Future of Schools

Top Republican, Democrat take opposite views of NCLB waiver concerns

PHOTO: Hayleigh Colombo
Indiana Sen. Minority Leader Tim Lanane, Senate President David Long, House Speaker Brian Bosma and House Minority Leader Scott Pelath (left to right, back row) at a special legislative corrections session last year.
In less than two weeks, Indiana could potentially lose its federal No Child Left Behind law waiver unless state leaders can convince the U.S. Department of Education it is on track to raise its academic standards and institute a tougher state test next year.
Last week, Gov. Mike Pence pledged that Indiana would meet the those expectations. He rejected a suggestion by state Superintendent Glenda Ritz that the state consider asking federal officials for leeway to delay accountability measures, like A to F grades for schools and teacher evaluation based on in part on student test scores.
At stake is Indiana losing control over more than $230 million annually that schools use to pay for programs that benefit poor children.
The U.S. Dept. of Education demanded in early May that Indiana officials show how it planned to meet the promises of a waiver, which the state signed with federal officials in 2012 to release Indiana from sanctions of the federal No Child Left Behind law.
Chalkbeat asked a top Democrat and a top Republican, who returned to the Statehouse for one day as the legislature took up technical corrections to bills they passed earlier this year in a special session, where they stood on the questions surrounding the waiver.Here’s what they had to say:
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis
On whether the legislature should step in to make sure Indiana retains its NCLB waiver:“We’ve been involved in meeting with both the superintendent and the governor and their staffs and we’ve done some outreach to Washington D.C.. We’re watching this very closely and want to be sure that that waiver stays in place. It’s of utmost importance to the state.”

On taking a pause in accountability:

“(Senate President David) Long, the governor and I are all in agreement that there should be no step back from accountability measures that were difficult to obtain and hard fought. A new test, yes there’s generally some impact of that, but it can be dealt with statistically. There’s no reason to suspend, for two years essentially, the accountability measures that were adopted by the General Assembly.”

On collateral damage from Indiana’s reversal on Common Core:

“There’s some smoke and mirrors pointing in that direction, but the change from Common Core has nothing to do with the NCLB waiver despite some comments from the (Indiana) Department of Education to that effect. It has to do with maintaining accountability. There should be no step back.”

Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson

On whether the legislature should step in to make sure Indiana retains its NCLB waiver:

“I really don’t think we should play much of a role. I think we ought to leave that to Supterintendent Ritz. She’s been having the conversations with the federal officials on that and I trust her judgment on these things. As I’ve said on other matters involving her, everyone should step aside and let her do her job.”

On taking a pause in accountability:

“We have a brand new test and we’ve had trouble with tests in the past. This whole issue of how you fairly assign grades and evaluate teachers, I trust (Ritz’s) judgment on. Taking one year out to make sure we’ve got this system done right, to me, that’s a reasonable request.”

On collateral damage from Indiana’s reversal on Common Core:

“One of the reasons this is all happening is because legislators stuck their noses into this thing and messed around with Common Core standards and now it’s resulting in all of these ramifications.”


Finding a home

Denver school board permanently co-locates charter elementary in middle school building

Students and staffers at Rocky Mountain Prep's first charter school in Denver cheer in 2012. (Photo by The Denver Post)

A Denver elementary charter school that was temporarily granted space in a shuttering district-run middle school building will now be housed there permanently.

The school board voted Thursday to permanently place Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest charter school in the Kepner Middle School building, where it is sharing space this year with three other school programs. Such co-locations can be controversial but have become more common in a district with skyrocketing real estate prices and ambitious school quality goals.

Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest is part of a homegrown charter network that has shown promising academic results. The network also has a school in Aurora and is expected to open a third Denver school next year in the northwest part of the city.

Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest was first placed at Kepner for the 2015-16 school year. The placement was supposed to be temporary. The district had decided the year before to phase out low-performing Kepner and replace it a new district-run middle school, Kepner Beacon, and a new charter middle school, STRIVE Prep Kepner, which is part of a larger network. The district also temporarily placed a third charter school there: Compass Academy.

Compass has since moved out of Kepner but the other four schools remain: Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest, Kepner Beacon, STRIVE Prep Kepner and the Kepner Legacy Middle School, which is on track to be completely phased out and closed by June 2019.

In a written recommendation to the school board, district officials acknowledged that permanently placing Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest at Kepner would create a space crunch.

The Kepner campus has the capacity to serve between 1,100 and 1,500 students, the recommendation says. Once all three schools reach full size, officials expect the schools will enroll a total of approximately 1,250 students. Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest currently serves students in preschool through third grade with a plan to add more grades.

“DPS facilities staff are currently working with all three schools to create a long‐term vision for the campus, including facility improvements that ensure all three schools have what they need to continue to excel,” says the recommendation from Chief Operating Officer David Suppes and Director of Operations and Support Services Liz Mendez.

District staff tried to find an alternate location for Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest but were unsuccessful, the recommendation says. The district does not have many available buildings, and competition for them among district-run and charter schools can be fierce. In northeast Denver, seven secondary schools are currently vying for the use of a shuttered elementary.

Future of Schools

Indianapolis needs tech workers. IPS hopes that George Washington will help fill that gap.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy

Indiana companies are looking for workers with computer expertise, and Indianapolis Public Schools leaders want their students to fill that gap.

Next year, George Washington High School will launch a specialized information technology academy designed to give students the skills to pursue careers in IT — and the exposure to know what jobs even exist.

“Half of what kids aspire to be is either someone they know does it or they’ve seen it on TV,” said Karen Jung, president of Nextech, a nonprofit that works to increase computer science preparation in K-12 schools. Nextech is partnering with IPS to develop the new IT program at George Washington.

For teens who don’t know anyone working in computer science, meeting role models is essential, Jung said. When teens see women of color or artists working in computer sciences, they realize there are opportunities for people like them.

“Once we put them in front of and inside of workplaces … it clicks,” Jung said. They believe “they would belong.”

The IT program is one of three academies that will open in George Washington next year as part of a broad plan to close nearly half of the district’s high schools and add specialized focus areas at the four remaining campuses. In addition to the IT academy, George Washington will have programs in: advanced manufacturing, engineering, and logistics; and business and finance.

The district is also moving to a model without neighborhood high schools. Students will be expected to choose high schools based on focus area rather than location. This year, many current high schoolers were required to reapply in an effort to make sure they enroll in academies that fit their interests.

The district will host a showcase of schools to help parents and students with their selections. The showcase runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Indiana State Museum.

Stan Law, principal of Arlington High School now, will take over George Washington next year. (Arlington will close at the end of this year.) He said the new academies offer an opportunity for students to see what they need to master — from soft skills to knowledge — to get good jobs when they graduate.

“I want kids to really make the connection of the purpose of high school,” Law said. “It is that foundation for the rest of your life, in terms of the quality of life that you are going to live.”

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Stan Law

When the IT academy launches next year, students who select the program will be able to spend about one to two classes per year focused on information technology, said Ben Carter, who runs career and technical education for IPS.

Carter hopes the academies will reshape George Washington and other IPS campuses by connecting potential careers with the work students do everyday at school. Students who share a focus area will be in a cohort, and they will share many of the same core classes such as English, math and history, said Carter. Teachers, in turn, will be able to relate what students are studying in their history class to projects they are working on in the IT program, for example.

To show students what a career in information technology might look like, students will have the chance to tour, connect with mentors and intern at local companies.

“If I’m in one of these career classes — I’m in software development, but then I get to go to Salesforce and walk through and see the environment, to me as a student, that’s inspiring,” said Carter. “It’s like, ‘oh, this is what I can have.’ ”

He added. “It increases engagement but also gives them a true sense of what the career is.”