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10/30/2010 9:15:00 AM
Indiana's plan to take over failing schools meets with opposition
At a glance

In 1999, the Indiana General Assembly passed Public Law 221, known as the “school accountability law,” to reflect the education-reform mandates in the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Both the state and federal law allow for states to intervene in failing schools, removing them from control of local school districts.

A chronically failing school is defined as one that has been placed on academic probation for six years in a row for failing to make progress on student test scores.

Proposed rules now in front of the Indiana State Board of Education detail procedures for the takeover of those failing schools.

Among the options:  

Closing the low-performing school.

Merging it with a nearby higher-performing school.

Turning it into a charter school and/or bringing in an outside manager to run the school.

An outside manager would not be required to bargain collectively with school employees. Less drastic measures could be taken as well, including developing a plan that would target specific teachers and administrators or changing school procedures.

Maureen Hayden, Herald Bulletin CNHI Statehouse Bureau Chief

INDIANAPOLIS — State education officials pushing for major reforms, including merit pay for teachers and more charter schools, got a glimpse of their organized opposition Friday at a public hearing on the fate of failing schools.

Representatives from teachers unions and local school boards spoke out against a plan that would allow the Indiana Department of Education to take control of chronically failing schools and turn them over to an outside manager.

Sparking the most heat were provisions that would allow the state to hire a for-profit company to run the school and give the outside manager the power to fire and hire teachers without having to negotiate with teachers’ unions.

Other options include transforming the school into a charter school, closing the failing school or merging it with a neighboring, high-performing school.

Sally Sloan, executive director of the Indiana Federation of Teachers, said the plan would “come on the backs of children” and accused state education officials of intentionally creating “cloudiness, murkiness and chaos” to advance the political agenda of Gov. Mitch Daniels.

“Is it all to disguise the efforts of this administration to strangle public schools – and teachers, especially organized teachers – to sneak into place private schools funded by public dollars?” Sloan said.

Indiana Public School Superintendent Tony Bennett has defended the proposed rules, citing a decade-old “school accountability” law that mandates the state’s intervention with its lowest performing schools.

In a statement released before the hearing, Bennett cited the 22 schools that are eligible to be taken over by the state before the end of the current school year. Those are schools that have been on academic probation for six consecutive years due to chronically low student test scores.

“These schools, which account for only about one percent of all Indiana schools, have failed to make progress year after year,” he said. “Over 22,000 students attend these schools. Most of them cannot read or compute at grade level, and they are twice as likely to drop out of high school as the average Hoosier student.”

Bennett said the failing schools – most located in Indianapolis, Fort Wayne and South Bend – forced the state to intervene. “The state can no longer afford to turn a blind eye,” Bennett said.

Friday’s hearing was on proposed rules developed by the Indiana State Board of Education on how to handle public schools that repeatedly fail to meet state and federal education guidelines for student success.

In 1999, the Indiana General Assembly passed Public Law 221, known as the “school accountability law,” that gave the state the authority to take over failing schools.

Though the law was passed a decade ago, it wasn’t until this summer that details of how the takeover would occur were hammered out.

The proposed rules must be approved the State Board of Education before they can go into effect. They’re on the board’s agenda for its Nov. 3 meeting, but board members said no vote has been scheduled.

Related Stories:
• Indiana developing rules for taking over struggling high schools
• 5 NWI schools on probation face takeover, merger, closure, if scores don't improve

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