Thursday, December 19, 2013

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #162 – December 19, 2013

Dear Friends,

Letter grades for Indiana schools are scheduled to be issued this Friday, December 20th, using Dr. Bennett’s flawed formula that the General Assembly rejected and thought that they had voided. HEA 1427 passed last April says, “Not later than November 15, 2013, the state board shall establish new categories or designations of school performance under the requirements of this chapter to replace 511 IAC 6.2-6. “

It didn’t happen.

The new letter grades to be announced Friday for 2012-13 will be based on the old failed formula. To speed up the change, the State Board would have needed to pass emergency rules which they showed no interest in doing. In the October State Board meeting, Board Secretary Dan Elsener praised the current A-F system and called for the employment of the consultant who helped Dr. Bennett with the formula. The Governor’s State Board staff attorney stated in the same October meeting that the old formula should be used two more times for 2013-14 data and 2014-15 data before ending it. That remains the current plan.

Meanwhile the battle for control of education policy rages on. Indiana taxpayers are now funding three different systems of schools, and Governor Pence’s 2014 legislative agenda does nothing to relieve the funding agonies of the biggest and largest of the three, Indiana’s community public schools.

School Letter Grades

The flaws of the current A-F system have been ignored in the news about State Board members trying to speed up letter grade announcements. In their controversial October 16th email action, now the subject of a lawsuit in Marion County filed by Bill Groth saying that State Board members violated the Open Door law, ten members asked legislative leaders to have the Legislative Services Agency calculate the letter grades without notifying their chair, Superintendent Ritz. The fact that this is all about a flawed and discredited formula has been ignored in the media.

No one should forget that the members of the General Assembly heard so many complaints about the unfair A-F system unveiled in 2012 that they voided it, or at least thought they did. The inadequacies of the system are fourfold:

Flaw #1: It is based primarily on the percent passing, rather than on improvement as PL221 called for.

Flaw #2: The bonuses for growth are anemic compared to the weight given to percent passing.

Flaw #3: The growth model used for bonus points is based on peer comparison statistics. This leads to capricious and unpredictable results about low-growth and high-growth students.

Flaw #4: In the final analysis, the current A-F system was badly miscalibrated. Many good schools received low grades, damaging the economic development efforts of communities all over Indiana as they try to explain to prospective businesses why their strong local schools ended up with a low grade using a flawed grading system. The current system is not fair to Indiana’s schools.

I presented details on these four points in public comments to the State Board meeting on November 8th. My comments on that day are attached for those who want a one-pager on the problems of our current system and the reasons the General Assembly lost confidence in it. Yet the members of the State Board apparently want to use it this year and for two additional years to grade our schools.

That makes no sense and challenges the rule of law. I wonder if any members of the General Assembly have noticed that the members of the State Board have somehow found a way to deny their legislative intent in HEA 1427.

Legislators heard your outrage about this letter grade system in 2012. I hope they will do so again this year.

I would hope that all public announcements about school letter grades by state or local officials will include a reminder to the public that this current system has been voided by action of the General Assembly and is in the process of being replaced with one that could deserve public confidence.

Three Different and Competing School Systems

In August, Governor Pence created the Center for Education and Career Innovation, a $5 million duplicative education bureaucracy, to divert control of Indiana education policy from Superintendent Ritz to his office. He was willing to do this, risking his national reputation for efficiency and small government, because of deep differences on educational policy.

As a result of seismic changes in the 2011 General Assembly, Indiana taxpayers are now funding three school systems which compete in a marketplace of schools:
1) Community Public Schools, established in Indiana’s 1851 Constitution, serving 291 communities or geographic areas, open to all students, tuition free, governed by a school board which is in most cases elected, non-sectarian and non-partisan, unionized under Governor Bowen’s collective bargaining law passed in 1973 which was revised in 2011, serving over 1 million students in over 1800 schools.

2) Charter Public Schools, established by the General Assembly in 2001, not linked to a geographic area and open to any student in the state, tuition free, governed by an authorizer and an appointed school board, non-sectarian, non-unionized, serving about 30,000 students in about 80 schools.

3) Voucher Private Schools, established by the General Assembly in 2011, not linked to a geographic area, open to students whose application is accepted by the private school, tuition paid or subsidized by taxpayer funded vouchers and by taxpayer subsidized scholarships from Scholarship Granting Organizations, governed by appointed school boards, primarily sectarian religious schools (98%), non-unionized, serving about 100,000 students with about 20,000 receiving vouchers.
In the deep controversy between Governor Pence and State Superintendent Ritz which has now reverberated to the pages of the New York Times, each official is identified with different elements of this tripartite system.

Superintendent Ritz was elected as an advocate for community public schools, the largest of the three systems. She has said she supports community-based charter schools but not the efforts to bring to Indiana large scale for-profit charter school networks. She has in the past opposed the use of public dollars to subsidize tuition with vouchers for private schools, although after her election she resolutely pledged to enforce all voucher laws enacted by the General Assembly in 2011 and 2013.

Governor Pence was elected as an advocate for voucher schools and for charter schools. He put his power behind a major expansion of vouchers in the 2013 General Assembly which raised the voucher count to 20,000 this past fall. In his 2014 legislative agenda, his “Roadmap”, he has singled out charter schools for help, such as a plank to strengthen the state’s hand in taking underutilized buildings from local school boards for use by charter schools. Another plank would give state money to pay the differential to excellent public school teachers who want to transfer to low-performing charter schools that now pay teachers on average $12,000 less. Needless to say, this is not a hit with public school leaders who would lose excellent teachers from their schools due to this state incentive. Even an internal memo from his new education agency, the CECI, says that “the program has the appearance, rightly or wrongly, of showing favoritism towards charter schools.”

There is the word: favoritism. Since his election, the Governor has favored voucher schools and charter schools over community public schools. His new 2014 agenda contains nothing to help community public schools. His first budget gave a 2% increase for public school funding in the current year 2013-14 and only a 1% increase in 2014-15, the lowest non-recession funding increases since I started watching the General Assembly in 1997. Low funding levels have led to community-shaking agonies in Muncie, Carmel, Fortville (Mt. Vernon Schools) and others. Several districts face the loss of bus transportation funding due to property tax caps. The Indianapolis Public Schools, facing a $30 million deficit, has seen layoffs for three years in a row threaten the stability of remarkably improved programs such as the Harshman Magnet Middle School, recently highlighted in the Indianapolis Star.

In the intense conflict among these three competing school systems, the Governor is taking every legal edge to take policy control away from Superintendent Ritz and to maintain the growth of the two new systems at the expense of community public schools.

Governor Pence vs. State Superintendent Ritz

The Governor has all the power in this dispute with the State Superintendent. He has appointed State Board members who vigorously pursue his positions and join in his steady campaign to reduce the influence of the State Superintendent. If any vote is held, he will win. It is not surprising that a CECI memo discussed a plan to seek legislative changes to remove the State Superintendent as chair of the State Board. It is also not surprising that Superintendent Ritz reacted strongly to the CECI spending state-funded time outlining options for her demise as chair.

These are high stakes battles. The outcomes will shape the future of education in Indiana. The Governor has taken the lead in supporting charter schools and voucher schools while diminishing the funding for community public schools, just the opposite of the positions taken by Superintendent Ritz on this tripartite school mixture.

In the long run, however, the power is in the hands of the people. It is not yet clear that the people of Indiana want to let community public schools slowly disintegrate due to poor funding and high class sizes, leaving them to students of poverty and disability, while parents flee to voucher schools and charter schools.

The Future of Community Public Schools

Public schools have served Indiana well for over a hundred years. They are non-partisan and non-sectarian forums that bring whole communities together in ways that a fragmented system of private and charter schools could never do. Voting citizens are just waking up to the depth of this issue for our democracy and for the future of our communities. The final analysis in a democracy will be made by the voters, a very slow process.

Actually, the process began in 2012 when the voters chose Glenda Ritz over Tony Bennett. Without the voters, there would be no “Governor vs. State Superintendent” controversy, and Indiana would be rolling faster down the road to more vouchers and weaker community public schools in the vision of Governor Pence.

The people are deciding now which of the three school systems they want to support. Instead of taking politics out of education, as the Governor has said he wants to do, he has put it on the front burner. For advocates for public education, it needs to be on front burner to reverse the hard times that continue for too many of our community public schools.

The fact is that Indiana doesn’t have enough money to appropriately fund three different school systems. As one system is given preference, another system is diminished.

The voters will soon have a turn in 2014, this time in the form of legislative races for the Indiana House and the Indiana Senate. What priority will candidates give to the three different systems in Indiana? Will they back community public schools, charter public schools or voucher private schools? Will they support Governor Pence or Superintendent Ritz on education policy? The stakes in Indiana have never been higher.

I urge you to keep your legislators informed about the problems with school letter grades and the obvious policies of favoritism that are undermining and diminishing community public schools. Your participation in this generational battle on behalf of community public schools is greatly appreciated!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith

ICPE is working to promote public education and oppose the privatization of schools in the Statehouse. We are preparing for the next session of the General Assembly beginning January 6th. Joel Hand will again serve as ICPE lobbyist for the session. We need your membership to help support his work. Many have renewed their memberships this fall, and we thank you! If you have not done so since July 1, the start of our new membership year, we urge you to renew by going to our website.

We need additional memberships to pay for our lobbying efforts which begin in January and to carry on our advocacy for public education. We need additional members and additional donations. We need your help!

Go to for membership and renewal information and for full information on ICPE efforts on behalf of public education. Thanks!

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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