data disparity

Lawmakers want more research before they spend big on preschool. When it comes to vouchers, there’s no such hesitation.

PHOTO: Megan Mangrum

Lawmakers have demanded lots of proof to determine whether preschool helps kids before deciding to significantly boost its funding, despite dozens of studies showing that students who attend high-quality preschool perform much better in school than students who don’t.

Yet they’ve requested no long-term study of another similarly designed, tuition support program — vouchers for private schools, a program that launched in 2011 and has seen hundreds of millions of dollars in state support. In research that does exist on the effectiveness of vouchers in other states, results are mixed, at best, and show relatively small effects on kids.

“Nobody is talking about whether vouchers as a policy proposal are resulting in students achieving at higher levels,” said Rep. Terri Austin, a Democrat from Anderson and former educator. “We pick and choose. What do we really want? It becomes using data as an excuse instead of a rationale to drive policy.”

The disparity in evidence and money spent is concerning for some Indiana lawmakers, educators and researchers, particularly when the state is poised to spend more than $300 million on vouchers over the next couple years. That’s compared to the $40 million for preschool over the same period that barely managed to squeeze through after months of negotiating in the GOP-controlled legislature.

“We’re taking public money and putting it to private use without even assessing whether that use has been good or bad,” said Rep. Ed DeLaney, an Indianapolis Democrat. “This is a very dangerous concept.”

Both issues were heavily debated in the recent legislative session, resulting in more state dollars to each program. But as part of preschool negotiations, Republican legislators have continued to ask to see more data from a long-term, state-backed local study of the program, which launched in 2014.

Republican legislative leaders have not requested — or funded — a study on Indiana’s voucher program. But researchers at Notre Dame University and the University of Kentucky are expected to publish a study in the coming months that shows results from the state program’s first six years. Early results presented at a 2015 conference in Florida showed that in the first three years of the voucher program, students who switched from public to private schools using vouchers experienced “significant losses” in math, with little to no effect in English, compared to how they did at their public school.

In fact, legislators had a chance to learn about the outcomes of vouchers before continuing to invest so heavily in them. Ashlyn Nelson, an Indiana University education researcher, was involved in a prior attempt to study the state’s program under state Superintendent Tony Bennett, but that agreement was cancelled at the last minute, she said.

“To me that represents the extreme of an ideological devotion to something,” Nelson said. “You are advancing ideological claims about the benefits of a program … and then saying we’re not going to even allow the program to be evaluated to see whether it fulfills the promises.”

Perhaps even more perplexing to Democrats and others who support Indiana’s preschool program is that preschool tuition support operates very much as a voucher program for 4-year-olds. Families choose a public or private preschool, and then the school receives money from the state to help pay tuition.

Despite the similarities, some Republican lawmakers see preschool vouchers as government supplanting family, but kindergarten vouchers as a parent making a deliberate choice in their child’s best interest.

Elena Silva, a researcher at New America, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, said this contradictory ideology isn’t unusual. She’s seen the same rhetoric across the nation that upholds vouchers as freedom of choice and expansive state-funded preschool as government intrusion. But regardless of which side you sit on, she said, the result is the same: The state taking on a greater role in education.

“As soon as you enter into that,” Silva said. “You are essentially shaking hands with the government.”

 

First Person

With roots in Cuba and Spain, Newark student came to America to ‘shine bright’

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Layla Gonzalez

This is my story of how we came to America and why.

I am from Mallorca, Spain. I am also from Cuba, because of my dad. My dad is from Cuba and my grandmother, grandfather, uncle, aunt, and so on. That is what makes our family special — we are different.

We came to America when my sister and I were little girls. My sister was three and I was one.

The first reason why we came here to America was for a better life. My parents wanted to raise us in a better place. We also came for better jobs and better pay so we can keep this family together.

We also came here to have more opportunities — they do call this country the “Land Of Opportunities.” We came to make our dreams come true.

In addition, my family and I came to America for adventure. We came to discover new things, to be ourselves, and to be free.

Moreover, we also came here to learn new things like English. When we came here we didn’t know any English at all. It was really hard to learn a language that we didn’t know, but we learned.

Thank God that my sister and I learned quickly so we can go to school. I had a lot of fun learning and throughout the years we do learn something new each day. My sister and I got smarter and smarter and we made our family proud.

When my sister Amira and I first walked into Hawkins Street School I had the feeling that we were going to be well taught.

We have always been taught by the best even when we don’t realize. Like in the times when we think we are in trouble because our parents are mad. Well we are not in trouble, they are just trying to teach us something so that we don’t make the same mistake.

And that is why we are here to learn something new each day.

Sometimes I feel like I belong here and that I will be alright. Because this is the land where you can feel free to trust your first instinct and to be who you want to be and smile bright and look up and say, “Thank you.”

As you can see, this is why we came to America and why we can shine bright.

Layla Gonzalez is a fourth-grader at Hawkins Street School. This essay is adapted from “The Hispanic American Dreams of Hawkins Street School,” a self-published book by the school’s students and staff that was compiled by teacher Ana Couto.

First Person

From ‘abandoned’ to ‘blessed,’ Newark teacher sees herself in her students

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Jennifer Palumbo

As I sit down to write about my journey to the USA, all I can think of is the word “blessed.”

You see my story to become Ms. Palumbo started as a whole other person with a different name in a different country. I was born in Bogota, Colombia, but my parents either could not keep me or did not want me. I was, according to my adoption papers, “abandoned.” Abandoned is defined as “having been deserted or cast off.” Not a great start to my story, I know.

Well I was then put in an orphanage for children who had no family. Yes at this point I had no family, no home, not even a name.
I spent the first 10 months of my life in this orphanage. Most children at 10 months are crawling, trying to talk, holding their bottles, and some are even walking. Since I spent 10 months laying in a crib, I did none of those things.

Despite that my day to be chosen arrived. I was adopted by an Italian American couple who, after walking up and down rows of babies and children, chose to adopt me. My title just changed from abandoned to chosen.

But that wasn’t the only thing about to change. My first baby passport to leave Colombia is with the name given by the orphanage to an abandoned baby girl with no one. When I arrived in America my parents changed that name to Jennifer Marie Palumbo and began my citizenship and naturalization paperwork so I could become an U.S. citizen.

They tried to make a little Colombian girl an Italian American, so I was raised speaking only English. Eating lots of pasta and living a typical American lifestyle. But as I grew up I knew there was something more — I was something more.

By fourth grade, I gravitated to the Spanish girls that moved into town and spent many after-schools and sleepovers looking to understand who I was. I began to learn how to dance to Spanish music and eat Spanish foods.

I would try to speak and understand the language the best I could even though I could not use it at home. In middle school, high school, and three semesters at Kean University, I studied Spanish. I traveled to Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Honduras to explore Spanish culture and language. I finally felt like the missing piece of my puzzle was filled.

And then the opportunity to come to Hawkins Street School came and as what — a bilingual second-grade teacher. I understood these students in a way that is hard to explain.

They are like me but in a way backwards.

They are fluent in Spanish and hungry to obtain fluency in English to succeed in the world. I was fluent in English with a hunger to obtain it in Spanish to succeed in the world. I feel as a child I lost out.

My road until now has by far not been an easy one, but I am a blessed educated Hispanic American. I know that my road is not over. There are so many places to see, so many food to taste, and so many songs to dance too.

I thank my students over the past four years for being such a big part of this little “abandoned” baby who became a “chosen” child grown into a “blessed teacher.” They fill my heart and I will always be here to help them have a blessed story because the stars are in their reach no matter what language barrier is there.

We can break through!

Palumbo is a second-grade bilingual teacher Hawkins Street School. This essay is from “The Hispanic American Dreams of Hawkins Street School,” a self-published book by the school’s students and staff that was compiled by teacher Ana Couto.