Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Vic’s Election Notes on Education #8– October 29, 2012

Dear Friends,

In Wednesday’s (Oct. 31st) State Board meeting where the A-F letter grades are to be approved and made public, the Public Comments section of the agenda has been moved to the end of the meeting.

Past practice for many years has been to take Public Comments at the beginning of the meeting, shortly after Board Member Comments, and before any business items.

Not this time. Apparently, they didn’t want people like me speaking about the flawed A-F system while all the media and TV crews were there to hear the A-F results. At the end of the meeting after all the business has been done and Public Comments begin, the media folks will be gone.

Nevertheless, I have heard many angry and frustrated educators in the past few weeks objecting to the way this A-F system demeans the reputation of excellent schools, and some school leaders or parent representatives may wish to share their story with the State Board during Public Comments, even if it is at the end of the meeting. State Board members themselves are often left out of the loop when schools complain to the IDOE about the substance of the grading system or about the procedures of the appeals. They often don’t hear about the enormous level of staff time, energy and resources needed to check the school grade data for accuracy and fairness. This is your chance to tell them about your ordeal. To speak, you must sign in before the meeting begins at 9am and observe a 5-minute limit.

Frustrations that I have heard recently from several districts include:
  • Bright Pass + students who repeat as Pass +, scoring well above the cut score for Pass +, who inexplicably are marked as “low growth”.
  • Inability to get questions answered about the data from the IDOE staff. School leaders who have had multiple conversations with IDOE staff report that no more than eight staff members have been assigned to respond to questions, some of whom are quite new to this assignment.
  • Uncertainty in a few cases about whether their appeals would be reviewed and adjudicated before grades are made public on Oct. 31st. Appeals were due to the IDOE by Oct. 24th.
  • The IDOE policy that if IDOE makes data errors they will be corrected, but if the district made an error by including a student in the previously submitted list of students who have been in the school for the required 162 days, the district has to live with its previous error.
Keep in mind that two of the State Board members are new and were not part of the decision to adopt this flawed A-F system. Perhaps telling your story will help them see that a revision is needed.

Other school leaders look at this situation and decide that they will suffer in silence because raising complaints in a public way will hurt their ability to get resources and help from IDOE for their students in other arenas. That is also an understandable position in this difficult climate. What is best for students is paramount.

As for me, retired as I am, I plan to speak at the end of the meeting. What is best for students is a revised A-F system that measures the growth of students against a criterion standard and not against the performance of peers. Putting a “Low Growth” label on an outstanding Pass + student who continues to score well above the Pass + cut score is simply wrong. What is best for students is a revised A-F system that does not demean their school with a low grade it doesn’t deserve. Indiana schools don’t deserve to be treated three times more harshly than Florida when the low grades are handed out. Verifiable National Assessment data that I have shared with you in previous notes confirm that Indiana is clearly outperforming Florida.

Where were Tony Bennett’s Commercials Filmed?

By now, everyone in Indiana has seen the polished Tony Bennett campaign commercials showing him supervising a science lab and looking like a principal monitoring the halls. When out-of-state contributors pushed his campaign fund total to $1.1 million, he could afford to blanket the state with expensive commercials.

Perhaps I was the last to hear this, but a teacher with personal knowledge of the episode has confirmed to me that the commercials were shot at Roncalli High School, a Catholic high school in Indianapolis.

This religious school connection is certainly symbolic of Tony Bennett’s dominant role in the biggest educational policy change in our generation, the decision to give public money to religious schools, as provided in the 2011 voucher law. This law broke a 160-year separation of church school tuition and state funding in Indiana, since the 1851 Constitution was written. It has entwined religion and state educational funding in a way that I believe is unconstitutional. The Indiana Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on this matter on November 21st. This is the election when people like me who think the voucher law was a tremendous error can express our feelings by voting against Tony Bennett.

Let the Ground Game for Glenda Ritz Begin

This grassroots campaign to elect Glenda Ritz needs a ground game, and you are the troops. Democracy is not a spectator sport. If you really want to help Glenda Ritz pull off an improbable upset against the million dollars of commercials, then copy off this handout and find friends and neighbors who haven’t heard anything about these crucial issues.

Believe me, there are still thousands of people out there who don’t know these educational issues and may only have seen Tony Bennett’s commercials. You can’t change that for thousands, but you can change that for 20. Perhaps you are like my friend who says she has talked to everyone who has a pulse. That is outstanding, but we need to keep going. Where will you find others who need to hear the message?
  • In early voting lines. One friend went on her own to the early voting line in Marion County with Glenda Ritz handouts.
  • In retirement centers. Consider retired friends you might visit who only get campaign information from the television unless someone brings information to them.
  • In neighborhoods a few streets over from yours. This is the time to knock on doors, preferably between 4pm and 6pm. Keep it short. My experience is that neighbors listen to another neighbor they haven’t met before.
This is a democracy. These are self-appointed tasks. The future of public education in Indiana hangs in the balance. We can correct problems at the ballot box if enough are involved. Some of you can’t do any more than you are doing. Thank you for your efforts. We’ll find out on November 6th if enough were motivated to elect Glenda Ritz.

Best wishes,

Vic Smith

“Vic’s Election Notes on Education” is not linked to any organization and is not being distributed by me to any organization. It is only being distributed to those who have previously sent personal requests for my commentaries. If you want to pass it along to others, you do not need to ask my permission. If you want to be taken off the distribution list, just let me know. If you know of others who want to be added to the list, just send me an email.

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.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

NEIFPE Supports Glenda Ritz

For Immediate Release

October 23, 2012

Contact: neifpe@gmail.com

Northern Indiana Education Advocacy Group Backs Glenda Ritz for Superintendent of Public Instruction

Public Education supporters concerned over negative impact of high-stakes testing, vouchers, charter schools, and teacher evaluations.

FORT WAYNE, IN – Citing strong and growing concern over the negative impact the corporatization of Indiana’s educational system is having on public education in Indiana, members of Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education (NEIFPE) today announced their support of Glenda Ritz for Superintendent of Public Instruction. Formed earlier this year, NEIFPE is a group of citizens, teachers, administrators and parents who are united by their support for public education and by concerns for its future.

The group believes that Glenda Ritz is the best candidate to refocus Indiana’s educational efforts toward students and learning rather than corporate interests. NEIFPE finds that recent federal and state reform measures that have turned education over to private interests threaten the well-being of children and jeopardize their futures.

The group supports Ritz, who has taken a stand against high-stakes testing and is committed to providing more time for education and less time for testing in Indiana.

For additional information visit www.neifpe.blogspot.com, www.ritz4ed.com or https://www.facebook.com/NEIFPE.

# # #

Vic’s Election Notes on Education #7– October 23, 2012

Dear Friends,

Tony Bennett’s policies have narrowed the curriculum to Math and English/Language Arts.

His focus on high stakes testing has put a huge priority on the two subjects schools must score well in for a high grade. Even survival as a school is at stake under the threat of state closure or takeover. Going further in this campaign, Tony Bennett has proposed state takeovers of whole school districts based on math and English/Language Arts scores.

The tremendous impact of this pressure on schools is not well understood by the public. Nor is it well understood by Tony Bennett, whose IDOE recently defended testing in the schools (“The Truth about Testing” posted 10/9/12 on the IDOE website) by saying that students only spend 6.5 hours per year taking ISTEP+ and that requirement only applies to seven grade levels. Tony Bennett apparently has not been in enough schools lately to know that the obsession to drive test scores higher, even if they are high already, is palpable in the life of our schools. It has undermined support for every other subject and elective.

We no longer have a balanced curriculum as we did up through the 1980’s. We used to a have state curriculum rule requiring a balanced curriculum, but this rule was repealed as the accountability movement picked up steam in the 1990’s. Now, school success is defined as success on math and language arts tests.

This is dangerous for the long term development of our democracy and our culture. Consider the areas of our curriculum and community life that are being left to atrophy as we push for higher math and English scores:

Music and Art

Specialists in music and art have suffered under the current priorities. They are grieving the decline of what they know is a vital portion of our curriculum. When Gov. Daniels and Dr. Bennett cut the already appropriated school budget by $300 million in December 2009 and never restored it as revenues improved, the consequences didn’t fall on reading and math teachers. They fell first on music and art teachers and on other “optional” specialists listed in areas below. Of course, state officials mandated the cuts, but local officials got blamed for the choices made for the cuts. It’s been tough to be a local school official in recent years, while Gov. Daniels and Dr. Bennett got praised for cutting the budget.

The irony is that research has well established that the arts can promote the brain development that unleashes reading and math development. That research is validated in my own experience as I look back to the 5th grade when I started playing cello in Elkhart’s outstanding music program. Looking back, it is clear now that my academic and intellectual development paralleled my intense interest and participation in music starting in the 5th grade. We need the arts in our schools.

Health and Physical Education

The Indianapolis Star proclaimed in a front page story in September (9/19/12) that Indiana is now tied for 8th among all states in the highest rate of obesity. Clearly health and physical education in our schools deserves a high priority.

Tony Bennett thinks otherwise. In the 2012 session of the General Assembly, he tried to repeal a long standing law that required a state health education curriculum and a state health education consultant. Years ago, health educators worked hard to pass a law that they thought would institutionalize a state role in health education. Tony Bennett didn’t want a health education consultant and three years into his term tried to repeal the law. Health and obesity issues apparently didn’t concern him. The heart association fought the repeal and in the end, Tony Bennett’s repeal bill failed. The law is still on the books, but there is obviously no priority on this program within IDOE.

Social Studies

Public schools have from their beginnings nearly 200 years ago been charged with building skilled citizens to protect and defend our democracy. This arena is often called the civic mission of schools, a mission which includes helping young people become informed voters, active participants in community concerns, and protectors of our Constitution.

Tony Bennett has ignored the civic mission of our schools.

Here is the record:
  1. A new strategic plan for the Indiana Department of Education, developed internally without public input, was issued in the opening weeks of the new administration, setting high goals for math and language arts test scores, for Advanced Placement tests, and for graduation rates. Dubbed the “90-25-90” plan, it omits any mention of developing the skills of responsible citizens.
  2. The two social studies consultants serving Indiana were fired in the first two weeks of the new administration and not replaced. Questions about geography, economics, civics and history were answered by staff not experienced in these areas. This was the first time IDOE had functioned without a social studies consultant since the position was first established in the 1960’s. I held the position for 2 years in the 1980’s and I know it plays a crucial role in citizenship education in Indiana. About a year and a half later, a part time social studies consultant was added because the new common core curriculum had a social studies strand. When I last asked the president of the Indiana Council for the Social Studies about social studies staff in IDOE, I was told there was a new part-time person but he wasn’t sure who it was. Tony Bennett has ended the long tradition of providing IDOE staff leadership for the civic mission.
  3. Funding for the extremely successful “Economic Education Mini-Grant” program which had planted seeds of entrepreneurial skills in students across Indiana for 30 years was cut off, as was the funding for staff to direct it. One would think that in the Great Recession, Tony Bennett would want to prominently support any program with a great track record of developing entrepreneurs. Not so.
Each fall from 2005 to 2010, I taught a social studies methods course for elementary teachers-in-training as an adjunct professor at IUPUI. The courses were always taught in a school building and had frequent observation and classroom participation time built in. Increasingly as the years went on, my students would report that the classes they were observing were too busy working on reading and math to do anything with social studies. This corroborates many studies and surveys showing that the accountability movement of the last decade is squeezing social studies out of elementary classrooms.

The laser focus on raising English and math scores is increasingly taking time and resources from the civic mission and, indeed, from any mission other than literacy and numeracy.


Science is part of the STEM (Science/Technology/Engineering/Math) emphasis that gets much attention at the national level. Despite that status, science is suffering the same neglect as social studies in the elementary schools, and the lack of a strong foundation at the elementary level leaves science educators very concerned. Indiana gives science tests at 4th and 6th, just as they give social studies tests at the 5th and 7th grade. Everyone knows, however, that these subject matter tests do not count toward the letter grade system of the school which carries life or death consequences for the school, and potentially if Tony Bennett is re-elected, for the school district. Given the stakes, it is not surprising that all the attention is flowing to math and English. Science, for all of its importance for our future, is suffering.

Vocational programs

Seemingly every candidate is talking about a revival of vocational education in this year’s campaign. As I see it, candidates are responding to frustrated advocates for vocational education who have seen vocational electives erode in the face of other mandated courses. Why are there fewer electives available in a student’s schedule for vocational courses? When a high school student fails the math or English end-of-course assessment, they are generally placed in another math or English course to make up the deficiencies in order to qualify for graduation. Taking additional math or English means taking fewer electives, and vocational courses are among those that take the hit.

World Language programs

In today’s global economy, we need more people who are fluent in the languages of other nations. In Tony Bennett’s reforms, this need is ignored. At the high school, electives in foreign language are being squeezed out for the same reasons described above for vocational programs. Additional math and English courses have to replace something, and foreign languages classes have been hit hard. Research shows that the younger the student is, the easier they will learn another language, which would suggest more such programs at the elementary level. Budget cuts have prevented additional elementary programs to blossom, along with the relentless pressure elementary and middle schools face to raise math and English scores. The entire school letter grade in elementary and middle schools is entirely based on math and English scores, and this puts everything else such as foreign languages in a second class status.

Priorities: Taking a Broader View

Tony Bennett has pushed Indiana to focus nearly exclusively on reading and math. In defending the 2010 3rd grade reading retention bill and contradicting Gov. Daniels claim that the bill “needn’t, shouldn’t, won’t cost one extra cent,” Dr. Bennett “acknowledged the reality of potential expenses but said none of the funding would have to come from new state dollars. All of it, he said, is funding that is already available to local schools; it would simply need to be redirected. ‘I was thinking that this is about us focusing local resources on this initiative.’ Bennett said it’s a question of priorities.” (Indpls Star, 1/22/10, p. A23)

Going on, the article reported that Dr. Bennett “suggested the cost of an extra 90 minutes a day of reading intervention could be mitigated by embedding it within the normal school day, perhaps at the expense of recess or an arts class, which students would have to give up to focus on reading.”

English and math scores have dominated schools since PL221 (1999) and No Child Left Behind (2002) made scores in both subjects the determinants of whether a school lived or died under accountability rules. Now in 2011 legislation, Tony Bennett brought a quantum leap in the same direction. Now teacher evaluations and merit pay will be based on reading and math scores. When jobs are on the line, everything else will be put on the back burner.

Reading and math are indeed crucial priorities, but should they be the only priorities? Our democracy cannot survive without instruction in basic civics, geography, economics and history. At the elementary level, these subjects are disappearing and at the secondary level, IDOE leadership to promote vibrant programs like We the People, Project Citizen, History Day, Geography Bee and the Indiana Kids Election is missing. Our economy cannot survive without instruction in science, foreign language and economics to give us more inventors, exporters and entrepreneurs. Our culture cannot survive without instruction in music and art. Does anyone doubt that the loss of public and private support for the world renown Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra is rooted in part in the loss of music and arts programs in the last decade, since the accountability movement began crowding them out of the curriculum in the late 1990’s. These vitally important programs struggle for attention in a test-driven curriculum.

Only about half of all Americans of voting age cast votes in Presidential elections. Even with all the interest shown in the 2008 elections, participation only rose to 57%, the highest in 40 years. In crucial Congressional elections in non-Presidential years, less than 40% vote. Citizen participation needs an upgrade. Participation in our representative government is based on knowledge that for many students is gained only through the civic mission of our public schools. We must not ignore the mission of building responsible citizens with breadth in their knowledge and balance in their perspectives. Extending to the next generation our priceless heritage of freedom under the Constitution depends on it.

Glenda Ritz Needs Your Support

For the sake of our democracy, our economy and our culture, we must broaden our priorities. Glenda Ritz has called for the restoration of common sense in pulling back from the overemphasis on high stakes testing and for restoration of the balance in our curriculum. I hope you will support Glenda Ritz by participating in the grassroots campaign to elect her as State Superintendent of Public Instruction. We must have a new direction.

The November 6th election is now two weeks away and will have huge consequences for education in Indiana. I urge you to support Glenda Ritz in any way you can by talking with family members, neighbors and friends, especially those with no connection to education issues. Her name recognition is rising but is still low. The Wabash College debate tomorrow night will help. Tony Bennett’s expensive TV commercials are everywhere. Glenda Ritz needs your involvement and your support at the grassroots level. Please do what you can to speak up for her before Election Day.

Best wishes,

Vic Smith

“Vic’s Election Notes on Education” is not linked to any organization and is not being distributed by me to any organization. It is only being distributed to those who have previously sent personal requests for my commentaries. If you want to pass it along to others, you do not need to ask my permission. If you want to be taken off the distribution list, just let me know. If you know of others who want to be added to the list, just send me an email.

Monday, October 22, 2012

NEIFPE Letters to the President, 2

Diane Ravitch coordinated a Campaign for our Public Schools in which teachers, students, parents and concerned citizens wrote letters to the President expressing dissatisfaction with the current government policies towards public education. On Saturday, October 20, 2012, Dr, Ravitch reported on the results. A PDF file of all the letters collected was created by Anthony Cody.

The entire file of letters from writers around the country is available HERE. Over the next few days we'll reprint a few of the letters submitted from our members.

It's not too late to tell the President or any elected officials what you think of government policies towards public education. You can find out how to contact your elected officials at http://capwiz.com/npta2/home/.


Dear President Obama,

It was great to see your debate with Romney last night. In it, you were spirited, in command of your facts, and you held your ground when Governor Romney attempted to misrepresent you. With that same spirit, I am writing this letter regarding education, hoping that you will listen, reconsider, and renounce both the policies that your presidency has endorsed through Arne Duncan and Arne Duncan, himself. Perhaps then I can bring myself to vote for you again in this election. I will admit that before last night's debate, I had not planned to participate in this letter writing campaign, thinking that any and all persuasive attempts would be futile wastes of energy. I had resigned myself to the feeling that you no longer cared.

But in light of last night's debate, I will now ask you to do the following: Please avail yourself of the great and mounting evidence that high stakes testing is detrimental to our nation's children and to the institution of public education. Please consider that the uber-competitive spirit of Race to the Top is, in effect, undermining, and in fact, almost destroying the chance for equitable funding and the desegregation of our public schools. Please consider that these policies are wiping out the staples of the arts and physical education in the public schools for the poorest of our nation's children. Please consider that these policies do nothing to support quality early childhood education. Please consider that merit pay for teachers, based on student evaluations, has already been tried and has failed miserably. Please consider that we cannot build a strong economy without a strong public educational system. Please consider that the things you want for your children in a private school are the things that our less fortunate students deserve in the public school. Please consider that the current policies have done nothing to assure equitable access to quality education. Please read the letters that parents and my fellow teachers are sending your way. Please read Diane Ravitch's blog. Please read the writings of Yong Zhao and Pedro Noguera, to name a few. Please look to the lessons of Finland when it comes to Public Education. Please become informed and don't accept Arne Duncan's failing and failed policies anymore.

I could fill this letter with anecdotes and with facts and sources to support my reasons asking you to reconsider, but my guess is that you already have all these things available to you at your fingertips. I could also list my 33 years of experience in Special Education and my "retirement" work with Adult Education, and my credentials as a parent and a grandparent, but I'm really just one of many educated and informed people who are begging you to reconsider the current educational policies of your administration. One thing further I would ask you to contemplate, and that is; Please consider that I am one of the many undecided voters in this election. It is true that I cannot stomach Romney, but I will throw my vote away rather than vote for a candidate who does not, in truth and in actions, support our nation's children and PUBLIC education for all. Please show the same determination and grit in response to this plea that you showed in last night's debate.


Cynthia J. Pastore

Sunday, October 21, 2012

NEIFPE Letters to the President

Diane Ravitch coordinated a Campaign for our Public Schools in which teachers, students, parents and concerned citizens wrote letters to the President expressing dissatisfaction with the current government policies towards public education. On Saturday, October 20, 2012, Dr, Ravitch reported on the results. A PDF file of all the letters collected was created by Anthony Cody. Dr. Ravitch wrote,
In a brief, two-week period, nearly 400 letters were submitted. There were many that were eloquent, many that were heartfelt, many written from personal experience.

No one was paid to solicit letter-writers or to write letters. No one who worked to bring the letters together was paid. This was an earnest and completely volunteer effort to carry the views of concerned citizens to the President.

Not a single letter of those submitted expressed support for high-stakes testing or for the policies of No Child Left Behind or the Race to the Top.
The entire file of letters from writers around the country is available HERE. Over the next few days we'll reprint a few of the letters submitted from our members.

It's not too late to tell the President or any elected officials what you think of government policies towards public education. You can find out how to contact your elected officials at http://capwiz.com/npta2/home/.


Dear President Obama,

After 32 years of teaching, I have been happily retired for a number of years. Even though I am no longer in the classroom, I have become so distressed with what Arne Duncan has done to public education that I have become a grassroots activist, working to slow down some of the reforms that I know are not educationally sound. After the damage done to education by No Child Left Behind, I was hopeful that your Department of Education would turn some of that damage around. Much to my dismay, the Race to the Top has managed to be even worse; it is a punitive NCLB on steroids.

Since all of the educational research says that high stakes testing is neither good for students nor for teachers, it defies reason as to why Arne Duncan and you are putting so much emphasis on test scores. I have heard you say that you do not believe that teachers should be teaching to the test, but that is completely antithetical to what Duncan's competitive rush towards high test scores has caused. If a teacher's performance, if a school's performance, and if a child's performance are based on test scores, how else do you think those scores are going to be raised?

In your speeches, you often claim that you support and honor teachers. Sadly, your rhetoric does not match the actions of the D.O.E. Why are teachers who are in the trenches not consulted? Why are real educational experts not consulted? Why is poverty never addressed? Why is the whole child never considered? Why do faux corporate experts such as Bill and Melinda Gates, Eli Broad, Michael Bloomberg have more sway with your administration than teachers?

Are you aware of how much money is being poured into money making schemes on the backs of the children of our nation? Are you aware of how many teachers are fleeing from the profession they used to love? Are you aware of the unintended consequences of all of these reforms? Are you aware of the level of exhaustion, frustration, and sadness that most good teachers are experiencing as a result of these so-called reforms?

I urge you to speak to those who have been impacted by these ill considered reforms. If you cannot find a teacher who is willing to voice his or her honest concerns, I would be happy to share mine.


Phyllis A. Bush


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Vic’s Election Notes on Education #6– October 16, 2012

Here is the latest from Vic Smith. His document, A 22-YEAR REVIEW: IMPROVEMENT IN INDIANA’S PUBLIC SCHOOLS is available by clicking HERE.


Dear Friends,

For all the angst he has caused and the retirements he has motivated with his tactics, Tony Bennett’s record on raising test scores and graduation rates is essentially on par with the record of his predecessor, Suellen Reed.

In two campaign commercials and in his “State of Education” address on September 25th, he has touted raising both graduation rates and test scores. Let’s look at the precise record.

Graduation Rates: A Continuation of Steady Improvement

Graduation rates have been the fodder for political campaign debates since the Frank O’Bannon-David McIntire race for Governor in 2000. After great squabbles over the formula for determining graduation rates, the Indiana General Assembly finally authorized a count based on giving every student a number and then tracking every student who stays in that school to see how many graduate in four years. If they take five or six years to graduate, as in the case of many special education students, they do not count in the graduation rate.

The formula was clarified and students tracked from 9th to 12th grades beginning with the Class of 2006. Here are the results of the six years IDOE has reported the revised method:

Year                   % Graduating in Four Years              % Drop Outs

Class of 2006                           76.1                                          11.2
Class of 2007                           76.4                                          11.9
Class of 2008                           77.8                                          10.3
Class of 2009                           81.5                                            8.7
Class of 2010                           84.1                                            6.4
Class of 2011                           85.7                                            6.1

Data for the Class of 2012 is not expected until December. The columns above do not add up to 100% because the new method of tracking every student revealed that an unexpectedly large number of students, as many as 7 or 8 percent, stay in school for a 5th or 6th year. Special education students have the right to stay in high school until their 22nd birthday. Others leave school without graduating and without dropping out by completing a special education certificate or by completing a course completion certificate, given to those who did not pass the required high school graduation tests.

Tony Bennett has complained that too many schools are granting graduations based on the waiver law. Waiver graduations occur when students do not pass the high school graduation tests in math and English but do meet the alternative list of criteria set up by the General Assembly for graduation. The General Assembly passed legislation authorizing waiver graduations after parents appealed to legislators to not allow a single test to nullify a four-year record of successful course work and achievement. The percentage of diplomas based on waivers has ranged between 5% and 8% since 2006. Waiver diplomas are the subject of much debate, but the focus here is on the total graduation figures listed above because those are the figures Dr. Bennett has cited in his campaign.

The next question is how the above scores should be divided between Dr. Reed and Dr. Bennett. This is a matter of judgment. Since Dr. Reed was in office for seven of the eight semesters for the Class of 2009, I include 2009 data with Dr. Reed’s record. Since Dr. Bennett took office in January of 2009 before the Class of 2009 graduated in June, I also include the Class of 2009 with Dr. Bennett’s record. Using these guidelines, the comparison comes out as follows:

Dr. Reed (2006-2009):
  • Graduation rate 76.1% in 2006
  • Graduation rate 81.5% in 2009, up 5.4% in 3 years after her baseline year.
  • Drop out rate 11.2% in 2006
  • Drop out rate8.7% in 2009, down 2.5% in 3 years after her baseline year.
Dr. Bennett (2009-2011):
  • Graduation rate 81.5% in 2009
  • Graduation rate 85.7% in 2011, up 4.2% in 2 years after his baseline year.
  • Drop out rate 8.7% in 2009
  • Drop out rate 6.1% in 2011, down 2.6% in 2 years after his baseline year.
Campaign statisticians might take these figures and try to find an edge. To me however, both Dr. Reed and Dr. Bennett were pretty much on par on raising graduation rates.

That leaves an important question: What did all of Tony Bennett’s comparative turmoil and controversy accomplish if his record is about the same as that of Suellen Reed?

Test Scores: A Conveniently Timed Adjustment

The record on ISTEP+ scores is, as always, more complex.

The Indianapolis Star took Tony Bennett to task in his “State of Education” address for saying that the ISTEP+ scores went up by 8 percent, from 63% to 71%, for those passing both math and English parts of the test. He was, the Star said, supposed to say the scores went up by 8 percentage points, not 8 percent. A change, they said, from 63% to 71% was a 12% increase.

That was the first fact-checking on Tony Bennett I had seen in the Star in a long, long time. I wish, however, they had discovered a deeper problem.

The deeper concern was buried in the fine print of the 2011 ISTEP+ results. Many of you have seen the report I produce every year, currently showing 22 years of year-by-year data on improvement in Indiana’s public schools. When I was preparing the most recent report last spring, which is attached for your reference, the Spring 2011 results carried a surprising advisory, saying that the 2011 results could not be compared to the Spring 2010 results. The reason given was that in 2011, the “Undetermined” scores were removed from the analysis.

At this point, you are asking: What does all this mean?

Undetermined scores are for students who have only partially completed the test. This could be due to students getting sick before the test is completed or to any number of calamities that could occur when students are tested: weather problems, floods, family emergencies. Schools have seen it all.

Until the Spring 2011 tests, the long term practice throughout Dr. Reed’s time in office was to include undetermined scores in the denominator when percent passing was calculated. In effect, that meant undetermined scores were treated as failing scores. Suddenly, in 2011, a different decision was made. Undetermined scores were set aside and excluded from the analysis. They were left out of the denominator. The net effect of that decision was to lower the denominator and raise the percentage passing totals across the board by about 2%. That is why the advisory said that comparisons between 2010 and 2011 should not be made. It was a “one-time in history” 2% bump up in the scores.

Now fast forward to 2012. The new results issued last summer again excluded the undetermined scores. Therefore, 2012 results can appropriately be compared with 2011 results. However, Tony Bennett in his speech compared the 2012 results (“71%”) with the 2009 results (“63%”). That would be an inappropriate comparison due to the change in IDOE policy on undetermined scores. Instead of a change of 8 percentage points, it should be reported as a probable change of 6 percentage points, since changing the policy on undetermined scores lifts all passing percentage figures by approximately 2 percentage points.

Like I said, the ISTEP+ story is more complex.

The interesting question for speculation is why the change was made. I have no inside information. I don’t even know if Tony Bennett is aware of this nuance produced by his testing staff. All I can do is observe that the change was made in one of the middle years of his term so Tony Bennett would not have to see words saying “comparisons should not be made to the previous year” in 2012. It was timed just right to show a slightly bigger gain (about 2% bigger) since the 2009 tests.

Website Changes

After telling you the story of undetermined scores, I planned to tell you the story of my independent efforts to verify the gains claimed on test scores. My framework was to be the 22-year review, which is attached. The analysis in that document counts, grade by grade, the number of valid year-by-year comparisons that went up, the number that went down, and the number that stayed the same.

To my dismay, when I went to the IDOE website to get the 2012 data to bring my tables up to date, the data I have used for years was not on the website. I have used ISTEP+ reports that were statewide grade by grade disaggregated totals. They are no longer available on the IDOE website.

IDOE has changed their website several times, starting in 2010. I don’t know anyone who thinks the changes have been in the direction of more transparency and more data available. Instead, there is less available.

Then when I went to the archive of previous ISTEP years, the archive files did not open. It could be a problem with the IDOE website or it could be a problem with my trusted computer, which has opened everything else. Draw your own conclusions.


My quest to verify graduation rate and test score gains during Tony Bennett’s years in office has ended in two conclusions:
  1. Graduation rate increases during Dr. Bennett’s term are about on par with graduation rate increases while Dr. Reed was in office.
  2. The switch in 2011 to excluding undetermined scores from the calculations provided an approximate 2% boost to all percentage passing levels.
Positive gains are not in dispute here. A string of positive gains have generally been the norm for a long time, as documented in the year-by-year tables of the attached 22-year review.

A key question that must be asked is whether the gains in test scores and graduation rates during Tony Bennett’s four-year term have come at a cost. Did he sacrifice in other areas to bring these gains, areas that Suellen Reed did not sacrifice? What were the opportunity costs of his intense focus on math and English tests?

I will explore that important question in the next “Notes.”

A Strong Endorsement for Glenda Ritz

The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette strongly endorsed Glenda Ritz in their October 14th editorial entitled “Time to Halt Bennett’s Ambitions.” I agree with everything they wrote, from their opening words, “Indiana public schools are struggling under the leadership of Tony Bennett” to their closing words, “Voters should compare the leadership styles and results of a politically ambitious superintendent versus his two widely respected predecessors. Ritz promises to serve more in the mold of Evans and Reed; she’s the easy choice for Indiana’s top education post.”

Please talk with neighbors and friends who are not familiar with education issues to enlist their support for Glenda Ritz. That is a vital step to counteract the enormous advantage in TV advertising held by Tony Bennett and his campaign that has been so well funded by out-of –state interests. Your actions will make all the difference if Glenda Ritz is going to win in this grassroots campaign.

Best wishes,

Vic Smith

“Vic’s Election Notes on Education” is not linked to any organization and is not being distributed by me to any organization. It is only being distributed to those who have previously sent personal requests for my commentaries. If you want to pass it along to others, you do not need to ask my permission. If you want to be taken off the distribution list, just let me know. If you know of others who want to be added to the list, just send me an email.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Saving Public Education

Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education presented Saving Public Education: Get the Facts, at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, IN on October 4, 2012.

Click the image below for a copy of the presentation. If you have any questions email NEIFPE at


Friday, October 5, 2012

A - Fiasco!

Vic’s Election Notes on Education #4– October 4, 2012

Dear Friends,


That is the best description of the way Tony Bennett is implementing his A-F system for school letter grades. If you think fiasco is too strong a word, consider the following facts:

1) On August 30th at the State Board meeting, Tony Bennett announced that the preliminary grades which were to be given to schools that day were not ready but would be delayed until September 10th.

2) On Sept. 10th, a memo announced a further delay. Preliminary grades were finally released to schools on Sept. 19th --- 21 days late.

3) On Sept. 19th, schools began checking the state's student data lists against their own lists to prepare possible appeals which were due by Oct. 3rd. One superintendent told me it would take three staff members working full time for two weeks to check all the data.

4) On Sept. 20th, the data websites suddenly disappeared for several hours. It was later learned that corrections were being made by IDOE.

5) On Sept. 21st, Friday, late in the afternoon, a whole new set of revised preliminary grades were posted to schools. Local officials who had been checking the data lists for two days had to start over. Fiasco. The appeals deadline was not extended.

6) On Sept. 21st, the Indiana Urban Schools Association had arranged for a meeting with Jon Gubera, director of the A-F program, to answer the myriad questions that local officials had about letter grades. The meeting was scheduled for 10:30am at Warren Township. At 8:07am, Jon Gubera cancelled his appearance by email, citing an unspecified emergency. One IUSA leader driving from Lake County got the message in Lafayette to return home. Another driving from Elkhart got the message in Carmel. Fiasco.

7) On Sept. 24th, Jon Gubera made a presentation about the A-F system at the Indiana School Boards Association conference. He was peppered with questions. Among many concerns, he confirmed to a disgruntled questioner (“How can you hold us accountable when we are not teaching them?”) that the test scores of students in a special education coop school are returned and counted with the home school that sent the student to the coop, even though the student was not educated at the home school. Think about that one. Here’s another one. He confirmed that K-2 schools, which have no ISTEP scores, would receive that same grade as the school or schools that they feed students to. Every school has to have a grade, even if the students in the school are not assessed. He also confirmed that the A-F system uses no confidence intervals or margin of error statistics, which were a positive feature of the federal Adequate Yearly Progress measure.

8) On Sept. 27th, Tony Bennett, Dennis Brooks, Will Krebbs and Dale Chu met with the members of the Indiana Urban Schools Association as a make-up for Jon Gubera’s cancellation on Sept. 21st. Initially the IUSA scheduled the meeting at the Washington Township central office, a common meeting site due to its convenience to the interstate system for the statewide group. Tony Bennett declined to meet there and insisted on another site because his election opponent Glenda Ritz works in Washington Township. The meeting was shifted to Warren Township.

Think about that one. Does Tony Bennett as Indiana’s State Superintendent, who is implementing the A-F system in every school in the state, feel that he can’t even go to a meeting at the Washington Township central office, one of the larger metropolitan school districts in Marion County.

9) On Sept. 27th, at the IUSA meeting, Tony Bennett said that Jon Gubera was leaving the IDOE staff effective Sept. 28th and that Will Krebbs would take over leadership of the A-F system. It was reported that Jon was taking another job. This followed numerous rumors that I first heard on Sept. 19th that Jon Gubera had resigned or been fired.

10) On Sept. 27th, a memo announced that the State Board of Education would postpone their meeting from Oct. 3rd to Oct. 10th. The memo did not explain any reason, but the State Board by law must approve the school letter grades before they are final. The window for appeals was open until Oct. 3, so the final grades could not be approved on that day but would require a later meeting. Delaying the State Board meeting has affected other groups who plan their meetings to avoid conflicts with the State Board. The Select Commission had previously scheduled an October 10th meeting. The fall meeting of the Indiana Urban Schools Association scheduled for October 10th was cancelled.

But Tony Bennett’s problems were not over.

11) On October 2nd, IDOE changed the plan once again. Now the appeals are due by Oct. 24th and public announcement of the school letter grades is scheduled for Oct. 31st, after the State Board meeting on that day.

12) Ironically, on Oct. 2nd at the same hour the IDOE memo came out announcing yet another delay, Glenda Ritz was holding a press conference in Indianapolis, saying that the growth model in the A-F system violates Indiana’s accountability law (Public Law 221) which says [IC 20-31-8-2(b)] “The department shall assess improvement in the following manner: (1) Compare each school and each school corporation with its own prior performance and not to the performance of other schools or school corporations.” The labeling of high and low growth students uses comparisons to students of other schools and school corporations.

The changes continue.

13) On Oct. 4th (today), another memo made yet another change in the State Board schedule, saying now that the Oct. 10th meeting would not be held at all and that the next meeting would be on Oct. 31st.


All of these are concerns about the implementation of the A-F system, which on the surface appeared this summer to be on time and on schedule.

While I did not expect the series of problems chronicled above, I did believe that the development of the system itself going back to 2010 was seriously flawed. Tony Bennett made it a priority of his first term to change the accountability system, ignoring other possible priorities like energizing early childhood education, fighting the childhood obesity crisis, reactivating the civic/citizenship mission of schools and addressing the decline of art and music programs in our schools. All of these important issues were ignored so that he could get schools to focus even more attention on language arts and math.

In my observation, Tony Bennett’s efforts to change the accountability system to school letter grades have been troubled from the start:

1) In April, 2010, the public hearing on whether to change school category names to “A-F” drew 57 speakers, and 56 were opposed. Only the Indiana Chamber of Commerce was in favor.

2) In May, 2010, the State Board passed a motion to adopt “A-F” category names without specifying the metrics of how letter grades would be determined. State Board member Mike Pettibone, saying he needed to see the criteria for letter grades as part of the change, was the only vote against the plan. The motion stated that recommendations for new metrics would be considered in September 2010 and used for letter grades in 2011.

3) In July, 2010, a second hearing was required because IDOE violated procedural notification rules in the first hearing to the point that it did not satisfy legal standards. Seven more speakers appeared, all opposed to the plan in a meeting that was minimally publicized.

4) In June, 2011, Tony Bennett told the State Board that the new letter grade metrics would not be ready for 2011 grades, so the old system would be used to give letter grades in August, 2011. No motion to proceed in this manner was made by the State Board even though their motion in May 2010 cited above stated that the new system would be used in 2011. With nothing more than an announcement from Tony Bennett, the new system was put off for a year.

5) In January, 2012, the only public hearing on the new A-F plan was held in Indianapolis. All 35 speakers, representing a variety of groups and individuals, opposed the plan. This time the Indiana Chamber of Commerce was among the opponents.

6) In March, 2012, as the General Assembly was wrapping up, enough complaints had reached the ears of legislators that a Select Commission on Education was created in the final days of the session to review, among other topics, the A-F system.

7) In April, 2012, the first meeting of the Select Commission was scheduled on the A-F system. The agenda named speakers from IDOE followed by public comments, and many drove in from around the state to testify during the public comments portion of the meeting. Tony Bennett led off four IDOE speakers in a three-hour description of the A-F, a presentation that went on so long that the public was not given a chance to speak that day. Fiasco.

8) In June, 2012, the public finally got a chance to speak and many from around the state took advantage and expressed a variety of deep concerns in a meeting that lasted four hours.

In summary, you have above a narrative of the flawed implementation since August and then a narrative of the flawed substantive development over the past three years. Can anyone read this history and say that Tony Bennett has led our schools with wisdom and effectiveness in making this choice to change our accountability system?

We already had an accountability system which had the support of all stakeholders before he initiated these changes in 2010, an established system with plenty of teeth in it. Just ask IPS and Gary. He has ended up with a system that even the Indiana Chamber of Commerce opposes and is so complex that the launch has been delayed three times. For Hoosier educators, this turmoil is taking valuable time away from other important programs for students, but local school officials have to follow through with the A-F data checks because the very existence of the school can be in jeopardy of state takeover due to the letter grades.

And now, Tony Bennett has announced in his “State of Education” address that he wants to use this same A-F system, this same flawed system, to allow him to take over whole school districts, not just schools. Voters must be aware of his plans.

It took a lot of brass for him to make that proposal using an A-F system that so far has been a disaster. It is good that this proposal comes during the election campaign so that voters can have their say on this.

Every voter needs to hear about his overreach so they can tell him “no” at the ballot box. State takeover of local school boards based on a flawed and unvalidated measuring system is over the top.

The urgency is clear. Please forward this information to other voters who are unaware of this issue and may agree that Tony Bennett should not be given the tools to take over whole school districts. Voters need this information to make this election a referendum on whether to support Tony Bennett’s policies or whether to replace him with Glenda Ritz.

This is one more reason why I am supporting Glenda Ritz for state superintendent in the election. A vote for Glenda Ritz is a vote to revise the flawed A-F system.

I urge you to talk with neighbors who trust you about the issues and enlist their support for Glenda Ritz. It will take all of us doing this to win this election.

I hope you will help us escape this fiasco.

Best wishes,

Vic Smith vic790@aol.com


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Two Thumbs Down for Won't Back Down

by Phyllis Bush

Last night I took one for the team. I received an invitation from the Parent Revolution to attend free screening of the movie Won’t Back Down. Admittedly, I had read all of the reviews and all of the on line reports of its union bashing message, but I was prepared to watch the movie with an open, if somewhat skeptical, mind. The first thing I noticed was that the cinematography was grainy and faded, and since the audience is told at the beginning of the film that this is based on a real event (although we are never told who or where this might have been based upon), my guess is that the film maker wanted this film to look like a documentary, perhaps the narrative version of Waiting for Superman.

The movie opens with a scene of a harried single mother who is brushing her teeth and getting a drink of caffeine at the same time. She rushes in to get her daughter out of bed because they are apparently late to school. But first, the movie maker wants the audience to see her obvious love for her child as she snuggles with the child instead of getting her up and moving. Several things stood out about this opening scene. The mother’s clothing was borderline trampish; their apartment looked pretty messy and dirty, which offended me on a number of levels. While it is never stated, the inference is that this woman is poor, and because she is poor, her living conditions are obviously squalid.

Even more offensive than the depiction of living in poverty was the characterization and the dialogue. The characters were all stereotypes. What was the point of the love interest between the banjo playing teacher and the dedicated, dyslexic, trampy mother? How is it that the TFA teacher was the only teacher in the whole school who cared about kids?

The union leader is so offensive that the audience must draw the conclusion that this horrid school is the fault of the teachers’ unions. At one point the union leader bastardizes a quote often attributed to Albert Shanker, the founder of the AFT: "When schoolchildren start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of school children." However, in their effort to demonize teachers’ unions and union bosses, they failed to note that Shanker also said:
Public schools played a big role in holding our nation together. They brought together children of different races, languages, religions, and cultures and gave them a common language and a sense of common purpose. We have not outgrown our need for this; far from it.
The aim of the movie is obviously to play on and manipulate the heartstrings of the audience. Obviously, the message is that the secret to fixing the schools is for the parents to take it over even if the big bad bureaucracy and the teachers’ unions don’t want reform. While that sounds like a really swell idea, some of the basic reasons about why this is not a good idea have nothing to do with job security or bureaucracy. How will these schools be funded? Where will they get their facility? How will they staff it? The list goes on and on.

One of the most annoying aspects of the movie is that, like our policy makers, it over simplifies the issues. The bottom line message is that no matter how simplistic an idea is, if it is called “reform,” then is must be a good idea.

Even though Waiting for Superman was also manipulative and simplistic, it was a much better movie than this. Now that I have seen the movie, I no longer have to rely on hearsay to say how I feel about it. However, I can never get back the two hours where I could have been watching some more edifying, like Keeping Up with the Kardashians.