Monday, November 27, 2006

Indiana's Failing Education System

The latest proof of just how bad Indiana's public education system is came today when the state Education department released new data showing that 25% of high school-aged students end their education as dropouts. "We now have a clear picture of high school graduation in Indiana and with it comes a better understanding of our state's dropout crisis," [state Superintendant Suellen] Reed said. The Star's Mary Beth Schneider reports the new figures as follows:

-- 73. 7 percent graduated within four years.
-- 7.6 percent are still in school.
-- 1. 8 percent graduated after four years.
-- 1.1 percent earned a special education certificate.
-- 0.7 percent earned a non-diploma, course completion certificate.
-- 12 percent dropped out or there whereabouts have become undetermined.
Reed is quoted as saying the data "underscores the need for early intervention to prevent dropouts" through such changes as full-day kindergarten. Curiously, a few months ago an Annie Casey Foundation study found that Indiana ranked 50th out of 50 in high school dropout rates. That study found that 13% of Hoosiers between 16 and 19 were high school dropouts. At the time, a spokesman for the Department of Education dismissed Indiana's high dropout rate as a nationwide problem. At least Reed is now acknowledging the state has a "dropout crisis."

As the Governor's Education Roundtable met today, it remains clear that nobody has come up with a way of funding full-day kindergarten as promised by Governor Daniels and other state leaders. Newly-elected Speaker Pat Bauer (D) says he supports full funding for education, but he also thinks the state should remove the sales tax on gasoline, a move which would reduce state revenues by $300 million annually. That's also about how much it would cost to fully fund full-day kindergarten. It seems scoring political points with voters is still valued over delivering results.

IPS, which has in the past claimed a graduation rate of at least 90%, will see its graduation rate plummet under this new, more accurate system of measuring the dropout rate according to the Department of Education. Meanwhile, Mayor Bart Peterson (D) continues to push more charter schools rather than fixing the IPS system in which Indianapolis taxpayers already have a huge investment. One has to wonder just how bad things have to get before Indiana's political leaders wake up to the fact that we have a serious education problem.


Jeff Newman said...

Proposing the removal of the sales tax from gasoline is yet another ridiculous political play by speaker-to-be Bauer.

He knows it has a snowball's chance in hell, but now he can say "hey, the Democrats tried to cut your taxes and the Republicans blocked it!"

If you're looking to cut taxes, the gas tax is one of the dumbest places to do it. For one, it is a perfectly matched tax for road repairs: the more fuel you burn, the more you have used the roads and highways, and thus the more you contribute to their upkeep.

Two, the average gasoline consumer would benefit very little from the gas tax elimination, while the state loses $300 million, and the big fuel burners fill up in Indiana, wear out our highways and bridges, and laugh all the way to the bank.

While many of us were glad to see the House of Bosma flip to the Dems, Bauer's political posturing is not at all welcome as far as I'm concerned.

Anonymous said...

Focus,'s about Indiana's education system.

You have to start somewhere, and these figures give the state a benchmark.

One way for the problem to get wors,e is to continue the proliferation of charter schools. They sap resources from precisely the schools who need them most.

It'll take more than the current political climate can muster, to fix this problem. I'm afraid the bototm hasn't been found yet.

Jeff Newman said...

Ok, so you busted me looking for a place to spew about how annoyed I was when I heard about Bauer's gas-tax proposal this morning -sheepish grin-.

Regarding the education issue, I'm wondering, is the full-day kindergarten thing really THAT big of a deal when it comes to addressing graduation rates?

It seems like a good idea, but have there been any studies showing a statistical connection between full-day kindergarten and graduation rates, or is this yet more political posturing?

Anonymous said...


Almost all professional studies performed indicate that dropouts, and for that matter, many kids who cause problems throughout their k-12 experience, started "behind the 8-ball" in first grade. They fall a little behind each year, and the cumulative effect, by the time they hit middle school, is overwhelming.

The real crisis in education is at the middle school level. It's usually a child's first experience with multiple teachers, and the social side of it is hell. Just when their bodies are handing them a huge issue, they are dealing with more freedom to fail...less able to cope.

And if they've fallen, say, 5% behind per year in elementary, they're not ready for middle school. We promote them anyway, and a crisis ensues.

If these children had been targeted earlier, at the outset, things could be different. Believe it or not, most of us establish our patterns of learning in the first 12-15 weeks of school.
Lifelong habits are formed. The earlier we cen help, the better off we are.

Unforauntely, the FDK payoff is incremental for many years. It pays off bigtime, 12 years after we start it.

In every state that has done it, grad. rates increase later.

But we need to work on graduation, too. Promoting kids to get them on to the next year, is doing them no favors. A few school districts have adopted a policy against social promotion, and it's working.

They're just too few.

For all those inquiring minds, who love to compare us to foreign school systems: Europeans don't fare any better. Ditto the Chinese. But almost universally, they do hold onto kids longer if they must, and social promotion just isn't done. You move on to the next level when you master it, whenever that is. Consequently, you could go to college at 15 if you're smart enough.

And you might not graduate until you're 25.

Those societies recognize both ends of that problem, remove the stigma, and roll up their sleeves.

There's the real lesson. If only we could do the same...

Anonymous said...

It wasn't all that long ago I was in school - the folks I knew that dropped out - in my school of 1200 or so were for these reasons:

1. Troublemakers that kept getting suspended or expelled. I'm aware of a handful that went to prison.

2. Girls that got pregnant.

3. Kids who only attended school often enough to keep the parents out of trouble. Once the student turned 16 the school never saw them again. These thought they "didn't need school".

Do parents get held accountable anymore for their child's truancy?

8:43PM: I disagree with your statement on charter schools. Frankly if the public schools weren't so bloated in bureaucracy and were doing a better job at educating students there wouldn't need to be charter schools.

I know this is about dropouts but excuse me while I make this statement: PUBLIC SCHOOLS SHOULD REQUIRE STUDENTS IN UNIFORM!!! Even seeing the students coming out of Warren Central - the boys look like who-knows-what with their pants hanging around their knees and the girls look like they just came off the set of the Jerry Springer show!

Anonymous said...

>Unforauntely, the FDK payoff is incremental for many years. It pays off bigtime, 12 years after we start it. In every state that has done it, grad. rates increase later.

Sorry, anonymous, but you're engaging in wishful thinking. There is absolutely NO such evidence. Indeed, quite to the contrary, the studies of FDK are incredibly consistent. Every single one of them shows that any benefits from FDK wash out completely by 3rd or 4th grade. Some of the studies don't even show any benefit at the start of 1st grade, but most show that there is some benefit at that point. It just goes away shortly after that.

>Meanwhile, Mayor Bart Peterson (D) continues to push more charter schools rather than fixing the IPS system in which Indianapolis taxpayers already have a huge investment. One has to wonder just how bad things have to get before Indiana's political leaders wake up to the fact that we have a serious education problem.

So, Gary, what precisely would you recommend? Taxpayers already give IPS over $13,600 per student. Charter schools take the toughest kids from IPS and do a better job with about half that amount of money. Yet, you seem to be implying that IPS needs yet more money. I don't get it, Gary.

I completely agree that Indiana's political leaders need to wake up. First, they (and also the Indy Star) need to realize that FDK is just a distraction - and a very expensive distraction at that. The unions love it because they will get more mandatory members. Meanwhile, the bulk of Indiana's teachers will have even less money because a huge chunk has been directed to FDK. (The popularity of this program, even among educators, will be very interesting when this tradeoff finally comes to light.) Second, adding more money to the current, failed system will do nothing. What is really needed are completely new models, like those offered by charter schools, to start turning things around. Indeed, they are already making a difference (with much less money), while people like you and anonymous continue to ignore their successes.

So, AI, is more money the only answer you can give? Surely not.

Anonymous said...

Well, educationally at least, Warren is now known as IPS East...

Uniforms may work...who knows? But these kids leave the hosue every morning. Where are the parents?

And charter schools only skirt around the edge of the problem. They rob public schools of precious resources, and sooner or later in some neighborhoods at least, only the difficult-to-educate kids are going to be left for the public schools. And they're not cheap to educate.

The bloated infrastructure for public schools, mostly in central office staff, needs to have a dose of economic reality. Who gets hurt when more charter schools open? Certainly not central office administrators. Their number and pay are constantly growing.

Line-level teachers get riffed when student population goes down. It's simple math, sadly.

And if public schools have their best and brightest taken from them, for whatever reason, at these alarming rates, it'll get worse.

Go one county north--where their special-ed and poor populations are virtually non-existent. Look at their ISTEP scores and grad rates. Pretty high. That's because they have virtually no problem kids to educate. Yeah, they've got some, but compared to other systems, they have nothing.

It should also be mentioned, regreatably, that their minority populations are very small in the northern county, and statistically, we know that minority populations are more difficult and expensive to educate as a whole.

In any business enterprise, strip off the top producers, form a new company, and leave the rest to the old company, and see what happens. Outstanding students still attend and graduate from IPS high schools.

But their numbers are dwindling, fast.

Dr. White (and, frankly, ALL superintendents in Marion County): resist the closed-culture atmospheric pressures, and empty out your central office. Leave only the bookkeepers. They're alll you ened there. Spend the savings on classrooms. or, God forbid, return some to taxpayers.

What a concept, huh?

Every single central office administrator could have his or her duties shuffled and we could save money. A history teacher at Tech could become a system-wide curriculum mentor, cut his/her teaching load in half, and everyone gains. Plus, the decisions would be made closer to the action, thus, I'd bet, they're more effective.

Duplicate the above example across all central office positions.

Magic can happen.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 10:21:

I agree, to large measure, with your comments on administrators. There is simply no justification for the fact that about half of all school employees are not classroom teachers. Indeed, that is one of the huge differences between public schools and other schools. In private and charter schools, a much greater portion of their funds is spent on teachers and other direct classroom expenses.

You are absolutely wrong, however, regarding the students who attend charter schools. I know this is the standard criticism that is lodged by charter school critics, but the documented evidence proves exactly the opposite. Charter schools are attracting the worst performing students from IPS, not the best. And here's what that means to the bottom line: IPS loses its most difficult and, presumably, most expensive students. Yet, IPS keeps over half the dollars for the students who have left while charter schools do a better job educating those challenging students with about 1/2 the money that IPS was spending. So in the end, IPS ends up with a student population that is performing better, on average, and with more money per student to educate the students who are remaining.

Who could reasonably be against that?

Anonymous said...

11:43, the charter school evidence you cite, except for those charters which specifically target problem children, is just not correct.

And, it was meant as a sweeping comment, on parochial and private schools, who absolutely do not accept problem kids at all. Why should they? They have no public-funding standards to uphold. Unless, of course, you count the special ed and other services public schools must by law provide to private schools.

And, I don't know what FDK studies you've read, but you're wrong there,'s what almost every study on these issues has shown: time on task increases comprehension and improves learning/study habits. More adult time with kids equals better students. Period.

Frankly, that last one is almost common sense amplified. The same argument can be used for longer school days (these kids are NOT overworked) and longer school years.

Anonymous said...

2:14 - It's clear that you have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. Do a search on any of these issues and it will take you about 2 minutes to prove yourself wrong.

On the one topic that might take a couple extra minutes, I'll give you some help. About 7% of Catholic school kids have "issues" that would label them as special education in the public schools. Yes, that is lower the public schools. But it is a lot higher than conventional wisdom.

Meanwhile, here's something for you to consider: Private schools receive no money - absolutely none - for their special education students. Public schools receive federal money to identify and serve all special needs kids in their district, including those at private schools. The public schools are also required to spend a proportional share of their federal special ed dollars on the non-public school students whom they identify. They can, and some of them do, contract with teachers at the private school to provide those services. But they only pay for the services because they are the ones who get the dollars!

Now here's the big catch: Public schools also get full STATE funding for special ed kids in their district who attend PRIVATE schools. In total, those state funds make up about seven-eighths of the special ed dollars that are available. BUT (here's the important part), the public schools are NOT required to spend ANY of that state money on the kids at private schools. In other words, the public schools get paid both state and federal dollars for the special ed kids who attend private schools in their district, but they get to pocket seven-eighths of that money, even though the amount was generated by private school students who get one-eighth of the services they deserve or, in more cases, don't get served at all.

Frankly, 11:43, you've got a lot of learning to do.

Anonymous said...

That should have said, "Frankly, 2:14, you've got a lot of learning to do."

Anonymous said... couldn't be more wrong.

Anonymous said...

Okay, 5:42, back it up! What is wrong? State some facts! Give us some figures!

I sure hope to God that you are not a teacher.

Anonymous said...

I knew we had a serious problem back in the early 1990's. Those babies born then are about how old now? They are the latest crop of children our education system raised. We have a DEAD serious teenage thug problem on our hands. Obviously the government is inept and cannot handle the responsibility. Put the future of our children into the hands of capable teachers, mentors, and guides. Get our children out of government monopolized schools.