Indiana 2016 Election

Candidates for governor push different visions of Indiana’s state test

PHOTO: AP Photo/Darron Cummings, Pool
Democrat John Gregg, left, responds to a question during a debate for Indiana Governor, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016, in Indianapolis. Libertarian Rex Bell and Republican Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb also participated in the debate.

In a short debate that ran less than an hour, three candidates for Indiana governor sparred over the balance of control between the state and local school boards and what can be done to attract more great teachers into the profession.

The event, held before an audience of mostly students at Lawrence North High School, was billed as an education debate, but the candidates at times veered off into discussions of the economy and other issues. Students asked most of the questions.

The deepest divides between Republican Eric Holcomb, Democrat John Gregg and Libertarian Rex Bell were on issues of testing, building the teaching profession and whether A to F grades are the best way to judge school quality.

“Teaching to the test is what teachers have been forced to do,” Gregg said. “We have to get back to letting teachers teach.”

READ: Find more on this year's races for superintendent, governor and IPS school board.
READ: Find more on this year’s races for superintendent, governor and IPS school board.

Gregg, former Indiana House speaker, said he agreed with a proposal from state Superintendent Glenda Ritz to break the state’s ISTEP exam into a series of shorter tests that would be given to students throughout the school year. The goal, he said, would be to reduce the pressure of a single test and make scoring more manageable so teachers and students could get results sooner.

“It has to have a quicker time turnaround,” he told reporters afterward. “It has to benefit the teacher and feedback to the child and parents to give them a bellwether marker as to where they are in this process.”

The ISTEP is currently being phased out by the state but a panel of lawmakers and educators has yet to determine what should replace it.

As the panel continues to consider its options, Holcomb, who is lieutenant governor, said he also wants students to get their test scores faster, but said he’d rather Indiana stick with a single exam.

“I’m not in favor of two or three spread out tests,” he said. “I think we do need to have a single test that is a test that will measure fairly and accurately and quickly a student’s performance. That’s not occurring now.”

Bell, a small business owner, said school districts should choose their own tests for accountability. Many different measures for how  students are learning, he said, was less of a concern than having the process managed by the state.

“Local schools should develop their own way of testing,” he said. “We have always been in favor of returning more local control to the parents and the teachers and the school boards.”

Holcomb said testing still needs to boil down to a single A-F grade that can tell parents how schools are doing. Gregg, by contrast, suggested a school’s report card might have several measures.

“If you have 2, or 3, or 4, or 5 factors, you can ultimately end up with a (grade point average),” Holcomb told reporters after the event. “To go away from having a grade is a disservice to taxpayers parents and schools themselves.”

But Gregg argued testing as a basis for an accountability system with tough consequences was a major factor driving teachers out of the profession and making it difficult for some schools to fill teaching jobs.

“We created this teacher shortage in the last few years by the way we demeaned those in the ed profession,” he said, “and by the way we’ve done everything through a flawed testing system.“

Holcomb countered that teacher shortages are a national problem and part of a broader trend that is not being driven by testing or accountability. ISTEP was not a good test, he said, but Indiana can replace it with an exam that better measures student learning.

“I haven’t met a single person in my whole time on the campaign trail or even before that who is in favor of continuing the ISTEP,” he said.

Stil, accountability, through a new test, is needed to ensure Indiana taxpayers get what they paid for, Holcomb said.

“We need to make sure that money is getting into the classroom to the teacher and to the student,” he said.

Holcomb and Gregg both said they favored expanding preschool tuition support. Gregg wants universal, state-funded preschool for four-year-olds for any family that chooses it. Holcomb wants a gradual expansion of the five-county pilot program to serve more poor children, but not a universal program.

Bell said he was afraid a universal preschool would eventually lead to a requirement that all four-year-olds must attend.

“When kindergarten started it was voluntary,” he said. “It’s a matter of, when you say they haven’t made it mandatory, it means not yet.”

The next candidate debate is scheduled for Oct. 3 at Ball State University.

Indiana 2016 Election

The biggest donation in the IPS school board race came from an unexpected source

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy

In the battle for control of the Indianapolis Public School board, the largest single campaign contribution came from an unexpected source: the teachers’ union. But the donation didn’t help the union-backed candidate.

In recent years, IPS board races have been dominated by pro-school reform candidates who have attracted large contributions from deep-pocketed donors. But in other elections — at other times, in other places — it’s common for teachers’ unions to spend big.

That’s what happened this time in Indianapolis.

Critics of the current administration made their first organized bid to unseat incumbent board members in 2016 when they formed the group OurIPS. The group didn’t donate to candidates, but the district-wide candidate the group supported, Jim Grim, did win a $15,000 contribution from the Indiana State Teachers Association.

Despite that cash, all four candidates backed by OurIPS lost on Election Day.

The contribution to Grim’s campaign was revealed in final campaign finance reports due to the Marion County Election Board last week. The disclosures detail fundraising and spending for each school board campaign, but they don’t include groups such as Stand for Children, which sends mailers and hires campaign workers to support the candidates it endorses but is not required to disclose all of its political activity.

Although the union donation was easily the largest single contribution any candidate received, other candidates did raise more in total. The Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce spent more overall but gave to four candidates.

Here are the totals for each race:

At-large

Grim raised $20,930 during the election. His opponents were incumbent Sam Odle, who raised $31,893, and challenger Elizabeth Gore, who won a surprise victory in the raise. Gore has not filed a finance report, but she told Chalkbeat after the election that she raised about $1,200.

District 1

Incumbent Michael O’Connor vastly out fundraised his opponent in the race, raising $23,543, according to his disclosure. Challenger Christine Prince raised $100.

District 2

Venita Moore, a newcomer who won the seat with support from Stand for Children, raised $25,712. Ramon Batts, who had the support of OurIPS, raised $3,550. Nanci Lacy did not file a report.

District 4

Long-time board member Diane Arnold raised $16,696. Challenger Larry Vaughn did not file a report.

Correction: This post has been updated to reflect a new fundraising total for Michael O’Connor, who submitted a corrected disclosure.

day one

Three new members join IPS board, Sullivan elected president

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Five IPS board members were sworn in. Left to right: Elizabeth Gore, Dorene Rodriguez Hoops, Diane Arnold, Venita Moore and Michael O'Connor.

Mary Ann Sullivan will lead the Indianapolis Public School board for the second year in a row, bringing a dose of consistency to a board that begins the term with three new members.

At the first meeting of 2017, the seven-member board swore in three new members, Dorene Rodriguez Hoops, Elizabeth Gore and Venita Moore, and two returning members, Diane Arnold and Michael O’Connor. In a clear sign of the growing collaboration between the city — which oversees dozens of charter schools — and the school district, the members were sworn in by Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett.

“The decisions you make here profoundly impact not only the students that attend IPS today but … the future of this great city,” Hogsett said. “As our city strives to always better our schools, your individual rules in that effort are critically important to the long-term health and well-being of this city.”

The new board unanimously elected Sullivan as president, O’Connor as vice-president and Gore as secretary. Sullivan, who was also president in 2016, joined the board two years ago as part of a wave of members who support dramatic changes aimed at improving the lowest performing schools.

“I will do my best to maintain the progress that we are making on so many fronts and to keep our sense of urgency,” Sullivan said. “I am very, very confident that this board is ready to provide the leadership needed to transform lives.”

Two of the new board members won spots following a bruising election fight for control of the board between advocates for radically overhauling the district by embracing policies such as partnerships with charter schools and critics who favor more traditional management. The third new member was chosen by the board to replace LaNier Echols, who resigned following the election.

The three newest board members bring a wide range of experience to the board. Here’s a little about each:

Dorene Rodriguez Hoops is the most mysterious new board member because she was chosen by the board to fill a vacancy, rather than going through the election process. She represents District 5, which covers the northwest section of IPS. Although her positions on many of the biggest issues facing the district are not clearly fleshed out, her personal background gives her a unique perspective on many of the issues facing IPS families. A first-generation Mexican American and fluent Spanish speaker, Hoops is the only Latina board member. She also is the only current parent on the board, with a son enrolled at Center for Inquiry School 27. Her son has special needs, and she said her work advocating for his education renewed her commitment to ensuring educational access.

Elizabeth Gore defeated Sam Odle for an at-large seat representing the entire district. Although she is newly elected, this is not her first time on the board. Gore served a term on the board before losing a reelection bid in 2012, when a wave of critics of former-superintendent Eugene White captured control. In her bid for reelection, Gore was not backed by school-reform supporters or the organized opposition, and her victory was something of a surprise. She is a graduate of Crispus Attucks High School and her three children graduated from Arsenal Technical High School, where she led the parent teacher association.

Venita Moore won a three-way race to replace former board member Gayle Cosby, a frequent critic of the administration. She represents District 2, which covers the northeast section of IPS. A business consultant with experience running a state agency, Moore was endorsed by pro-reform groups including Stand for Children. But she does not have a significant record of political work on education, so her approach to the school board is still something of an unknown. Moore is also an IPS graduate, and her daughter graduated from Crispus Attucks High School.