COVID-19 cases in Indiana are climbing, coinciding with the planned beginning of our school year. Across our state, local school boards are faced with difficult decisions about how to educate children and serve their communities during a pandemic. Meanwhile, the Trump administration wants our schools to move into full-bore reopening and has reframed guidance from the CDC to downplay safety protocols.
So far, Indiana has not issued specific metrics that could guide decisions about opening schools in person. Parents, teachers, and others are scrambling to read news reports and check coronavirus dashboards as they attempt to balance their desire to have children in school with the need to keep students, teachers, and staff safe.
In this ongoing emergency, we affirm:
School is crucial to our children’s development as citizens, seekers of knowledge, and people who care for others and for their world. Childhood is brief and matters exponentially. Our state must do what is necessary to constrain this virus and bring infections steadily down so that our children, teachers, and staff can safely go back to school.
Indiana Coalition for Public Education–Monroe County
Indiana Coalition for Public Education
Washington Township Parent Council Network
Northwest Indiana Coalition for Public Education
People often ask, how do I support public education? Here are a number of ways. Some are very current.
Write your legislators.
Sign a petition.
Here is a petition to suspend standardized testing in Indiana for 2020.
Vote for public education.
Write your legislators.
And, of course, join us!
Did you know that school funding is tied to the student in Indiana? Most folks—including educators—don’t. It’s top-level. It’s complex. There is even a portion of state education funding called complexity.
Simply put, in Indiana, each student is a backpack full of cash. The cash follows them to the school district they attend. There are added complexities (there’s that term again), but that is the heart of it. If you decide to enroll your child in a privately managed virtual school, like Connections Academy (Pearson) or Indiana Digital* (K12 Inc.), instead of sending them back to your neighborhood public school, then the state funding that went last year to your child’s public school goes instead to the virtual school. If you choose to enroll them in a private, out-of-state, out-of-pocket school, you get little to no assistance. If you decide to homeschool in the traditional sense, you get little to no assistance.
I get it. We’re in a pandemic. Some of us can NOT send our child back to school. (On the flip side, some of us MUST.)
However, if children do not return to their local public school, then the school district collects less funding than prior years from the state. Since the bulk of public school funding comes from state funds, the results of less state funding will be layoffs, larger class sizes, fewer support staff, fewer field trips (when we’re out of the pandemic), fewer extracurriculars and specials, etc.
This hurts children. Most of whom thrive better in smaller classes where teachers can devote more one-on-one time with them.
This hurts the future of communities.
This hurts low-income children and low-income communities the most.
Stuart Greene, a school board member in South Bend, explains how it can truly hurt in this article.
…this nationwide trend of whether students leaving their public schools for [alternate schooling] could have a clear consequence.
To help protect districts from large financial losses, Senator Eddie Melton and other legislators have stressed that state funding for Indiana’s schools for the 2020–21 year should be based on the last student count (ADM, average daily membership) before the pandemic, which was in February 2020. In addition, he and others believe that the schools must also be financially supported by emergency federal funding as educating children during a pandemic will not cost less. In fact, it will cost much more.
Still, some of us can NOT send our children back to school. I get it. But please be patient. Chances are your school district may offer an online option. Choosing that online option affords your child more local resources than an online option that is not local.
What can I do?
* Indiana Digital is classified as a traditional public school, but it is a virtual school that serves students across the state much like a virtual charter school.
At the MCCSC school board meeting on January 28, 2020, this statement written by Keri Miksza was presented during public comment.
Last year myself and others spoke to the board about a few things. I was concerned about class size, especially in Title I schools. No elementary teacher should teach a class of 30, especially in a Title I school. In addition, I suggested that there be an audit of all the assessments given in the district.
Since then, there was an information night explaining all the mandated assessments and an assessment matrix was created. It’s good transparency. In addition, since then, ILEARN results came out and we all discovered that the cut scores the state chose were not ideal, resulting in low scores for many districts. Teachers in lower socio-economic schools were discouraged as they worked so hard. Currently our legislators are determining to hold schools harmless from ILEARN scores for last year and this year.
Last week my daughter came home to tell me she spent the day practicing ILEARN. She is in 6th grade at Binford. All 4 core periods were spent practicing ILEARN. I asked the principal and one of her teachers and they confirmed that the district is requiring ILEARN to be practiced 2x on top of the state mandated practice session.
Parents should know how many assessments and practice assessments their kids are given each year that are mandated—not by the choice of the teacher. A district ought to know how many assessments their employees are administering to children and how much time it takes their teachers to administer. What curriculum is lost due to these assessments? Yes, some assessments are useful but others may just be taking up precious teaching and learning time.
I have given you a spreadsheet based on a very informal survey of the mandated assessments that K-6 teachers give. Some are short, some are long. Some are given in a group, some are given individually. Some are online, some are oral, some are on paper. All interrupt a teacher’s day. If a class is 30, that’s a lot of assessments to administer.
There are 180 days of school. Based on count alone, if a student took 1 assessment per day, some students may be taking mandated assessments for 1/3 to ½ of the 180 days they are in school. And this does not include the assessments that the teacher may choose to administer herself, like spelling or social studies assessments.
This list is not accurate as I am just a mom. I am not an assessment expert. But I do think it’s a good ballpark estimate. Please note that kids in Title I schools are likely assessed more than their counterparts in non-Title I schools. Due to that, are kids in Title I schools receiving a narrower curriculum? Is that fair? In addition, I’m not sure how many assessments kids with IEPs must take.
What concerns me the most are the number of district mandated assessments. We really can’t control the ones mandated by federal and state, but we can control locally mandated assessments. I ask the board to speak to teachers, to members of the union about CFAs. Allegedly they are currently being re-written to look like ILEARN questions. Is a test dictating curriculum? Is it appropriate for kids who don’t test well on ILEARN? How much is too much testing?
Thank you for your time.