Saturday, September 15, 2012

Saving Public Education: Get the Facts

Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education (NEIFPE) will hold a meeting on Thursday, October 4th at 7 p.m. in meeting room C of the downtown public library. The subject of the meeting is "Saving Public Education: Get the Facts." All those interested in preserving public schools for our children are welcome.

Allen County Public Library
900 Library Plaza
Fort Wayne Indiana 46802
(260) 421-1200

Get Directions

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Vic’s Election Notes on Education #2– September 12, 2012

Dear Friends,

Tony Bennett’s flawed A-F system is hurting efforts to bring jobs to Indiana.

The Mayor of Goshen drove three hours to bring that message to the only public hearing on the A-F model last January. His community was working overtime to attract new businesses, and the first thing businesses ask is about the quality of the schools. He knew the schools were top notch, serving a student population of great diversity, but Tony Bennett’s grading system was undervaluing the schools in his community. For the sake of economic development, he asked for a revised plan to grade schools.

He was ignored, but in an election season when jobs and the economy are the biggest issues, Tony Bennett should have listened. Since January, I have heard many express the mayor’s concern, asking: Why would Tony Bennett want to undervalue and degrade the schools of Indiana when our communities are struggling with the Great Recession and the loss of jobs? Why wouldn’t he want a more accurate and more realistic profile of our schools to be available for economic development efforts?

Is the A-F system unfair in the way it devalues many Indiana schools?

Clearly and definitively, the answer is yes.

What is the evidence of this injustice?

Florida was Tony Bennett’s role model as he worked to change Indiana’s PL221 to a letter grade system, a change that has been one of the signature efforts of his four-year term as state superintendent. He brought Jeb Bush to Indiana to speak to the Roundtable in September of 2009 about Florida’s system. He brought Florida leaders to testify during legislative debates. Thus, the comparison between Indiana scores and Florida scores on the National Assessment, which some of you have seen, is crucial.

The comparison shows that Indiana students, on the same test, absolutely outscored Florida students on 4th and 8th grade math, most recently by 3% and 9% respectively, and on 8th grade reading, most recently by 5%. The same pattern has held true during the last four national assessments. Only 4th grade reading scores favored Florida over Indiana, which were the only data presented to the Roundtable meeting when Jeb Bush visited. For those who prefer to look at the proficient standard for high ability students, the same pattern holds. Overall, Indiana has consistently outperformed Florida on the National Assessment.

Then why, one must ask, is Tony Bennett ready to impose a grading system that, by IDOE figures released in February, would give D’s or F’s to 22% of Indiana’s schools, while Florida gives D’s or F’s to only 6% of its schools? He has incorrectly calibrated this system and given Indiana schools lower grades than they deserve to the detriment of economic development in communities across Indiana. Indiana does not deserve school letter grades that are over three times lower than Florida.

When I presented this Indiana vs. Florida comparison in testimony to the Select Commission on Education in June, I heard only one weak response from IDOE officials. They told the Select Commission that Florida had higher numbers of low grades when they started their system several years back, and now Indiana can expect to have higher numbers of low grades as we begin our system.

Think about that for a moment. That kind of reasoning is why we are having trouble in Indiana.

I characterize this as a weak response because it ignores the fact that the National Assessment shows the most recent performance of both states, and Indiana clearly outscores Florida. This reality should have nothing to do with phase in expectations or start-up issues. If Indiana is currently outperforming Florida, our letter grades should be at least in the same ballpark as Florida’s.

Is there additional evidence?

The National Assessment provides direct and devastating evidence of how Tony Bennett’s A-F system defames and devalues the schools of Indiana compared to Florida, but it is not the only evidence available on this issue. In addition, there is corroborating evidence that Indiana schools do not deserve a kick in the teeth. Take a look at the last 22 years of historical trends in Indiana schools on ten indicators, as seen on page 2 HERE. These data show whether Indiana has gone up or down over the years on everything from attendance and graduation rates to SAT and ISTEP scores. Then the range of results for the past 22 years is displayed. As you will see on the bottom line, the conclusion is that on eight of the ten indicators studied, Indiana stands at or near its historic high. Our schools on most points have never been better. We currently have the best graduation rate in our history – 85.7%-- and our lowest dropout rate in our history – 6.1%.

This provides additional evidence that Indiana schools deserve far better than Tony Bennett’s A-F system.

The second attachment shows the two summary pages of my 22-year review of Indiana public school improvement. If you would like a copy of all ten tables and the full 16 page report, just send me an email or click HERE to download a copy.

When will we see the grades?

The rollout of Tony Bennett’s flawed A-F system is off to a shaky start and has become an issue in itself.

Instead of approving preliminary school grades at the August 30th State Board meeting as originally scheduled in the board agenda, Dr. Bennett revised the agenda on the day of the meeting and announced an 11-day delay until September 10th. After schools get their preliminary grades on that date, he said they would have until September 21st to appeal. He said that the State Board would approve the grades and make them public on October 3rd, the day of the next State Board meeting.

While he tried to put a good face on this delay, Dr. Bennett can’t be pleased that his grading system, one of the biggest initiatives in his four-year term, missed its first announced deadline in the midst of his first reelection campaign. I have heard three questions as people speculate on the cause of the delay: 1) Is his staff too small for calculations that are too complex? 2) Are so many highly regarded schools about to get low grades that he wanted to recheck every figure to be ready to defend the system? and 3) Is this the first of a series of delays designed to delay school grade announcements until after the election, so that the heat that is sure to come over unfair grades will fall after the voting on November 6th?

Or is it all of the above?

And now word came this week on September 10th of another delay, saying that preliminary school letter grades “will be released later this week.” Does anyone want to add more speculation about what caused a second delay?


That the A-F system has become an issue in the November 6th election is a natural result of our democracy. When all 35 speakers testified against the flawed system in the only public hearing last January, Tony Bennett didn’t listen. He didn’t even attend the hearing. Over the objections of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, the Indiana Public Charter School Association, and many other groups and individuals, he got the system passed through his sheer power over the State Board of Education.

When the Indiana Chamber of Commerce called in June for a putting this system on hold for a year to repair the flaws, Tony Bennett didn’t listen. He said he had to comply with the federal waiver that he wrote.

Clearly, objecting to federal control is not in Tony Bennett’s mindset.

Besides incorrectly calibrating the school letter grades to a more punitive result than Indiana schools deserve, there are two major, and I would say illegal, flaws in Tony Bennett’s A-F system:

1) It does not set up categories of improvement as the law requires.
“IC 20-31-8-3 Sec. 3. The state board shall establish a number of categories or designations of school improvement based on the improvement that a school makes in performance of the measures determined by the board with the advice of the education roundtable. The categories or designations must reflect various levels of improvement.”
Instead of setting up categories based on improvement or growth, Tony Bennett’s system bases letter grades on performance. The most important factor in the school grade will be the performance of the school on math and English tests. The base grade is only tweaked based on growth. The Indiana Chamber of Commerce noted this as the first problem in their list of objections presented to the Select Commission, saying that the focus on the pass/fail rate “incentives continuing focus on the bubble kids”, referring to the problem that students who are close to getting over the cut score get the most attention. We need a system that gets us away from over-attention to the “bubble kids.”

2) The growth model used for bonuses and penalties is based, not on a clear criterion score, but on the performance of peers across the state.

School leaders are frustrated that they can’t calculate their own grade without statewide data they don’t have regarding growth. The bonuses and the penalties for growth can only be calculated based on each individual’s growth compared to the total state performance of peers. This, in my view, violates IC 20-31-8-2(b): (b) The department shall assess improvement in the following manner: (1) Compare each school and each school corporation with its own prior performance and not to the performance of other schools or school corporations. The labeling of high and low growth students does indeed use comparisons involving the students of other schools and school corporations.

The only remaining path to repairing the A-F system is at the ballot box on November 6th. Elections are the accountability system for leaders who ignore their stakeholders.

Glenda Ritz has called for a revised A-F system. She listens. I support Glenda Ritz for State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

I urge you to support Glenda Ritz in any way you can, with yard signs, bumper stickers or by talking with family members, neighbors and friends. The general public knows very little about the A-F system and the injustice to our schools that I have just described. Help your friends and neighbors understand this issue, and ask them to support Glenda Ritz to remedy this problem.

Best wishes,

Vic Smith

“Vic’s Election Notes on Education” is not linked to any organization and is not being distributed by me to any organization. It is only being distributed to those who have previously sent personal requests for my commentaries. If you want to pass it along to others, you do not need to ask my permission. If you want to be taken off the distribution list, just let me know. If you know of others who want to be added to the list, just send me an email.

Attachments (Click to view):

1. Table: Why Indiana Does Not Deserve Significantly Lower Letter Grades Than Florida

2. A Twenty-two Year Review: Improvement in Indiana's Schools


Friday, September 7, 2012

Write to the Select Commission on Education

To our Indiana friends,

Join us at NEIFPE in flooding the mailboxes of the Select Commission on Education in Indiana.

We suggest that you attach one of the documents from our blog with a brief personal note to each of these committee members letting them know that we are informed, we are concerned, and we are voters. For this first week, we suggest sending the Cost of Testing brochure.

Click HERE to download a copy of the brochure to attach to your emails. You can also find the brochure and other documents under INFORMATION AND DOCUMENTS in the right column of this blog.

To email all members at once click on the ALL MEMBERS link below.


To email individual members click on the email address next to the individual's name.

Rep. Robert Behning, Co-Chairperson -
Rep. Rhonda Rhoads -
Rep. Timothy Brown -
Rep. Edward Clere -
Rep. David Frizzell -
Rep. Kathleen Heuer -
Rep. Cindy Noe -
Rep. Jeffrey Thompson -
Rep. Greg Porter -
Rep. David Cheatham -
Rep. Clyde Kersey -
Rep. Vernon Smith -
Rep. Shelli Vandenburgh -

Sen. Dennis Kruse, Co-Chair -
Sen. Carlin Yoder -
Sen. James Banks -
Sen. James Buck -
Sen. Luke Kenley -
Sen. Jean Leising -
Sen. Scott Schneider -
Sen. Earline Rogers -
Sen. Frank Mrvan -
Sen. Timothy Skinner -

Monday, September 3, 2012

Cost of Testing -- CORRECTION

There is a correction to the Cost of Testing documents on this blog.

Due to an error the Cost of Testing documents indicated that ISTEP was given in grades 3, 4, 5, 6 and 8. A reader pointed out the obvious error. ISTEP is given in all grades 3 through 8. Please download a new copy, make this correction on any copies you might have already downloaded, or indicate the change to other recipients, before you distribute copies.

The Cost of Testing blog entry of September 3, has been corrected as have the Word document version and the pdf version.

Thanks for all your support.

Cost of Testing Information

The Costs of
High Stakes Testing

What Informed Citizens 
Need to Know about
Standardized Testing in
Our Public Schools

Tests in Indiana

I-READ 3 – mandatory test for all third graders
I-READ K-2 – reading test not mandatory at present
I-STEP+ - language arts math, social studies and/or science tests mandatory for grades 3-8
English 10 ECA – mandatory test for all high school students to graduate
Algebra 1 ECA – mandatory test for all high school students to graduate
Biology 1 ECA – mandatory test for all high school students to graduate
ISTAR and IMAST - tests that replace ISTEP for special needs students
LAS – Links – test for English Language Learners
mCLASS – K-2 assessments in literacy and math
NWEA and Acuity – tests that measure reading, math, and language on the computer several times a year
SRI or AR – reading tests that check comprehension
DRA – developmental reading assessment for K-5
DIBELS – one-on-one assessment to monitor early reading progress
PALS – proficiency aligned learning skills matching state standards
NAEP - test given to a random sample in grades 4, 8 and 12

Check with your child’s school to learn which assessments are given and how much time is dedicated to them.

Cost of Testing

The Indiana Department of Education estimates the cost of testing to be $46,229,751 for the 2012-2013 school year.
This $46,229,751 could be used to:
  • repair buildings and infrastructure of schools
  • pay the salaries and benefits of at least a thousand teachers
  • purchase laptop computers and iPads for most students

Time for Testing

Elementary educators estimate they spend about six weeks of the 36 week school year on test preparation and administration. Tests focus on reading and math, leaving little time for the following:
  • Social Studies and Civics
  • Art and Music
  • Science and Physical Education
What will be the cost of testing in time and money when the 2014-2015 implementation of the Common Core Standards adds additional tests?
For more information about the Common Core, visit Indiana's Common Core Standards: Indiana Department of Education

As parents, educators, and concerned citizens, we think there are a number of questions that should be considered about high stakes testing.
  • What do we want children to learn? What do they really need to know?
  • Is standardized testing the most effective way to measure student learning?
  • What teaching methods are developmentally appropriate to promote learning?
  • Should we teach children how to learn, how to think, and how to question?
  • Do current policies encourage the education of every child?
  • What are the Common Core Standards and how much testing will be involved?
  • What are the implications of these standards for your child?
  • Should standardized test results be used to evaluate teachers?
  • How much money is being spent on standardized tests?

What can you do?

Click HERE to download a copy of this pamphlet or see all our fact sheets under INFORMATION AND FACT SHEETS in the right hand column of this blog.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Diane Ravitch Offers Suggestions

Diane Ravitch gives some suggestions on what you can do to help turn things around for public schools.

Many people have asked what they can do to try to change the conditions and misguided policies that I describe in my book. Wherever I go, the same question comes up: What can we do? How do we stop these bad policies and programs? Whether they are parents, teachers, administrators, school board members or citizens concerned about the future of our children and our society, they want ideas about how to persuade our elected officials to change course.

Education used to be a state and local function. Unfortunately, since the passage of No Child Left Behind in 2001–02, the levers of power now are in the hands of federal officials. With Republicans and Democrats both advocating policies that endanger the future of public education, the situation seems dire indeed. Unfortunately, many of our nation’s wealthiest philanthropies and individuals embrace the misuse of testing and accountability and the advance of privatization.

The odds against us seem overwhelming, but we cannot afford to do nothing. We must take action. At present, the Obama administration is embarked on a course of action that many find repugnant. The Race to the Top is built on the foundation of No Child Left Behind. It emphasizes high-stakes testing, judging teachers by their students’ test scores, closing low-performing schools instead of helping them improve, and promoting a huge increase in private management of public schools. These approaches will narrow the curriculum and promote teaching to the test, which will rob children of the opportunity for a good education. Furthermore, none of these strategies has a solid research base, none has been proven effective in practice, all have the potential to disrupt students’ education, demoralize teachers, and shatter communities. The burden of these policies will fall heavily on low-income, minority communities, but many other communities will be affected as well.

What we need to improve education in this country is a strong, highly respected education profession; a rich curriculum in the arts and sciences, available in every school for every child; assessments that gauge what students know and can do, instead of mindless test prepping for bubble tests. And a government that is prepared to change the economic and social conditions that interfere with children’s readiness to learn. We need high-quality early childhood education. We need parent education programs. We need social workers and guidance counselors in the school. Children need physical education every day. And schools should have classes small enough for students to get the attention they need when they need it.

We cannot improve education by quick fixes. We will not fix education by turning public schools over to entrepreneurs. We will not improve it by driving out experienced professionals and replacing them with enthusiastic amateurs. We will not make our schools better by closing them and firing teachers and entire staffs. No high-performing nation in the world follows such strategies. We cannot be satisfied with the status quo, which is not good enough for our children, nor can we satisfied with the Bush-Obama-Duncan “reforms” that have never been proven to work anywhere.

This is what I suggest:
  1. Join Parents Across America. Their website is This is a group of parents who want to work together to strengthen public education and restore common sense reforms.
  2. Write your elected officials. Find out whether any Congressmen or Senators from your state are on the education committee in their House of Congress. Write the members of the education committees even if you don’t live in their state. Ask your colleagues to write letters to them. Write letters to the editor. Comment on education blogs. Call in to talk shows. Speak up at school and community meetings. Speak up, speak out.
  3. Gather a group of teachers, principals, and parents and schedule a meeting with your local legislator, your member of Congress, your state and local representatives. Prepare a list of issues and explain to them how federal and state regulations are harming their schools and what must be done to remove these burdens. Explain that what the media calls “reform“ has no evidence and is actually the opposite of real improvement. Remind them why public education is important and how it matters as a cornerstone of our democracy.
  4. Run for your school board. Run for elected office in your town, your city, your community, your state.
  5. Vote for candidates who pledge to support public education and to fund the needs of children and schools.
  6. Invite local civic and business leaders to spend a day in your classroom and school. Invite them to teach for a day.
  7. Build alliances between teachers, principals, parents, and the local community to support children and the school.
As the great Southern writer Flannery O’Connor wrote in a letter to a friend, “You have to push as hard as the age that pushes against you.”

This age is pushing mighty hard against children, against educators, and against the very concept of good education.

Let’s all push back as hard as we can.

Diane Ravitch