In early 2010 the Indiana Chamber was one of the advocates for the grading of schools using an A-F model. Indiana has created a process to grade schools and school districts with an A-F letter grade. The Indiana Department of Education has consistently labeled about eighty percent of the Indiana Small and Rural Schools Association members as an “A” or “B” school districts. In fact, the only “A” school district in Marion County in 2016 was The School Town of Speedway. This district is a member of the Indiana Small and Rural Schools Association and one of the smallest school districts in Marion County. Superintendent Ken Hulls explained how his school district has over forty percent of its graduates earning college credit through AP and dual credit courses. Speedway has the highest graduation rate in Marion County, the largest percentage of dollars reaching the classroom at seventy-one percent, all while offering fourteen different AP courses. The other key piece is the School Town of Speedway does this with the lowest local property tax rate in the County. We think this is some excellent data for a small school district serving an urban population. The results don’t always match the model.
In August the Indiana Small and Rural Schools Association reviewed a recent study sponsored by the Indiana Chamber that examines small school districts in Indiana. The study has five clear recommendations. The study’s final recommendations align with our beliefs that consolidation and consolidation of services is a local decision. Providing resources for schools and communities who want to research what is best for their long-term success is a good thing. The study recommended information and resources be provided to study collaborative and distance learning in STEM. Indiana Small and Rural Schools Association doesn’t have any issues with STEM, but we should also support other subject areas beyond just STEM. Business courses, advanced English, and Indiana History could be areas to study. Resources should be provided to support the study of this and the implementation. Vocational Education is another area where small schools need help. The cost of transporting students to vocational programs and internships twenty to twenty-five miles away from each other costs school districts much more than their transportation budgets allow.
The Indiana Small and Rural Schools Association adamantly disagrees with study’s conclusions based on its model for “quality.” Statistics and math models are open to interpretation. Our analysis of the results documents mean scores for SAT show an increase as the district size increases. However, the larger the sample size, the greater chance you have for outliers on each end of the bell curve and an increased range of the descriptive statistics. The total sum of students in the sample size for larger districts has a much larger population of students. Small schools also allow higher numbers of all types of students represented in its AP and Dual Credit Courses. Small school districts will fill an AP class, high ability course, or college preparatory class with a larger variety of students and a broader range of abilities not just students from the top of the bell curve. Our examination of the study also noted The R-square data expressed in the study for many of the variables were weak. That would seem to mean it is not a great fit for the linear model. If the R-square was in the seventies, there didn’t appear to be much difference between the size of the school district. The report provides correlation coefficients. The correlation coefficients were not something that consistently shows high agreement with the linear model. There were lots of negative correlation coefficients which seemed to document there was an inverse relationship between that variable and the research’s model for quality. The data sources for the study pulled data from Indiana Commission for Higher Education appears to be missing data for schools with cohorts less than ten. The ICHE protects FERPA and doesn’t report data like AP passing rates for college freshman or high school students when the group is smaller than ten. These datasets appear to be treated as zero in the study and could clearly affect the outcomes of AP results. All of this means the actual results may not always align with the model.
The Kokomo Tribune did a local review on actual results of the area schools in Howard County the day the study was announced. Their review compared actual scores to the model results found in the study. The Kokomo Tribune analysis documented actual results in ECA passing rates and AP scores that didn’t align with the mathematical model provided. Tri-Central and Northwestern School Corporation were both the highest performers in the area schools in AP success and ECA passing rates. The Indiana Small and Rural School’s Association encourages anyone concerned to examine the results for their local schools instead of what a model says because actual results don’t always match the model. Bias, error, and variability are too diverse not to warrant local examination for what actual performance might be. We live in a transparent era where all performance data is known. The truth is any school can produce quality results whether it is small, medium, or large. We acknowledge that larger school districts can offer more diverse course offerings.
The Indiana Small and Rural Schools Association would caution anyone who would read this study and thinks consolidation is as simple as closing a district office. The logistics of transporting either students or teachers over a significant distance between districts will take time and extra support. It is tough to add an advanced course in one district without adding enough students to fill the course from both systems. Online, classes work well in many areas other than science. Lab courses require students experience inquiry with well-trained teachers. We need to support schools no matter where they operate. Rural Indiana calls for additional investment in broadband and fiber to make distance learning feasible.
Schools Boards represent the interests of their communities. Studying the consolidation of services requires the discussion and initial buy-in from a diverse group of ten to fourteen people. The process will need lots of discussions and support. It will necessitate time to meet, financial assistance for the study, and patience to help stakeholders from both schools to understand the how and why. We have no issue with shared meetings between school districts and school boards to discuss savings. Tippecanoe County has a great model where the school boards of all county schools meet together once a year in a shared meeting.
We reject any attempt by any organization, entity, or policymaker to create animosity between schools, school districts, or communities. Indiana Citizens have quality choices in some communities for what school their child should attend. Indiana’s Small Schools districts often serve communities with few options. The voters and patrons deserve a well-supported school that will prepare their children for future career needs no matter where they live. We believe local control and proper support are the best ways to achieve this.