The Journal Gazette
 
 
Saturday, February 13, 2016 10:09 pm

State gets poor marks in dedication to schools

Indiana school reformers love letter grades, but they won’t like the grade assigned to their own work. The Network for Public Education gives the state a failing mark for its commitment to public education, based on measures controlled in recent years by a General Assembly beholden to privatization interests.

Indiana earned a grade of F, placing itself among some historically low achievers and states at the forefront of untested reforms: Idaho, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Texas and Arizona. 

In its breakdown, the Network for Public Education gives Indiana its best mark – a B – for school funding, but the state benefits there from property tax changes that shifted all school general fund costs to state coffers.

Indiana earns Fs for supporting teacher professionalism, resisting privatization and investing school funding resources wisely. It earned Ds for rejecting high-stakes testing and giving children a chance for success. Indiana public schools continue to serve the vast majority of students. Public school enrollment this fall was 1,046,146 students, compared to 84,030 non-public students. 

The poor mark for high-stakes testing won’t surprise anyone familiar with the state’s continuing struggles with ISTEP+, the standardized test administered to students in grades 3 through 8. Indiana also is among a handful of states requiring third-graders to pass a reading test to be promoted to fourth grade.

Diane Ravitch, an education historian and U.S. Department of Education official under President George H.W. Bush, is co-founder and president of the Network for Public Education.

"The purpose of the NPE report card is to change the conversation about how to rate schools," Ravitch writes at her blog. "The important point is to hold states and districts accountable for making sure schools have the resources they need to be successful with their students. If they underfund the schools, if they focus too much on high-stakes testing, if they divert precious resources to privatization via charters and vouchers, they are not valuing public education."

Fort Wayne resident Phyllis Bush, a retired teacher and founder of the Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education, is a network board member and a member of the Report Card Committee.

"When Diane Ravitch first suggested to the NPE board that we ask researchers to create a national report card, I was a bit skeptical," Bush said. "Since I am adamantly opposed to Indiana’s A-F school grading system, I was concerned that a report card seemed to be doing the same thing. However, as the data was gathered, the purpose became more clear; the aim of this research is to assess each state’s commitment to its public schools and to let the public know the profound impact of how current educational policies are impacting our schools. A quick look at Indiana’s score card shows how damaging recent legislation has been to public education and that our state commitment to education has been abysmal."

Bush said she hopes the report card spurs lawmakers to support policies strengthening public education and to move away from those that weaken it.  

"This report card can help us determine a new direction – one that will strengthen our schools and give Indiana students the fine education that they deserve," she said.


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