Raising the ceiling


What Mike Delph’s education bill could mean for Carmel Clay Schools


Carmel’s state senator is proposing a bill that could have a major impact on Carmel Clay Schools.

The senate’s Education Committee last week heard Sen. Mike Delph’s education bill, Senate Bill 286, which proposes some notable changes for education across the state.

However, one component of the bill – creating a new performance designation called a “high-performance school corporation” – likely would impact CCS more than most other districts.

It’s the only component of the bill on which CCS Superintendent Jeff Swensson said the district has a strong opinion. In fact, Delph said input received from CCS was used in the writing of the bill.

Here’s how it would work: Currently, the Indiana Dept. of Education rates schools’ academic performance on an A-through-F scale. Delph’s bill would raise the scale, creating a rating higher than “A” that would come with new freedoms and incentives.

“We talk a lot about underperforming schools,” Delph said. “What about schools like Carmel that are high-performing schools? Is there anything we can do for them?”

Under the proposed legislation, a high-performing school would be one that annually meets or exceeds at least 90 percent of the IDOE-established benchmarks including ISTEP scores, graduation rates, ACT and SAT scores, student attendance, college readiness, faculty proficiency and any others the IDOE deems appropriate.

Schools receiving this designation would not have to strictly adhere to some of the state’s statutes and rules on education, and would be granted more flexibility in areas such as length of school days, number of instructional days, program requirements for high-ability students and the necessity for a waiver to implement nonstandard programs and courses.Perhaps the biggest of these changes would be the move from a 180-day calendar to an hour-based metric.

“What that does is allow them to ramp up before standardized testing if they want to do it, or cut down around the holidays when things slow down,” Delph said.“If they were to backtrack, then they would lose that freedom.”

The bill proposes that high-performing schools failing to meet the performance standards for one year would be placed on probation. Failing in two consecutive years would result in the loss of that designation and the privileges that come with it.

Swensson said this proposed legislation is something CCS has been pushing for about 18 months.

“We have already eclipsed the highest degree of expectation the state holds for us,” he said “We want to blow through new expectations.”

Not only does CCS support the creation of a new goal and distinction its faculty and students can strive to achieve, Swensson said, but having the ability to offer nontraditional programs could help the district in achieving one of its top goals: graduating students who are “college and career ready.”

More flexibility in the schedule would allow CCS to consider alternative classes and programs. Because the legislation is only proposed at this point, Swensson said the district hasn’t formed concrete ideas on this front, but said examples could include moving to a schedule similar to those seen at universities, meeting in instructional groups on two days, with a seminar on a third, for example. New programs could allow students to, among other possibilities,work more regularly and closely with members of the business community who could present them with “real-world problems to work through,” Swensson said.

The possibilities could be endless, but Swensson said any changes implemented would only add to CCS’ curriculum.

“The reason we’re even in a position to think about this is because our metrics are strong across the board,” he said. “None of that would stop. But why not add to it?”


Other changes

Sen. Mike Delph’s proposed creation of a high-performing school district could have a significant impact on Carmel Clay Schools, but it’s only one component of his education bill.


Starting school after Labor Day

Delph’s proposed legislation would create a uniform start date that would occur sometime after Labor Day. It’s a change Delph said would benefit the state’s economy, as well as its families.

“This is the third year I’ve brought that proposal before the Indiana General Assembly,” Delph said.

“Moms want a set time during the summer.”

In October, Current interviewed a group of CCS parents who were pushing for such a change. Swensson said CCS believes its standard of beginning in early Augustis best for this district.

“We believe the more instruction time we can get prior to (standardized testing), the better,” Swensson said.

Still, Swensson said CCS would have no issues complying with the proposed changes if the legislation is approved.


Cursive writing requirement

In August 2010, the Indiana Dept. of Education adopted the Common Core State Standards for English/language arts, literacy and mathematics. The CCSS does not require cursive writing to be taught, but Delph’s bill would require each school corporation and accredited non-public school to include cursive writing in its curriculum.

“It’s one of those surprising issues I kept hearing over and over,” Delph said. “I put it in there mainly to start a discussion on the issue.”

Cursive writing still remains a part of CCS’ curriculum.


Elimination of class basketball

Delph’s legislation originally proposed to restore single-class basketball by banning a school corporation from participating in an interscholastic athletics association if its basketball teams were divided into classes. Last week, however, Delph announced he reached a compromise with the Indiana High School Athletic Association. Because he said the IHSAA agreed to “study the possibility of restoring single-class basketball” through an internal review, Delph agreed to remove this component from the bill.

“I think it’s something that culturally is important to the state of Indiana,” Delph said. “I think it would be a huge morale boost to some of our more rural areas.”


By Kevin Kane

Kevin is the managing editor of Current in Carmel.


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