very little fireworks and drama. However, there was a very serious and important discussion regarding A-F grades and accountability that is important to watch.

As a reminder, an overhauled ISTEP exam was designed last year to align with recently adopted college and career readiness standards in Indiana. Complaints from parents and teachers were significant regarding the length of testing time for the ISTEP exam earlier this year. The redesigned test was expected to take upwards of 12 hours – more than double the time of previous years. Fortunately, the Legislature – with assistance by the Chamber – was successful in passing legislation allowing the test to be significantly shortened by three hours.

Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz stated during the July 1 SBOE meeting that other states, specifically New York and Kentucky, have seen dramatic drops in passing rates of students for the first year a change is made in standards and high-stakes exams. Therefore, Ritz provided a list of options for the State Board to discuss on how to handle this situation and suggested a proposal she called “hold harmless” that would assign the better A-F grades between the 2013-2014 year and the 2014-2015 year.

Her reasoning was that even a small deviation in test scores due to the increased rigor of the test could cause schools to drop two letter grades with the potential of the number of schools that would receive an F to more than double. Ritz fears that would cause many schools in Indiana to be unfairly labeled as failing, as well as public image issues and misunderstanding. This is not the first time Ritz has called for a pause of accountability; she has done so many times previously for various reasons to delay sanctions and consequences of lower test scores for schools (also part of her campaign platform) – only to have the SBOE and Indiana General Assembly quickly dismiss the idea.

This go-round, SBOE members had significant concerns over Ritz’s proposal. Sarah O’Brien, who was elected earlier that morning as the group’s new vice chair, stated that this discussion was extremely premature – as grades had not yet even been assigned. Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) officials stated that they expect ISTEP scores this year to be released in November, with A-F grades to follow in December. SBOE member Gordon Hendry added his concerns regarding transparency, as parents of schools with lower grades would not know that their school’s grades had actually dropped.

There was also significant discussion as to whether the 12 options (including the one that Ritz supported) would even be legal. However, some of the options, including the one supported by IDOE, would not need changes in state law or approval from the U.S. Department of Education. State Board members made a recommendation and voted to have Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller’s office review the 12 options and provide a legal opinion as to which option, if any, would be best for Indiana. Further discussions and a vote of support would be the next step for the SBOE and then a waiver to the U.S. Department of Education would be filed.

The Indiana Chamber fully supports transparency and accountability when it comes to grades for Hoosier students and schools. Creating a strong and dynamic workforce is a key goal of our strategic plan, Indiana Vision 2025. Having accountability measures means that we can accurately predict Hoosier students’ progress in school, rate teacher effectiveness and compare and contrast how schools are performing compared to their peers around the state. It is imperative that ALL children have access to strong schools and an educational foundation in order to become productive members of our future workforce.

Update on the Way for Indiana Government Book

HereIsYourIndianaGov15Here Is Your Indiana Government: 2015-16 Edition is the most comprehensive guide to governance in the Hoosier state.

Since its development in 1942, this book has been used by the community 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)

Large quantity discount pricing is available as follows:

  • 1 to 9 copies: $19.50 each
  • 10 to 25 copies: $12.50 each
  • 26 to 50 copies: $10.00 each
  • 51 to 75 copies: $8.50 each
  • 76 to 100 copies: $7.50 each
  • 101 or more: $7.00 each

To place your order, call (800) 824-6885, order online or email [email protected]

A Brave New Education World in Buckeye State

Public policy in Ohio (not unlike many other states) has not been kind to education innovation. But despite the roadblocks, online charters — or virtual schools — have experienced strong growth.

We’ll share some info from the Fordham Institute. While based in Washington, Fordham has its roots (as well as an office) in Ohio and is active as a charter school organizer and energetic advocate for students. It reports:

Despite a moratorium on new charter e-schools (installed five years ago) enrollment in online programs has risen by 46 percent, with 29,000 students now served by such programs.

Ohio must rethink how we use technology in education, and embrace nontraditional, non brick-and-mortar models.

Almost 30,000 students are served by a virtual charter school. Ohio’s credit flexibility plan allows students to earn credit for distance learning, internships, community service, and other educational experiences (and doesn’t require a standard amount of “seat time”).

While undoing seat-time requirements and exploring hybrid models represent uncharted territory for most Ohio educators, there was general consensus that it’s inevitable. This is the pathway down which education is headed – and it’s exciting. The possibilities for using online learning to improve student achievement are exponential, and we’re not taking full advantage of it (yet). Further, a proficiency or mastery-based model makes better sense for students and districts should introduce online learning as an intervention for those students having trouble mastering content. This is good for students, and the messaging is much more palatable than introducing technology in a manner that frightens teachers (they may fear it will take their jobs).

Lastly, online learning “unbundles” teachers’ skills and is more efficient than current learning models. For example, teachers who are adept at teaching AP physics or statistics can teach those courses traditionally and in an online format (and reach hundreds more students) rather than teaching AP courses along with basic courses or myriad subjects, etc. And since the online program presents the content (in various modalities suited to kids), virtual teachers spend less time presenting content and more time explaining, trouble-shooting, and interacting one-on-one with students. Isn’t this what parents and educators want more of?

Keeping Tabs on For-Profit Schools’ Federal Aid

For-profit colleges will likely be required to disclose information about their programs’ job placement rates, graduation rates and other statistics so the U.S. Department of Education can calculate graduates’ debt load and income, a New York Times article reports this week.

Ultimately that data could make a school ineligible for federal financial aid based on graduates’ debt in relation to their income if it doesn’t meet a certain ratio (which has not been finalized). The original idea was “cutting off federal aid to programs whose graduates could not repay their student loans in 10 years with 8% of the income,” the story notes.

Wondering what exactly constitutes a for-profit school? The proposed rule would affect the likes of Harrison College and ITT Technical Institute – both based in Indiana.

I wrote about this fast growing higher education sector in a March/April  BizVoice® story. Read about how for-profit schools don’t receive taxpayer dollars directly (like IU, Purdue and other public schools); instead they are large consumers of federal student aid. Nationally, for-profit schools received about one-fifth of federal financial aid each year.

It’s stats that like that have the Department of Education evaluating whether these same programs are a drain on federal aid while leaving graduates in low-paying jobs with no way to pay off the debt. The final rules are expected to be published in November and take effect in July 2011, the NYT reports.

While this regulation wouldn’t disqualify all for-profit schools from financial aid, I imagine such rules could continue to feed many perceptions about the industry. Read what leaders at Indiana for-profit schools have to say about how their programs are built around top-demand jobs in Indiana.

Chavous: Time for Education is Now

Kevin Chavous doesn’t mince words when it comes to education. And if a few more people shared his passion for truly leaving no child behind, all of us (particularly our students) would be the beneficiaries.

During his Wednesday speech to the Economic Club of Indiana, the Indianapolis native and Wabash College graduate said (and backed up the opinions):

  •  “Nothing is more important to the future of this country than the education of our young people.”
  • “Public education is, by and large, failing our children.” He called it unconscionable that as many as 80% of African American males that enter the Indianapolis Public Schools system eventually are dropouts
  • “It’s intolerable to accept mediocrity (in our schools), and that is what we do.”
  • “Innovation and creativity need to be tailored toward kids’ best interest, not the systems’ best interest.”
  • “The system snuffs the lifeblood out of the best and brightest teachers.”
  • “No bureaucracy has reformed itself from within. It has to come from citizens and parents.”

Need proof of a system that is broken? Chavous offers New York’s “rubber room,” where incompetent teachers sit (and get paid, sometimes for years) while in the process of being fired; California teachers get automatic tenure for life with no reviews after two years on the job (while the union itself admits it takes five to seven years to know if a teacher is capable of doing a good job); and a Washington, D.C. union negotiating plank that all teachers must leave the building by 3:15 p.m. or police will be called (no more working or helping students than the minimum).

A lawyer in Washington, Chavous has been an education reformer within the city and around the country. He gives three reasons why Americans should be outraged at our country’s declining education performance:

  1. A moral imperative to not abandon the many students who are not given a chance to succeed beyond their early years
  2. A public safety analysis that revealed a 10% high school graduation increase would lead to a 20% reduction in the murder rate, fewer incarcerations and more productive citizens
  3. An economic report that showed closing the achievement gaps of students of color, poor students and students compared to their international peers would result in gross domestic product increases of billions and trillions of dollars

Chavous served on President Obama’s education policy team during the campaign, but vehemently opposed the administration’s decision to cut funding for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. His guiding principles on education policy: “The question I ask myself is, ‘Will this proposal help a child or group of children learn? If the answer is yes, I support it.’" And his closing comment on what all need to focus on moving forward – "what’s in the best interest of children, not adults?"

Education makes an encore appearance at the February 23 Economic Club luncheon with Tom Snyder, president of Ivy Tech Community College.

New York City Schools See Benefits of Making Kids Earn Promotion

The Foundry blog of the Heritage Foundation has an interesting post about the gains New York City schools have made by not allowing undeserving students to move forward. They write:

New evidence shows that ending social promotion – the practice of allowing students to advance a grade level without having mastered the content of their current grade – is having a positive result in student testing. A new study released on October 15th by the RAND corp. shows how New York City seventh graders who were held back as fifth graders have made academic gains.

The study, which looks at the effectiveness of the New York City Department of Education’s 2003 grade promotion policy, finds that fifth-graders who were held back due to low testing scores in math and language arts tested better as seventh-graders than did their peers who also tested low but advanced to grade six anyway. The policy, which put an end to social promotion for fifth-graders in 2003-04, has since been expanded to include grades five through eight.

Students in the Big Apple aren’t the only benefactors of the new policy. New York City Schools’ Chancellor Joel Klein takes notice of the success Florida has also had by ending social promotion. Klein writes about the similarities that exist between the policies Florida has implemented and those New York City is trying to implement in Education Next:

“Like Florida’s schools, New York City’s serve a high-needs population. But we are not allowing demographics to define our outcomes. Since 2002, our students have made steady progress. Today, far more students are meeting and exceeding standards in math and reading. We’ve substantially narrowed the racial and ethnic achievement gap, our students are catching up to students in the rest of the state, and our graduation rate is the highest it has been in decades.”

Bennett Stresses Reward for Quality Teaching Over Seniority

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett spoke to the Columbia City Rotary Club Tuesday and emphasized his hope to keep the best teachers in Indiana’s school corporations. The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette has the story; here it is in full:

Indiana public schools need to be centers for student learning, not employment agencies for adults, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett said Tuesday.

Teacher contracts need to be overhauled so that if layoffs occur, it’s the worst-performing teachers who lose their jobs, not the ones with the least seniority, Bennett told members of the Columbia City Rotary Club.

“We have to have the political courage to have any and every discussion that puts children first,” Bennett said. “We’ve built a system that really doesn’t do that. So I think we all have to have the courage to say what are the structures that will afford us the opportunity to make decisions that are best for Indiana children.”

Bennett echoed the sentiments of Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Eugene White, who told legislators this session he would be in favor of repealing the law that allows collective bargaining for teachers so he could overhaul his schools with the right people in the right spots.

Bennett offered a four-point system for how Indiana’s schools can become the best in the nation.

He compared these goals with President John F. Kennedy’s goal he outlined Sept. 12, 1962, that the United States win the race to the moon.

“I think we need to go back to Sept. 12, 1962, if we’re going to talk about education,” Bennett said. “The world our kids compete in today is very different than the world in 1962.”

Bennett is challenging Hoosiers to acknowledge that students are in a competition for jobs; change the discussion from how to get more money for education to how to get more education for the money; put student learning before assuring jobs for adults; and develop a system that recruits, trains, rewards and evaluates teachers as professionals.

“We have to take a hard look at how we expend our resources,” Bennett said.

Among the goals for the Indiana Department of Education during Bennett’s first term, he said, is for 90 percent of Hoosier students to pass the ISTEP+ and for 90 percent to graduate high school.

“If this is a fight we’re afraid of fighting, we’re in trouble,” Bennett said.

Hat tip to twitter.com/INEducation.

Ball State Study Examines Complex Issue of Schools and Social Media

Ball State University sent out a press release last week titled, "Study: Principals want to rein in student digital communications." It’s very interesting, so we thought we’d share:

MUNCIE, Ind. – Most high school administrators believe they have the right to control student messaging on and off school grounds even while social networking and digital communications have exploded in popularity among teens, says a new study from Ball State University.

A national survey of about 400 high school principals and administrators found that principals not only want to control e-mail, instant messaging, texting and Web sites, but also have the ability to punish students for irresponsible communications conducted outside of school.

"Principals are very apprehensive when it comes to digital communications, the Internet and certainly any types of emerging media that teens will embrace," said Warren Watson, director of J-Ideas, the First Amendment education institute at Ball State. He co-authored the study with Adam Maksl, a Ball State journalism instructor, and Vincent Filak, a former Ball State journalism professor now at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.

The survey is part of a longitunal study that examines high school principals’ attitudes regarding free expression between 2004 and 2009. This was the first time principals were asked about their opinion on digital communications.

Watson said many principals indicated the urge to control communications among today’s teens, who have grown up in a world of cell phones, laptop computers and on-demand digital services.

"Many principals are much older and simply don’t want to deal with any type of digital communications," Watson said. "They wish it would all go away, but when a perceived problem pops up, they feel like they have to do something. So, they often punish first and ask questions later." Continue reading

Maybe Should’ve Sat This One Out

Like those in public school districts throughout the nation, Indiana’s superintendents and educators often find themselves being frugal, attempting to get the most out of their budgets. And it’s an effort that Hoosier taxpayers certainly appreciate.

So if you’re one of these folks and are looking for tips toward school budget success, here’s a little hint on what not to do from the Show Me state: You might start by not sending 16 educators to a conference in Los Angeles, thereby costing local taxpayers over $30,000 — especially when it’s well-known you have minimal funds and other local districts only sent one or zero people to said conference.

Worse yet, you might want to be ready to explain some things when a local TV reporter presses you about it. Check out this tough-to-watch educational PR disaster in St. Louis. It’s a piece I like to call, "So You’re Saying A Group of Teachers Attended the Conference."

Hat tip to Ragan’s PR Junkie.