Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Vic’s Election Notes on Education #8– October 29, 2012

Dear Friends,

In Wednesday’s (Oct. 31st) State Board meeting where the A-F letter grades are to be approved and made public, the Public Comments section of the agenda has been moved to the end of the meeting.

Past practice for many years has been to take Public Comments at the beginning of the meeting, shortly after Board Member Comments, and before any business items.

Not this time. Apparently, they didn’t want people like me speaking about the flawed A-F system while all the media and TV crews were there to hear the A-F results. At the end of the meeting after all the business has been done and Public Comments begin, the media folks will be gone.

Nevertheless, I have heard many angry and frustrated educators in the past few weeks objecting to the way this A-F system demeans the reputation of excellent schools, and some school leaders or parent representatives may wish to share their story with the State Board during Public Comments, even if it is at the end of the meeting. State Board members themselves are often left out of the loop when schools complain to the IDOE about the substance of the grading system or about the procedures of the appeals. They often don’t hear about the enormous level of staff time, energy and resources needed to check the school grade data for accuracy and fairness. This is your chance to tell them about your ordeal. To speak, you must sign in before the meeting begins at 9am and observe a 5-minute limit.

Frustrations that I have heard recently from several districts include:
  • Bright Pass + students who repeat as Pass +, scoring well above the cut score for Pass +, who inexplicably are marked as “low growth”.
  • Inability to get questions answered about the data from the IDOE staff. School leaders who have had multiple conversations with IDOE staff report that no more than eight staff members have been assigned to respond to questions, some of whom are quite new to this assignment.
  • Uncertainty in a few cases about whether their appeals would be reviewed and adjudicated before grades are made public on Oct. 31st. Appeals were due to the IDOE by Oct. 24th.
  • The IDOE policy that if IDOE makes data errors they will be corrected, but if the district made an error by including a student in the previously submitted list of students who have been in the school for the required 162 days, the district has to live with its previous error.
Keep in mind that two of the State Board members are new and were not part of the decision to adopt this flawed A-F system. Perhaps telling your story will help them see that a revision is needed.

Other school leaders look at this situation and decide that they will suffer in silence because raising complaints in a public way will hurt their ability to get resources and help from IDOE for their students in other arenas. That is also an understandable position in this difficult climate. What is best for students is paramount.

As for me, retired as I am, I plan to speak at the end of the meeting. What is best for students is a revised A-F system that measures the growth of students against a criterion standard and not against the performance of peers. Putting a “Low Growth” label on an outstanding Pass + student who continues to score well above the Pass + cut score is simply wrong. What is best for students is a revised A-F system that does not demean their school with a low grade it doesn’t deserve. Indiana schools don’t deserve to be treated three times more harshly than Florida when the low grades are handed out. Verifiable National Assessment data that I have shared with you in previous notes confirm that Indiana is clearly outperforming Florida.

Where were Tony Bennett’s Commercials Filmed?

By now, everyone in Indiana has seen the polished Tony Bennett campaign commercials showing him supervising a science lab and looking like a principal monitoring the halls. When out-of-state contributors pushed his campaign fund total to $1.1 million, he could afford to blanket the state with expensive commercials.

Perhaps I was the last to hear this, but a teacher with personal knowledge of the episode has confirmed to me that the commercials were shot at Roncalli High School, a Catholic high school in Indianapolis.

This religious school connection is certainly symbolic of Tony Bennett’s dominant role in the biggest educational policy change in our generation, the decision to give public money to religious schools, as provided in the 2011 voucher law. This law broke a 160-year separation of church school tuition and state funding in Indiana, since the 1851 Constitution was written. It has entwined religion and state educational funding in a way that I believe is unconstitutional. The Indiana Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on this matter on November 21st. This is the election when people like me who think the voucher law was a tremendous error can express our feelings by voting against Tony Bennett.

Let the Ground Game for Glenda Ritz Begin

This grassroots campaign to elect Glenda Ritz needs a ground game, and you are the troops. Democracy is not a spectator sport. If you really want to help Glenda Ritz pull off an improbable upset against the million dollars of commercials, then copy off this handout and find friends and neighbors who haven’t heard anything about these crucial issues.

Believe me, there are still thousands of people out there who don’t know these educational issues and may only have seen Tony Bennett’s commercials. You can’t change that for thousands, but you can change that for 20. Perhaps you are like my friend who says she has talked to everyone who has a pulse. That is outstanding, but we need to keep going. Where will you find others who need to hear the message?
  • In early voting lines. One friend went on her own to the early voting line in Marion County with Glenda Ritz handouts.
  • In retirement centers. Consider retired friends you might visit who only get campaign information from the television unless someone brings information to them.
  • In neighborhoods a few streets over from yours. This is the time to knock on doors, preferably between 4pm and 6pm. Keep it short. My experience is that neighbors listen to another neighbor they haven’t met before.
This is a democracy. These are self-appointed tasks. The future of public education in Indiana hangs in the balance. We can correct problems at the ballot box if enough are involved. Some of you can’t do any more than you are doing. Thank you for your efforts. We’ll find out on November 6th if enough were motivated to elect Glenda Ritz.

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.

Some readers have asked about my background in Indiana public schools. Thanks for asking! Here is a brief bio:

I am a lifelong Hoosier and began teaching in 1969. I served as a social studies teacher, curriculum developer, state research and evaluation consultant, state social studies consultant, district social studies supervisor, assistant principal, principal, educational association staff member, and adjunct university professor. I worked for Garrett-Keyser-Butler Schools, the Indiana University Social Studies Development Center, the Indiana Department of Education, the Indianapolis Public Schools, IUPUI, and the Indiana Urban Schools Association, from which I retired as Associate Director in 2009. I hold three degrees: B.A. in Ed., Ball State University, 1969; M.S. in Ed., Indiana University, 1972; and Ed.D., Indiana University, 1977, along with a Teacher’s Life License and a Superintendent’s License, 1998.

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