Category Archives: Bennett

Indiana: Still hating public education after all these years

For the last two decades, the Indiana General Assembly has done its best to hurt Indiana’s public schools and public school teachers. This year is no different. But before we look at this year, let’s take a quick trip back to the past to see what the General Assembly has done to hurt public education in general, and public school teachers in particular.

2011 was the watershed mark for public education in Indiana. We had all been suffering through No Child Left Behind with all its onerous requirements. Then Governor Mitch Daniels (now President of Purdue University) with his sidekick, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Bennett, worked diligently with the Republican supermajority in the legislature and the Republican-leaning State Board of Education, to make things as difficult for public education and public educators as they could. Subsequent Governors Pence and Holcomb have continued down the same path. Governor Pence, especially, was blatant in his support for private schools over public (see For Further Reading at the end of this post).

Here are a few things that the Daniels-, Pence-, and Holcomb-led supermajority has done to public schools and public school teachers in Indiana

COLLECTIVE BARGAINING

The collective bargaining process has been gutted. Just like other anti-union Republicans, the legislature has passed legislation to restrict collective bargaining to only money and benefits. No longer is it required that school boards negotiate work-related conditions such as class size, preparation time and hours of work. For years, politicians said that all teachers were interested in was “their wallets.” The new collective bargaining law prohibits teachers from negotiating anything else.

CONTINUING EDUCATION

When I started teaching in 1975, Indiana teachers were required to have or work towards a master’s degree. Once the advanced degree was achieved teachers were moved to a higher salary schedule which recognized and rewarded advanced education. Teachers are no longer required to get an advanced degree but are still required to participate in “continuing education” in order to keep their license current. However, an advanced degree or hours above the bachelor’s degree are no longer automatically rewarded; the salary schedules are gone. The educational experience of teachers apparently no longer matters. Testing counts, of course, so Indiana still “rewards” teachers whose students achieve high test scores. Years of experience and advanced education? Not so much.

REPA III

Politicians and pundits will often talk about how we only want the best-qualified teachers in our classrooms. So it’s easy to be confused about the rules that allow untrained educators to walk into a high school classroom on the first day of school. If you have a degree in a high school subject, biology for example, and you have worked in the field for a minimum number of years, say as a sales rep for a laboratory, you can walk into a high school class on the first day of the school year and “teach” biology. Education/pedagogical training is required, but not right away. You can start with no experience or understanding of child/adolescent development, classroom management, or understanding of the learning process. So much for the best qualified.

DUE PROCESS

For years teachers were protected from arbitrary dismissals by the requirement that the administration prove incompetence or other reasons for dismissal through due process. An impartial arbitrator would listen to both sides and make a judgment. A principal who didn’t like a teacher couldn’t just fire a teacher without just cause. That’s no longer the case. The only recourse a teacher has now for an unfair firing is to request a meeting with the Superintendent or the local school board, neither of which would be considered impartial.

FUNDING

Public school funding was cut by $300 million during the Daniels Administration. This money has never been replaced.

Vouchers, which began in 2011, have siphoned more than $800 million from public education. Charter schools, including virtual charters, have also taken money once designated for the public good and put it into private pockets.

CURRENTLY

The bills and amendments discussed below have not yet passed the legislature. They still give an indication of the way in which Indiana public educators are disrespected.

School Safety

School safety has been an important issue especially with the frequency of school shootings and the number of children killed by gun violence every day. Many schools have initiated “active school shooter” training so that the staff would be prepared for an emergency.

Indiana made the national news in March when a local school district allowed the Sheriff’s department in their community to shoot plastic pellets at teachers in order to make the training “more realistic.” Teachers, some of whom sustained injuries, were told to keep the training procedure a secret.

A current amendment to a bill (HB1253) allows this to continue.

Do teachers need to be shot in order to understand the need for school safety? Are teachers unaware of the dangers of gun violence? One teacher who was shot with pellets commented,

“It hurt really bad,” said the woman, who said she was left with bruises, welts and bleeding cuts that took almost two weeks to heal. “You don’t know who you are shooting and what types of experience those individuals had in the past, whether they had PTSD or anything else. And we didn’t know what we were going into.”

She described the training as frightening, painful and insulting.

“What makes it more outrageous is they thought we would need to have that experience of being shot to take this seriously,” she said. “When I thought about it that way, I really started to get angry. Like we are not professionals. It felt belittling.”

Great. So let’s pass a bill which allows people to do that again.

Teacher Pay

Governor Holcomb has called for an increase in teacher pay this year.

Because of a constitutional cap on property taxes, the state legislature is charged with the responsibility of making sure schools have enough funds to operate. So much for “local control.”

Indiana teachers’ real wages have dropped by 15% since 1999. We are well behind the increases in pay given to teachers in surrounding states. The legislature, in order to increase teacher pay, has proposed to increase funding for education by 2.1%. Last year’s inflation rate was 1.9%. The proposed 2.1% will also be used to pay for increases in support of vouchers and charter schools. How much will be left for public school teacher raises?

The legislature, trying to act like a state school board, suggested that school systems be required to use 85% of their state money for teacher salaries. So much for “local control.”

Collective Bargaining

There’s an amendment to a bill (SB390) which will require that a maximum of three collective bargaining meetings between school boards and local teachers associations be private. All the rest of the meetings must be held publicly.

The only reason I can see for this amendment is to make things more difficult for the teachers union. There’s no research to support the idea that schools with open negotiations meetings save more money than schools which negotiate in private. There’s no research to support the idea that this will help teachers teach better, or improve student performance. There is no reason to do this other than to make things more difficult for teachers.

Where is the corresponding legislation to require the same public meeting policy for administrators’ salaries? legislature staff salaries? state department of health workers salaries?

INDIANA HATES ITS PUBLIC SCHOOL TEACHERS

This year, just like in the past, the state of Indiana, ruled by one party with a supermajority in the legislature, has worked to disrespect public schools and public school teachers. The only way to fight this, aside from the daily grind of contacting legislators about every single damaging piece of legislation, is to elect people who don’t hate public schools and public school teachers.

One would think we’d be able to get the teachers, themselves, on board with this

For Further Reading:

More about the damage done to public education in Indiana

A telling story of school ‘reform’ in Mike Pence’s home state, Indiana

What Did Mike Pence Do For Indiana Schools As Governor? Here’s A Look

Curmudgucation: Posts about Indiana

The basics of everything: Your guide to education issues in Indiana

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Filed under Bennett, Coll Bargaining, Due Process, Holcomb, IN Gen.Assembly, Indiana, Mitch Daniels, NCLB, Pence, Public Ed, REPA, SBOE, SchoolFunding, SchoolShootings, Teachers Unions, TeacherSalary, Teaching Career

Tiny, Decent Things

PART I: THE WAR AGAINST PUBLIC EDUCATION

I began my whine against the overuse and misuse of standardized testing when No Child Left Behind passed in 2001 and Indiana doubled down on student testing.

I complained to my principal, the school corporation, my local legislators. I became an officer in my local teachers association, and a delegate to the state teachers association representative assembly, but we couldn’t change things either.

I retired in June of 2010 and two years later joined a public education advocacy group, the Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education. Since the Save Our Schools March in 2011 in Washington D.C., our members have been working to end and undo “education reform” in Indiana and the U.S.

2011 was a watershed year for privatization in Indiana. Mitch Daniels and his Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Bennett, along with help from the Indiana General Assembly, hit hard at public schools and public school teachers.

2011 was the year that Indiana…

  • cut $300 million from public school funding while at the same time they…
  • passed a voucher law which drained even more public tax dollars from public schools
  • reduced collective bargaining rights for teachers
  • introduced test-based evaluations for teachers
  • increased funding for charter schools

The privatizers haven’t backed off since then…they’ve continued to deprofessionalize the teaching profession and strip funds from public education to support the ravenous appetite of an ever-expanding privatization plan consisting of vouchers and charter schools.

Each year, when the Indiana legislature is in session, we do our best to minimize the damage done to public schools. And each year we lose a little more ground. We had a bright light of hope in 2012, when Glenda Ritz was elected Superintendent of Public Instruction, beating Tony Bennett on a platform which supported public schools, but that was short-lived. Governor Pence, the legislature, and state school board, worked together to make sure she was unable to slow down the damage to public education by the privatizers.

It’s not just Indiana. A few days ago Nancy Flanagan wrote…

The War on Teachers and the End of Public Education

Three days ago, Diane Ravitch wrote this:

Public education today faces an existential crisis. Over the past two decades, the movement to transfer public money to private organizations has expanded rapidly.

She’s right. The end of public education as we know it is in sight. And there’s a war on public school teaching toward that end, with Betsy DeVos as Field General.

It keeps happening even though privatization has increased segregation and hasn’t improved instruction or achievement.

PART II: ENCOURAGEMENT

It’s hard not to feel discouraged. It’s hard not to give up. We need frequent inspiration to help reenergize ourselves…to remind ourselves that public education is worth saving, and no matter how many times the politicians and privatizers damage public education in Indiana (and across the nation) we need to keep trying. No matter how many times we get knocked down, we need to get up again. No matter how many times we’re silenced, we need to speak out again.

Public schools are open to every child in the state, not just the wealthy or the able. Public schools are an investment in our future…and support for public education means an educated citizenry, a lower incarceration rate, an improved economy, and happier lives. Public education is not just for me…not just for you…but for us, because we are all responsible for, and dependent upon, each other. The students we serve are not just mine – or yours – or even their parents’. They are ours. Within each child is the future of our society.

In order to save America’s public schools it’s necessary for each of us to do what we can. All of us are important…from those who run for the legislature, to those who work quietly in the background registering voters, to those who convince a friend to support public schools. We must, as Danusha Veronica Goska wrote in ‘Political Paralysis’ From The Impossible Will Take a Little While, do “tiny, decent things” to support the public education system. With enough of those “tiny, decent things,” we can give public education the support it needs to survive.

…when we study the biographies of our heroes, we learn that they spent years in preparation doing tiny, decent things before one historical moment propelled them to center stage.

Moments, as if animate, use the prepared to tilt empires.

Be one of the prepared.

CHANGE THE WORLD

Write your legislator. Write for publication. Run for office. Support and/or contribute to pro-public education candidates. Learn about the issues facing public education and share what you have learned with others. Talk to your family, neighbors, and friends. Volunteer in a public school. Help a child learn. Donate a book to a school or a family. Organize or join with others to support public schools. Join the PTA. Send your children to public schools. Call into a talk show. Write a letter to the editor.

Get involved.

Do something.

Don’t give up.

Goska ended her essay…

I suspect that we all have our three-in-the-morning moments, when all of life seems one no-exit film noir, where any effort is pointless, where any hope seems to be born only to be dashed, like a fallen nestling on a summer sidewalk. When I have those moments, if I do nothing else, I remind myself: the ride in the snow; the volunteers at the food bank; the Nepali peasants who fed me. Activists like the Pole Wladyslaw Bartoszewski who, decades before he would earn any fame, got out of Auschwitz only to go on to even more resistance against the Nazis, and then the Soviets. Invisible, silent people who, day by day, choice by choice, unseen by me, unknown to me, force me to witness myself, invite me to keep making my own best choices, and keep me living my ideals.

If all of us do “tiny, decent things” to support public education, we can slow or even stop the takeover of public education by those who would destroy it.

Alone, each one of us might not be able to “tilt the empire” of the privatizers, but perhaps we can preserve public education long enough for our cumulative efforts to gather strength and eventually succeed.

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Filed under Bennett, Mitch Daniels, NCLB, Pence, Public Ed, Ritz

Amateur Hour in the Cabinet

Update: An earlier version of this post mistakenly stated that Luke Messer was an Indiana state legislator. He is, in fact, the U.S. Representative for Indiana’s 6th district.

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Has there ever been an Attorney General who didn’t have a law degree?

Have we ever had a Surgeon General who wasn’t a medical professional?

Why has one administration after another installed non-educators – amateurs – as their Secretary of Education?

Since Jimmy Carter first appointed Judge Shirley Hufstedler in 1979 most subsequent Secretaries of Education had never seen the inside of a K-12 classroom since their childhoods. An educator as the Secretary of Education has been the exception instead of the rule.

How is it justified? One example is Margaret Spellings (B.A. Political Science, Univ. of Houston), Secretary under George W. Bush. She claimed that she was qualified for the position because she was a mom. [Apparently North Carolina thinks that is a good enough qualification and has made her head of the University of North Carolina system.] It’s the same mentality that presumes that “anyone can be a teacher” – the same mentality that has perpetrated the low status, poor pay and working conditions, and disrespect of the teaching profession for decades.

President-elect Trump is promising to continue this unfortunate tradition.

A BASKET OF AMATEURS

The people who have been rumored as candidates for the position of Secretary of Education in the new administration have all been not only unqualified, but every one of them is a “reformer”. Anyone of them would be, as the President-elect of Superlatives would say, “a total disaster.”

We began with Ben Carson. The fact that he’s not an educator and has never been an educator isn’t enough to reject him any more than it has been for any other President. However, in a moment of uncharacteristic clarity, Dr. Carson recognized his own lack of credentials for the job and removed himself from consideration. The parade of educationally challenged candidates for the most important education position in the country followed.

There’s Williamson Evers, a Libertarian turned Republican, and an “education expert” at the Hoover Institution. He has a B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. in political science. His only experience in public education is as a political activist working against public education.

The name of Tony Bennett was mentioned, probably on a recommendation from VP-elect Pence. Bennett is an authentic educator, trained at an actual university’s education school, and former head of the Education Departments in Indiana and Florida. He doesn’t, however, care much about public education, preferring to get campaign contributions from private and charter school operators. Of all the candidates mentioned, Tony Bennett is, at least on paper, qualified to do the job. However, his history of incompetence and alleged criminal activity during his tenure as Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction would should disqualify him.

Luke Messer, is an Indiana congressman, who sits on the Education committee in the U.S. House. Messer formed the Congressional School Choice Caucus and has supported measures to allow federal funds to be used for “choice.” Messer is an attorney, not an educator.

Following in quick succession, we heard that Trump was considering…

  • Eva Moskowitz, a charter charlatan who’s trying to take over New York City’s schools one building at a time. She has a B.A. and a Ph.D. in History.
  • Michelle Rhee, who bullied her way into, through, and out of the D.C. schools leaving a poorly investigated testing scandal in her wake, and who has been the champion of charters and the Common Core. Rhee, who taught for three years under Teach For America, has a B.A. in Government, and a Masters in Public Policy.
  • Kevin Chavous, a former personal-injury lawyer turned politician who cofounded DFER and is intent on turning public schools into profit mills.
  • Betsy DeVos, a right wing, anti-union, anti-public education, religious right zealot who has spent millions trying to kill public education. DeVos attended a parochial school in high school, followed by Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI where she graduated with a Bachelors degree in Business Administration and Political Science.

Two of the previous eight candidates have actual public school teaching experience (Bennett and Rhee), and only one (Bennett) has a degree in education, but all eight of them are advocates for school privatization under the guise of “choice.”

HISTORICAL INTERLUDE

The latest threat for the position is Jerry Falwell Jr.

Before we talk about him, I just want to mention that his father, Jerry Falwell, founder of Liberty University and blamer of terrorism on abortionists, feminists and gays, once said of public schools,

I hope I live to see the day when, as in the early days of our country, we won’t have any public schools. The churches will have taken them over again and Christians will be running them. What a happy day that will be!

Contrast that with Founding Father John Adams who said,

The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.

TEACHERS NOT PREACHERS

So, Jerry Falwell Jr. is the latest rumored candidate for the Secretary of Education. He, like most of the others has no experience in K-12 education, except as a student, but even that was not in public schools. Falwell Jr. went to parochial schools, then attended his father’s Liberty University where he earned a B.A. in Religious Studies. He then went to law school at the University of Virginia.

Trump Considering Creationist Jerry Falwell Jr. For Position In Department Of Education

Those “passions” include teaching creationism instead of evolution, teaching that being gay is a sin, promoting the idea of taxpayer money funding religious schools via school vouchers and repealing the Johnson Amendment so that tax-exempt universities such as his, alongside houses of worship, can endorse political candidates.

…So it comes as no surprise that Trump, who bases a lot of his decisions on who’s blindly loyal to him, is likely to make Falwell Jr. a part of his administration. However, it should worry anyone who cares about the future of our public school system.

Falwell and his gang have a plan for public schools: If they can’t turn them into fundamentalist Christian academies, they’d like to drain their funding away and move to a voucher system of taxpayer-funded private schools, most of them religious in nature.

Placing Falwell, or for that matter, any of the above candidates, in the office of Secretary of Education, would be a direct attack on public schools, and public school children.

Brace yourselves…

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Filed under Bennett, Michelle Rhee, Politics, Spellings, Trump, US DOE

Medley #28: A Preview of Education in the Trump Administration, Part 2

The Education Plan: Focusing on Privatization

THE INDIANA CONNECTION

Trump Rumored To Consider Tony Bennett, Luke Messer For Education Secretary

More possibilities for U.S. Secretary of Education…

Tony Bennett left Indiana, after losing his race for Superintendent of Public Instruction to Glenda Ritz, and went to work as the Education Commissioner in Florida. He resigned after evidence surfaced that he colluded with charter school operators to change school ratings in favor of the privately run schools. He also was charged with misusing public resources for political purposes…something he and other Republicans consistently blamed teachers for doing during the campaign.

If he’s appointed U.S. Secretary of Education we can be sure that he will support more privatization. How would he differ from recent Secretaries of Education? While he is no friend to public education, Bennett, if selected, would join Terrell Bell and Rod Paige as the only Secretaries of Education to have actually spent time teaching in America’s K-12 public schools.

Messer has never set foot in a classroom other than as a student, but has been active in “reform” groups in Indiana, most notably, Hoosiers for Economic Growth and School Choice Indiana. He favors charter and private school vouchers over public education.

These two, along with names previously mentioned, Ben Carson and Williamson Evers, would do their best to destroy the public schools in America in favor of private school vouchers and charter schools.

Indiana’s former school’s chief Tony Bennett and U.S. Rep. Luke Messer are two names swirling around Washington, D.C. as possible picks by President-elect Donald Trump to be the Secretary of Education, according to journalists and policy advisors at a forum Monday.

Ritz’s defeater: ‘Politics are not going to drive my decisions’

The new Superintendent-elect in Indiana claims to be against vouchers, too much testing, and the A-F grading system. During the election Jennifer McCormick denied that the money she got from former Tony Bennett supporters would determine her policies, and that, as a Republican, she can convince Republican legislators to favor public school needs over private schools and vouchers.

Outgoing Superintendent, Glenda Ritz, spent her tumultuous four years in office working against the Republican attack on public education. She fought against the A-F grading system, privatization, the junk-science behind teacher evaluation schemes, and the misuse and overuse of testing, and was punished by the Vice-President-elect and the legislature. Now that McCormick has defeated Ritz, we’ll see if she is willing and able to stand up to the piles of money pouring into legislative campaign coffers from pro-privatization organizations.

She’s skeptical of the money Indiana spends on private school vouchers. She doesn’t like that schools are rated based on a single A-F grade. And on the campaign trail, she distanced herself from Tony Bennett, the GOP schools chief who lost to Ritz in 2012 and left a controversial legacy that included tying teacher pay and school ratings to standardized test scores.

NO EXPERIENCE. NO CLUE.

Post 2016 Election Post

President-elect Trump obviously knows very little about public education, and what he knows has been twisted by “reformers” and the erroneous “common knowledge.” For example, he believes that “our students perform near the bottom of the pack for major large advanced countries.” This is demonstrably false.

As a group, American students scored “average” among OECD nations in Reading and Science, and “below average” in math. In total score the United States did better than 49% of other countries among the 61 nations and 4 (Chinese) cities who administered the PISA…not the best score in the world, but definitely not “the bottom of the pack.”

When student social class is taken into account, the U.S. does a lot better. Nearly all the OECD countries have lower child poverty rates than the U.S. and poverty is what drives down test scores. When low poverty American students are compared with low poverty students in other nations, the U.S. moves to a much higher level on international rankings. Poverty has been ignored or dismissed when discussing U.S. student achievement, but “social class inequality is greater in the United States than in any of the countries with which we can reasonably be compared, [so] the relative performance of U.S. adolescents is better than it appears when countries’ national average performance is conventionally compared.”

Privatization inevitably results in a class-based education system where underfunded public schools will be left with the hardest and most expensive to teach students.

Public education will be improved by investing in, and improving the lives of the students living in poverty, not in closing public schools.

And education is a matter that is largely left to states and localities. Trump has indicated that he would leave education to the states and localities to a even greater extent than ESSA does. However, at the same time, he has said things such as that he wants to abolish Common Core, which is a state matter. He has no record of governing (he has never held office), has no demonstrated expertise or knowledge of policy, is unpredictable, is, and is especially interested in amassing power. Education does not appear to be much on his radar screen. So some of what happens will depend upon his education-related appointments, but otherwise, who knows how much he will leave education to states and localities and how much he will want to control himself? Who knows what he will do?

THE DUMBING DOWN OF THE AMERICAN VOTER

President Trump and Public Education

John Merrow discusses how the test-and-punish education of the last four decades has led to the lower ability of American students to problem solve. He blames the resulting lack of problem solving skills for the election of Donald Trump after a campaign of “xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia, nativism, anti-intellectualism and denial of science…”

The election of Donald Trump to the highest office in the land, after a campaign of xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia, nativism, anti-intellectualism and denial of science, is proof positive that we are now paying the price for having denied generations of children an education built on inquiry and respect for truth.

The country can survive four years of Donald Trump, but our democracy cannot afford schools that fail to respect and nurture our children. It is within our power to create schools that ask of each child “How are you intelligent?” and then allow and encourage them to follow their passion. If we fail to change our schools, we will elect a succession of Donald Trumps, and that will be the end of the American experiment.

CHARTERS

Loosely regulated, charter schools pose fiscal risk

The Trump administration promises to increase vouchers and charters. Will that help improve student achievement, or just help improve the corporate bottom line?

In an article published earlier this month, Business Insider observed: “We just got even more evidence supporting the theory that charter schools are America’s new subprime mortgages.” The magazine wrote: The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released the results of a damning audit of the charter school industry which found that charter schools’ relationships with their management organizations pose a significant risk to the aim of the Department of Education.

The findings in the audit, specifically in regard to charter school relationships with CMOs, echo the findings of a 2015 study that warned of an impending bubble similar to that of the subprime-mortgage crisis one of the authors, Preston C. Green III, told Business Insider.

With more than 6,700 charter schools spread across 42 states and the District of Columbia, fraudulent activities associated with the publicly funded, but privately owned, charter school industry have become the fodder for almost daily news stories.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

What can educators and concerned citizens do to counteract the damage already done to our students by the hateful language of the past campaign?

In the articles below we hear from authors, librarians, and an educator who encourage us to 1) help children learn to be understanding and tolerant of differences, 2) help adults examine their own motivations, and 3) remind us all to continue to resist the cash-driven effort to privatize public education.

A Declaration in Support of Children

Therefore we, the undersigned children’s book authors and illustrators, do publicly affirm our commitment to using our talents and varied forms of artistic expression to help eliminate the fear that takes root in the human heart amid lack of familiarity and understanding of others; the type of fear that feeds stereotypes, bitterness, racism and hatred; the type of fear that so often leads to tragic violence and senseless death.

On Safety Pins, Advocacy, Whiteness, and our field

So let’s start communicating in clear, non-bullshitty ways. Here are my expectations for White people in the field (and to be even clearer, I am a White woman, and much of this I’m writing down to hold myself accountable).

Adieu, Core Warriors: The Post-Election Realignment

Second of all, if it’s okay with you, some of us are going to keep Resisting. Common Core was always only a highly visible symptom of a bigger problem– the destruction and privatization of American public education. And that issue is still ongoing, has in fact gathered steam, despite its occasional set-backs, because it is fueled by the most powerful force in 21st century politics– giant heaping piles of money.

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Filed under Article Medleys, Bennett, Charters, Indiana, library, McCormick, poverty, Privatization, Public Ed, Testing, Trump

A Big Red “F” For Indiana

Indiana legislators and “reformers” love letter grades…so communities (via their schools) are graded as A through F using already invalid ISTEP scores. Those grades are good for things like getting campaign donations from privatizers, bashing public school teachers, and directing real estate agents to where the money is, but not much else.

Now that the Network for Public Education has given Indiana a grade of F because of the failure to actually help improve student achievement and public education, legislators will likely complain that these grades aren’t valid…that they’re biased (irony alert)…or even more likely, they’ll ignore them completely.

An editorial in Sunday’s (Feb. 14, ’16) Journal Gazette summarizes the report about Indiana…

State gets poor marks in dedication to schools

Indiana earns Fs for supporting teacher professionalism, resisting privatization and investing school funding resources wisely. It earned Ds for rejecting high-stakes testing and giving children a chance for success. Indiana public schools continue to serve the vast majority of students. Public school enrollment this fall was 1,046,146 students, compared to 84,030 non-public students.

The poor mark for high-stakes testing won’t surprise anyone familiar with the state’s continuing struggles with ISTEP+, the standardized test administered to students in grades 3 through 8. Indiana also is among a handful of states requiring third-graders to pass a reading test to be promoted to fourth grade.

The state did get a B in school finance…and a D in High Stakes Testing and Chance for Success, though, as we’ll see I disagree with the High Stakes Testing grade.

The grade card then, is 3 Fs, 2 Ds, and a B – not the worst in the nation (thanks to Arizona, Idaho, Texas and Mississippi), but certainly not anything to be proud of.

The complete report from Network for Public Education (NPE) can be found here

My comments, and my grades, along with NPE’s, cover three of the categories. These three alone would be enough reason to change the political leadership in Indiana in November (if not sooner). Add to that the refusal of the Republican governor to work cooperatively and respectfully with the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, an actual teacher, and we have a serious situation for Indiana’s school children.

[On an interesting side note, the current State Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI), Glenda Ritz, used to be a Republican. She switched parties in order to help us get rid of former SPI and “reformer” extraordinaire, Tony Bennett. She recognized that his and then Governor Mitch Daniels’ policies were damaging the public schools in our state. Suellen Reed, the SPI before Tony Bennett, also a Republican, is currently on the advisory board of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, a pro-public education group fighting “reform” and privatization. She served for 16 years as SPI under Democratic and Republican Governors in a congenial atmosphere which disappeared with the Daniels/Bennett administration.]

FAIL: HIGH STAKES TESTING

Indiana uses the ISTEP to grade schools and evaluate teachers, neither of which is a valid use of a tool meant for measuring student achievement. Last year’s ISTEP mess has at least encouraged the legislature to rethink the test and likely go with a different provider. However, grading schools and teachers using student achievement test scores will probably continue no matter what test is used.

Indiana also uses the ISTEP to label each school and school system on an A through F scale. Schools and neighborhoods are then either damned or lauded. That judgement is based, for the most part, on the economy of the families whose children attend the school since standardized tests have a direct correlation with family income. The D and F labels attached to low-income schools are detrimental to the community, to its families, and to its children. Students and their families are punished for having low incomes. Teachers are punished for working in high poverty schools.

Furthermore, Indiana uses a reading test, IREAD-3, to prevent students from being promoted from third grade to fourth. The rationale is that they need a year to catch up. Research into retention has shown time and again that students who are behind in third grade don’t catch up through retention, and in fact, fall even further behind. The money for IREAD-3 would be better spent on early intervention (see here, and here, and you might as well check this out, too).

NPE used various criteria in which to give Indiana a D. They also figured their grade before the monumental failure of last year’s ISTEP. My feeling is that the overuse, abuse, and misuse of tests in Indiana is reason enough to award the state a BIG RED F.

NPE Grade – D
My Grade – F

FAIL: PROFESSIONALIZATION OF TEACHING

NPE graded states on their ability to treat teachers with respect as professionals. Indiana fails.

The legislative chairs of the respective education committees (Robert Behning, chair of the House Education Committee, and Dennis Kruse, chair of the Senate Education and Career Development Committee) seem to take pleasure in depriving public school educators of their rights. In 2011 they led the drive to

  1. eliminate due process for teachers. In the past administrations which wished to terminate a teacher had to allow the teacher a hearing with an impartial mediator. This allowed the teacher to present her case in front of someone who was not involved with the school system and could rule impartially. We call this Due Process. The law was changed in 2011. Now, teachers who are to be terminated can request a meeting with the superintendent or the school board. The chances of a fair and impartial hearing are reduced. This is what was meant by the term tenure in K-12 education in the state. Indiana teachers no longer have it.
  2. reduce collective bargaining to only salary and insurance. Teachers and school systems no longer have the right to negotiate things like class size, evaluations, prep time, or parent teacher conferences. Teachers now must do what they’re told, despite the damage it might do to student learning. The collective bargaining law changes (actually all the law changes in 2011) were meant to punish the teachers unions in Indiana, which they have done, but they also limit the flexibility that school systems have in negotiations as well. The supermajority in Indiana doesn’t seem to understand (or care) that negotiations and bargaining is a process that takes two parties: the teachers and the school system.
  3. use student achievement test scores to evaluate teachers. Why is it that there are fewer “bad” teachers (based on student test scores) in wealthy areas? Why is it that schools in high-poverty areas always seem to have many more “bad” teachers? Because student test scores reflect the level of parental income. Using student achievement test scores to evaluate teachers (and schools) is quite simply a misuse of tests and should be stopped.
  4. force schools to abandon the step-scale for teacher pay and eliminate seniority. Apparently the supermajority and its “reformer” donors don’t consider experience a benefit in public schools. I wonder if they would be happy with an inexperienced teacher for their own child…an inexperienced surgeon taking out their appendix or an inexperienced attorney defending them in court. The truth is, experience matters, in every job or profession.

The legislature and the governor also have a problem listening to the elected educational professional in the government, the State Superintendent of Public Education, Glenda Ritz. Instead they’ve worked tirelessly, and successfully, to limit her influence on Indiana’s education policy. Apparently they believe that the auctioneer that leads the Senate education committee, the florist that leads the House education committee, and the radio talk show host who sits in the governor’s chair, all know more about public education than someone who

  • is a National Board Certified Teacher with two masters degrees
  • is a former Teacher of the Year
  • has 33 years of teaching experience in public education

Or perhaps it’s that she’s a Democrat and former union leader who got more votes than their “reformist” friend, Tony Bennett…

Here’s an irony for you…the legislature is “studying” the reason for the looming teacher shortage.

NPE Grade – F
My Grade – F

FAIL: RESISTANCE TO PRIVATIZATION

Public Education is a public trust. It should be funded and controlled by the public through democratically elected school boards. President John Adams wrote,

“The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.”

Indiana has the most expansive voucher program in the nation, diverting millions of dollars from public schools to private, mostly parochial schools.

Indiana politicians also favor privately run charter schools over public schools by methods such as loan forgiveness (even when the school closes), additional special-favor loans to charter schools, and support for the proven failure of virtual charter schools.

In Indiana “failing” public schools end up as “failing” charter schools, which then become “failing” parochial schools getting taxpayer dollars. Instead of redistributing tax money reserved for public education to private corporations and religious organizations, the state ought to help students in struggling schools. In the past, Indiana was one of the few states where struggling schools got higher funding than schools in wealthy areas. That changed in 2015. Now, the better you do on standardized tests, the more money you get.

State budget proposal shifts aid toward wealthy schools

…changes in the funding system proposed Monday appear likely to funnel most of those extra dollars to wealthy and growing suburban school districts, while some of the poorest and shrinking districts could actually get less money.

So, instead of putting money where it’s needed, the state “rewards” schools for high performance, forcing students in poorer areas to do more with less. Those same students are then “blamed” for “failing” and their schools get closed or turned over to a charter company. The failure of the state to provide for the students is blamed on the school, the teachers, and the students, and privatization gets the PR boost, and the profits, it was after all along.

NPE Grade – F
My Grade – F

FAIL: INDIANA

The state of Indiana is lead by a “reformist” governor and a “reformist” supermajority in both houses of the legislature. Their goals appear to be the complete privatization of public schools, the deprofessionalization of public school teachers, and the elimination of Indiana’s teachers unions, all accomplished through testing.

Things are not likely to change soon. Politicians talk a good game, but they are driven by the need to be reelected, which means they respond to those who pay their campaign expenses, i.e. donors. And the biggest contributors are the corporate donors who use public education tax revenue as a source for profit.

If Indiana wants to improve its public schools…and we ought to pause to think about whether or not that’s actually true…which will benefit all our children and our communities, we’re going to have to change things. Poverty is the main cause of low achievement. As long as Indiana’s 22% child poverty rate, the same rate as the nation’s, continues, we’ll have struggling students. At this point it will take several generations to undo the damage done by the last 12 years of the supermajority legislature and the last two governors.

There are no “silver bullets” when it comes to improving schools. The myth that “three great teachers in a row” can close the achievement gap has always been a ploy. However, if states are willing to invest time and money guided by the right values, we will see steady progress for our public schools and our nation’s children. 

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Filed under Bennett, Coll Bargaining, Due Process, Evaluations, GradingSchools, IREAD-3, ISTEP, Mitch Daniels, NPE, Pence, poverty, Privatization, retention, Ritz, Teaching Career, Testing