By Andrew Pillow
On election day, 71% of Washington Township voters supported the operations referendum and 70% supported the construction referendum. The construction referendum allocated $185 million to support renovations to all district schools and construction of two new elementary schools to accommodate the district’s growth.
Currently, the Metropolitan School District of Washington Township (MSDWT) has seven elementary schools: Greenbriar, Allisonville, Nora, Spring Mill, John Strange, Fox Hill, and Crooked Creek. After evaluating the conditions of two closed sites, Wyandotte and Harcourt, MSDWT decided it would be more cost effective to demolish these buildings and build two new schools. Because the cost of renovating John Strange exceeded the cost of new construction and because the John Strange site could not accommodate a larger building, it will no longer be used as an elementary school once the new schools are built at the Wyandotte and Harcourt sites.
By Fall 2017, the district plans to release more details about the construction of the new elementary schools. Currently, they would like feedback on naming the two schools via survey. The options for the new school to be built on the Wyandotte site are Clearwater Elementary School and Sycamore Springs Elementary School. The options for the new school to be built on the Harcourt site are Willow Lake Elementary School and Highland Elementary School. They have also provided a blank for stakeholders to provide comments. The potential names were determined based on Indianapolis’ neighborhoods and landmarks.
We are entering the home stretch.
With the conclusion of spring break and with one round of standardized testing in the books, the time for students to demonstrate their growth is now. For any supplemental out of school time provider worth their salt, this time of year can bring tremendous highs, or lows that make you want to reconsider your life.
Generally, the return to school from spring break marks the end of a grading period, the next to last for most Indianapolis students attending various school types, including traditional public, private and charter. From a provider’s standpoint, this particular period can offer enlightening information. It not only highlights the current marking period’s efforts, but it offers an excellent indicator of the trajectory which will determine a student’s ability to progress to the next level.
A program that has served 112 public school students to date this school year, the Edna Martin Christian Center Leadership and Legacy program, approaches this point in time with confidence in our effort to enrich students socially and academically, but with the sobering reality that sometimes our best efforts have not yielded the performance for all students we hope to see.
Still, this most recent marking period was different. In the aggregate, a majority of our students are on track to demonstrate growth in the primary areas we evaluate: math, reading and science, followed by standardized assessments at the conclusion of the school year, when available. Overall, school day attendance remains high for a significant majority, and school suspensions were on the decline from the previous period.
But, a particular and unexpected anomaly was also observed: a high concentration of students from one traditional public school was exceeding our expectations in terms of collective performance. I’m pleased to say that in particular cases of students whose behaviors lead to poor performance, marking period outcomes far exceeded expectations to the point of near hubris. One first grade student who generally visits my office regularly for punitive reasons even received one of the biggest hugs I’ve afforded any student, which was honestly weird for both of us.
To what to do we attribute this growth? Perhaps it is the implementation of a comprehensive, individualized strategy in which all stakeholders work together for common benefit. It could be that students simply have decided to buckle down to realize the potential we know to be inherent. Even still, it could be the adjusted approach from dedicated school leadership and educators or greater understanding and participation among parents. Whatever the reason, the outcome feels good!
Now here’s where it gets tricky. In this high stakes environment where schools’ collective performance mean the difference between a ‘high quality’ or ‘failing’ designation, the difference between charter renewal versus closure, we have to ask if good grades are devalued for high performing students in low performing schools? What’s in a grade when it’s generated from a school whose majority fail to meet minimum standards, as is the case for the previously mentioned traditional public institution.
Tell a student beaming with confidence in their first honor roll designation their grade is somehow less significant because of their school's performance over time. Tell a parent that has chosen for their students to remain in these schools their child’s demonstrable growth is not as legitimate. Tell the licensed teacher, school leader or community partner the positives are grossly overshadowed by systemic challenges for which none are happy but we collectively own.
With two months and much work remaining, this period’s snapshot offers hope, optimism and continuing confidence in our student’s abilities. These students may not have chosen the school’s in which they learn, but they’re choosing to try.
By Andrew Pillow
Compulsory pre-k has been a hot topic lately. Many states are considering expanding their early education programs but one of the central obstacles seems to be cost. Larry Schweinhart talks about the value of Pre-k in his Ted Talk, The return on investment in high-quality preschool.
By Andrew Pillow
Indianapolis Public Schools aims to close 3 of its high schools in 2018-19. Years of declining enrollment and rising infrastructure costs have created a situation where IPS feels like it needs to act to save money. The goal is for IPS to operate only 4 high schools in the 2018-19 school year and thus save around $4 million per year.
"After reviewing facility utilization data, the Taskforce identified IPS high schools as having the greatest potential for improving operational efficiency in the district. The Taskforce recommends that the district operate four high schools beginning in SY2018-19. For SY2017-18, the district will operate seven high schools; thus, the Taskforce recommends operating three fewer high schools in SY2018-19 than it will during SY2017-18. The Taskforce found that by rightsizing the high school facilities portfolio, IPS could save over $4 million per year.
Operating high schools under a more efficient model would allow IPS to re-invest these inefficiently allocated resources to expand upon the successes the district has achieved to date. IPS could push the dollars saved directly to students and teachers through investments in teacher compensation and direct services to students. The continued operation of too many underutilized high schools presents a significant barrier to ensuring that the greatest possible portion of district funding is allocated to classrooms."
It is unclear which schools will be closed. The board plans to vote on the recommendation and subsequent closings. Community members are encouraged to offer feedback here.
Read more here.
Read the full taskforce recommendation here.
By Andrew Pillow
The general antipathy for the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights among republicans is well known. Many on the right have even publicly acknowledged their desire to scale back, or completely eliminate the office all together. However, eliminating such a large component of the Department of Education would be controversial and cost republicans significant time and political capital… at a time when both are at a premium. So Betsy DeVos has done the next best thing… appoint a head who doesn’t believe in the mission.
Enter Candice Jackson.
On Wednesday Betsy DeVos announced Candice Jackson to the position of deputy assistant secretary in the Office for Civil Rights. This is significant because this essentially makes Jackson the acting head of the office until a permanent leader can be found.
Candice Jackson seems like an odd choice for the role at first glance. She has limited experience in education. She also has limited experience in civil rights law. Not too unlike the criticisms levied against DeVos herself when she was appointed. However what Jackson does have is a history of stances that run contrary to the recent trajectory of the office:
- Jackson is a self-described victim of reverse racism and believes affirmative action “promotes racial discrimination”.
- Jackson referred to the work of economic historian Murray N. Rothbard as a “monumental achievement”. Rothbard notably opposes compulsory education and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
- She has also expressed her displeasure with “feminist culture” which she believes is “moving backwards, not forwards.”
- Jackson has a history of both supporting and denouncing sexual misconduct victims as she wrote a book about Clinton’s sexual accusers, but labeled Trump’s accusers as “fake victims”.
You combine all of this with Betsy DeVos’s family history of supporting groups that critics claim undermine LGBT rights and protections and you have essentially unchecked all of the boxes that make up the dominant direction of the Office for Civil Rights over the last 8 years.
So what does all this mean?
Well if you are a democrat you are probably pretty concerned over the pick. (Although you have probably grown use to that feeling by now.) Jackson represents a sharp departure from the Office of Civil rights you have come to know during the Obama administration.
If you are a republican (or libertarian), you are probably pretty happy with the pick. Not because of the things that Jackson will do, but because of the things she likely won’t. We are probably in for a much smaller, and scaled back Office for Civil Rights and that will suit conservatives who were fed up with the so-called “activist” nature of the office just fine.
Read more about Candice Jackson here. (ProPublica)
Aggregated By Andrew Pillow
By Andrew Pillow
The importance of diversity in the classroom has long been known in education circles. However, a recent study has shown just how little it takes to make a profound impact.
According to a study out of Johns Hopkins University, if a black student has at-least one black teacher they are significantly more likely to finish school. The study also points out that the effect is greater for lower income students:
“Having at least one black teacher in third through fifth grades reduced a black student’s probability of dropping out of school by 29 percent, the study found. For very low-income black boys, the results are even greater – their chance of dropping out fell 39 percent.”
Co-author of the study, Nicholas Papageorge says this study proves that there are definite pros to having black teachers in the classroom.
“Black students matched to black teachers have been shown to have higher test scores but we wanted to know if these student-teacher racial matches had longer-lasting benefits. We found the answer is a resounding yes,” Papageorge said.
It’s worth noting that the study doesn’t make any claims on the effectiveness of the pedagogy of non-black vs black teachers. Instead they cite the “role-model” effect as a possible explanation for the results. Essentially the idea is that some students may believe in their future possibilities more if they come in contact with someone who represents them.
See the full study here.
By Andrew Pillow
Teachers often speak on the struggle of getting students to try as hard as they can. Angela Lee Duckworth left her job as a consultant and began teaching 7th grade math in New York public schools. Through this and her subsequent graduate school research she found “grit” was actually the biggest predictor of success.
Listen to her talk about her experience and research in her Ted Talk, Grit: the power of passion and perseverance.
On November 8, 2016 residents of the Metropolitan School District of Washington Township (MSDWT) had two questions before them on the ballot, an operation referendum and a construction referendum. MSDWT asked voters to vote yes for the referenda to improve current facilities and build new facilities, upgrade security, add programming, and maintain current staff and add additional staff. Superintendent Dr. Woodson, her staff, and the Washington Township Parent Council through word of mouth, community meetings, emails, surveys, information on the district’s website, and videos shared with voters why both the construction referendum and operation referendum were necessary. Although 70% of Washington Township voters do not have children in the district’s schools, the referenda passed with 70% of voter support.
Since the referenda passed, MSDWT has held community outreach meetings at various district schools to update stakeholders about how the district plans to use referendum funds. At the March 16th community outreach meeting held at Crooked Creek Elementary School, Dr. Woodson highlighted the many accomplishments of MSDWT students and staff. She also updated attendees about the two currently closed elementary schools, Harcourt and Wyandotte. A few days before the meeting, Dr. Woodson shared she had entered Harcourt Elementary. “I had to wear a mask and part of the building was not accessible.” Instead of renovating Harcourt and Wyandotte, both schools will be demolished and rebuilt; it would be more cost effective to rebuild than to repair and upgrade. Dr. Woodson also informed parents that next school year they would receive information about the specific changes that would take place at the school their children currently attend.
Currently, MSDWT schools are overcrowded. At Crooked Creek Elementary School all of the fourth grade classrooms are outside in trailers due to overcrowding. A parent inquired about nonresident enrollment. Dr. Woodson responded, “Washington Township will continue to be a district of choice.” Information was not shared about how nonresident enrollment affects the overcrowding in the district’s schools. Another parent wanted to know if any funds would be directed towards improving foreign language in the elementary schools since Washington Township is a fully authorized International Baccalaureate K-12 district. Dr. Woodson responded, “Not at this time.”
Dr. Woodson emphasized the importance of hearing from stakeholders as they continue to make decisions. Because the district is opening an eighth elementary school, attendance boundaries will be changed. Dr. Woodson stated, “We want to know what is important to you. Would you prefer that your child attend the school closest to your home or do you want us to balance school populations in regards to race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic factors? We can’t do both.” The district also would like input about the start and end time of all schools. There is a link to the community survey on the homepage of the district’s website. One more community meeting about plans for the referendum funds will be held at Fox Hill Elementary School on Thursday, April 13th at 6 p.m.
When a school district asks for input, its stakeholders should respond. If you are a Washington Township resident, make sure you complete the survey and if possible, attend the next community meeting.