Early Childhood

Pence promises big push for preschool bill

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Gov. Mike Pence focused on education issues in his state of the state speech in January as well as throughout the legislative session.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence rolled out more details of his preschool funding plan today, suggesting the annual price tag when it is fully in place would be about $10.6 million.

Pence, recapping the just-completed first half of the legislative session with reporters, also praised a bill passed this week by the Senate that would void national Common Core standards Indiana adopted in 2010.

In all, Pence said nearly all of the education bills he advocated in support of preschool, charter schools, teacher choice and career and technical education passed the House or Senate. The one education bill from his agenda that did not advance was designed to create an innovation fund to support teachers with creative ideas. Pence’s spokeswoman said he expects that concept to be revived by being amended into another bill later this month.

As part of his preschool push, Pence said he delivered to the leadership of both parties in the House and Senate a 29-page report, which includes four pages of footnotes of studies of preschool effectiveness.

“With regard to across the board, some of the reports of the value of pre-K are ambiguous,” Pence said. “But with regard to disadvantaged kids, and we make this point in the report, numerous studies suggest that for disadvantaged kids quality pre-K education is of a great benefit to children who grow up in difficult circumstances.”

Pence said he is already talking to members of the Senate Education Committee, which he said would take the bill up next week.

That committee is key because last year a very similar preschool pilot program was dismantled when it could not garner enough support there. Committee members at the time expressed concerns about the cost and need for such a program. Committee Chairman Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, said last month he has not detected any shift in attitudes about creating a new preschool pilot program in 2014.

Pence hopes to change their minds.

“For the sake of our kids and for the sake of education in Indiana and for the sake of our future in Indiana, I think it’s an idea who’s time has come,” Pence said. “I’m very encouraged about the progress we’re making and we’re working to continue carrying that forward.”

The report describes the pilot program as not incurring any costs until 2015. That’s important because it puts of the fiscal impact until the next budget which the legislature will craft in 2015. Sen. Luke Kenley, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee and serves on the education committee, has insisted that new spending not be added to the current budget.

The first year cost of about $650,000 will just cover start up in 2015. The first children would enroll in 2016.
On Common Core, Pence said he was pleased that the Senate had passed a bill insisting on self-created academic standards for Indiana.

Pence’s report estimates about 30,000 four-year-olds would be eligible for the program statewide based on the income limits. Because the pilot program will only be in five counties, the report estimates 1,500 children will participate.

“I’m grateful for the efforts in the General Assembly to support our call for standards in Indiana that are written by Hoosiers for Hoosiers and are of the highest magnitude,” he said.

Indiana is currently one of 46 states that have agreed to follow the same standards, which are aimed at assuring high school graduates are ready for college or careers.

In 2013, the legislature approved a bill to “pause” Indiana’s implementation of Common Core to allow time for a review of the standards and a new vote of the Indiana State Board of Education by July 1. State Superintendent Glenda Ritz said last month she expected the review process to result in recommendations for changes to at least some of the standards so they would be different than Common Core.

Rejecting Common Core, Pence said, was in line with his longstanding personal belief that education is as state and local function.

“We’ve hit pause button on Common Core,” Pence said. “The state board of education is charged under the statute with reviewing standards and producing Indiana standards. They’re working through that process. The General Assembly’s efforts to reinforce that through legislation is welcome.”

Pence’s legislative priorities

Most of Gov. Mike Pence’s education legislative priorities were passed by either the House or Senate in the first half of the session. One other priority, an innovation fund for teachers, did not advance but his spokeswoman said Pence would seek to have it amended into another bill later this month. Here are the bills that passed:

–Preschool pilot. One of Gov. Mike Pence’s signature legislative initiatives is to institute a preschool pilot program. House Bill 1004 would create a program for about 1,500 low income children to attend preschool in five counties. It passed the House 87-9.

–Charter school funding flexibility. Senate Bill 321 give charter school operators new flexibility to share funds across multiple schools. It passed the Senate 35-13.

–Teacher choice program. Senate Bill 264 makes highly rated teachers who take jobs at D or F rated public or charter schools eligible for extra pay if the legislature approves money for stipends in next year’s budget. It passed the Senate 34-14.

–Career and technical education study. House Bill 1064 creates a study of the return on investment of career and technical education programs in Indiana. It passed the House 94-0.

newark notes

In Newark, a study about school changes rings true — and raises questions — for people who lived them

PHOTO: Naomi Nix
Park Elementary principal Sylvia Esteves.

A few years ago, Park Elementary School Principal Sylvia Esteves found herself fielding questions from angst-ridden parents and teachers.

Park was expecting an influx of new students because Newark’s new enrollment system allowed parents to choose a K-8 school for their child outside of their neighborhood. That enrollment overhaul was one of many reforms education leaders have made to Newark Public Schools since 2011 in an effort to expand school choice and raise student achievement.

“What’s it going to mean for overcrowding? Will our classes get so large that we won’t have the kind of success for our students that we want to have?” Esteves recalls educators and families asking.

Park’s enrollment did grow, by about 200 students, and class sizes swelled along with it, Esteves said. But for the last two years, the share of students passing state math and English tests has risen, too.

Esteves was one of several Newark principals, teachers, and parents who told Chalkbeat they are not surprised about the results of a recent study that found test scores dropped sharply in the years immediately following the changes but then bounced back. By 2016, it found Newark students were making greater gains on English tests than they were in 2011.

Funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and conducted by Harvard researchers, the study also found the reforms had no impact on student math scores.

And while many Newark families and school leaders agree with the study’s conclusion — that students are making more progress now — they had very different ideas about what may have caused the initial declines, and why English growth was more obvious than math.

Supported by $200 million in private philanthropy, former superintendent Cami Anderson and other New Jersey officials in 2011 sought to make significant changes to the education landscape in Newark, where one third of more than 50,000 students attend privately managed charter schools. Their headline-grabbing reforms included a new teachers union contract with merit-based bonuses; the universal enrollment system; closing some schools; expanding charter schools; hiring new principals; requiring some teachers to reapply for their jobs; and lengthening the day at some struggling schools.

Brad Haggerty, the district’s chief academic officer, said the initial drop in student performance coincided with the district’s introduction of a host of changes: new training materials, evaluations, and curricula aligned to the Common Core standards but not yet assessed by the state’s annual test. That was initially a lot for educators to handle at once, he said, but teacher have adjusted to the changes and new standards.

“Over time our teaching cadre, our faculty across the entire district got stronger,” said Haggerty, who arrived as a special assistant to the superintendent in 2011.

But some in Newark think the district’s changes have had longer-lasting negative consequences.

“We’ve had a lot of casualties. We lost great administrators, teachers,” said Bashir Akinyele, a Weequahic High School history teacher. “There have been some improvements but there were so many costs.”

Those costs included the loss of veteran teachers who were driven out by officials’ attempts to change teacher evaluations and make changes to schools’ personnel at the same time, according to Sheila Montague, a former school board candidate who spent two decades teaching in Newark Public Schools before losing her position during the changes.

“You started to see experienced, veteran teachers disappearing,” said Montague, who left the school system after being placed in the district’s pool of educators without a job in a school. “In many instances, there were substitute teachers in the room. Of course, the delivery of instruction wasn’t going to even be comparable.”

The district said it retains about 95 percent of its highly-rated teachers.

As for why the study found that Newark’s schools were seeing more success improving English skills than math, it’s a pattern that Esteves, the Park Elementary principal, says she saw firsthand.

While the share of students who passed the state English exam at Park rose 13 percentage points between the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years, the share of students who were proficient in math only rose 3 percentage points in that time frame.

“[Math is] where we felt we were creeping up every year, but not having a really strong year,” she said. “I felt like there was something missing in what we were doing that could really propel the children forward.”

To improve Park students’ math skills, Esteves asked teachers to assign “math exemplars,” twice-a-month assignments that probed students’ understanding of concepts. Last year, Park’s passing rate on the state math test jumped 12 percentage points, to 48 percent.

While Newark students have made progress, families and school leaders said they want to the district to make even more gains.

Test scores in Newark “have improved, but they are still not where they are supposed to be,” said Demetrisha Barnes, whose niece attends KIPP Seek Academy. “Are they on grade level? No.”

Chalkbeat is expanding to Newark, and we’re looking for a reporter to lead our efforts there. Think it should be you? Apply here.  

Who Is In Charge

Indianapolis Public Schools board gives superintendent Ferebee raise, bonus

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is getting a $4,701 raise and a bonus of $28,000.

The board voted unanimously to approve both. The raise is a 2.24 percent salary increase. It is retroactive to July 1, 2017. Ferebee’s total pay this year, including the bonus, retirement contributions and a stipend for a car, will be $286,769. Even though the bonus was paid this year, it is based on his performance last school year.

The board approved a new contract Tuesday that includes a raise for teachers.

The bonus is 80 percent of the total — $35,000 — he could have received under his contract. It is based on goals agreed to by the superintendent and the board.

These are performance criteria used to determine the superintendent’s bonus are below: