Indiana applies for $500M in federal schools grants

Indiana’s $500 million application for competitive federal education grants includes aggressive proposals that could force
out inefficient teachers and convert struggling schools to charter schools.

State schools Superintendent Tony Bennett
said Indiana deserves the $500 million in Race to the Top funding because it’s committed to making long-lasting reforms. Bennett
said the "Fast Forward" plan included in the grant application filed this week will empower local school leaders
to make aggressive changes, providing tools to sustain those changes and holding schools accountable.

"We
believe it’s going to be one of the most creative and aggressive plans out there," Bennett told The Indianapolis Star.
"This is about transparency and accountability."

But some union and school district officials weren’t
happy with some of the broad philosophical shifts included in Indiana’s application.

Under the proposal, teachers
would be evaluated every year, with more than half of their annual review based on how their students performed on standardized
tests.

Teachers would be sorted into four categories, from highly efficient to inefficient. Teachers in the highest
categories could earn bonuses from the state, while those in lower categories could be targeted for dismissal. And new teachers
who are still rated inefficient after six years would lose their teaching licenses.

Indianapolis Public Schools
Superintendent Eugene White said he was surprised that the state included a proposal to require a distribution of teachers
across the four categories.

"If the state wants to mandate the distribution, I do have a problem with that,"
he said.

The plan would allow Indiana to take over the lowest-performing schools, give them to a private management
company and eventually offer them the chance to return to their districts or become a charter school. Indianapolis Public
Schools teachers union President Ann Wilkins said the state shouldn’t be coming into schools.

"If they’re
using the same resources we have, they’re not going to do any better," she said. "Why not give the district the
resources they need?"

Under the plan, Indiana’s colleges and universities could risk the loss of their accreditation
if their education graduates don’t perform well. Indiana University Dean of Education Gerardo Gonzalez said he welcomes the
scrutiny, but the state should ensure that low student test scores don’t overshadow other evidence that a teacher is doing
well.

"If we work together on this and it doesn’t become a confrontational issue, I’m confident we can develop
something here in Indiana that can be a national model," he said.

The proposal calls for Indiana to use a
nationwide test to replace the state’s annual ISTEP exam for students. The plan would also open up more ways for people outside
the traditional education channels to become teachers. Schools would be given letter grades that would be made public, and
the state would publish the percentage of effective teachers at each school.

More than 90 percent of Indiana school
districts and charter schools have signed on to the state’s application and have a chance at winning some of the money. If
Indiana wins grant money, districts and the state Department of Education will have to agree on plans, and districts that
don’t agree can opt out of the proposals.

The U.S. Department of Education will award more than $4 billion through
the Race to the Top fund, with the first winners announced in April. The department said 40 states and the District of Columbia
submitted applications for the grants.

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