With gun violence, schools are not ‘the problem’

This has been a horrific month. On May 14, a white supremacist walked into a supermarket in a Black neighborhood of Buffalo and murdered 10 people. Then, on Monday, a shooter entered an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and massacred 19 young children and two teachers.

Both shooters were 18-year-olds who were able to legally buy AR-15 style semiautomatic rifles. They weren’t even close to being old enough to buy alcohol, but they could buy deadly weapons meant for use by the military, along with lots of ammunition, no questions asked.

It’s no wonder the United States is an outlier when it comes to gun violence. We have had over 2,000 school shootings since 1970, according to Sandy Hook Promise. And as horrifying as they are, school shootings are the tip of the iceberg. Guns are now the leading cause of death for U.S. children and teens.

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Charter schools and ‘educational blackmail’

Are charter schools like polluting industries? That’s a provocative analogy, but two University of Connecticut researchers explore it in a recent paper. They contend that, while some charter schools may help students, the sector needs stronger regulation to prevent harm to students and school districts.

“I would argue that, even if there are benefits, that does not give you carte blanche to not regulate or mitigate the harms that occur,” Preston C. Green III, the paper’s lead author, told me.

The paper, “Beware of Educational Blackmail: How Can We Apply Lessons from Environmental Justice to Urban Charter School Growth?,” is pending publication in South Carolina Law Review and is online at the Social Science Research Network. Authors are Green, the university’s John and Maria Neag professor of urban education, and doctoral student Chelsea Connery.

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Indiana lags in education. Don’t blame history.

James Briggs of the Indianapolis Star convincingly connects Indiana’s economic malaise with its status as “one of the worst states in American for educational attainment” in an excellent column published this month.

But I think the column oversimplifies when it suggests Indiana’s current failings are embedded in the state’s history. “The story is always more complicated when we move to history,” the Indiana historian James Madison told me.

Caleb Mills advocated for public education in a series of influential essays in the 1800s. (Digital image © 2005 Indiana Historical Society. All Rights Reserved. Source: W. H. Bass Photo Company Collection).

I reached out to Madison to ask about the claim, attributed to the writer and consultant Aaron Renn, that Indiana “has always been poorly educated” due to “the cultural influences of large Quaker and southern-born populations at the time of Indiana’s founding.”

The Quakers? “I don’t know any basis for that statement,” said Madison, the Thomas and Kathryn Miller professor emeritus of history at Indiana University.Quite the contrary, Quakers tended to be more enthusiastic about education.”

Quakers also were pioneer Indiana’s most active abolitionists and operated some of the first schools open to African American children. “That’s indicative of the Quaker commitment to the general welfare,” Madison said.

Renn is right that much of Indiana’s early population was southern-born. All but nine of the 43 delegates to the state’s first constitutional convention previously lived in the South, Madison writes in “Hoosiers: A New History of Indiana.” And formal education was plain scarce in backwoods Indiana. Abraham Lincoln, who lived in the state from age 7 to 21, attended school for less than 12 months. In 1840, Indiana recorded the highest rate of illiteracy north of the Ohio River, Madison said.

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Pro-charter money bankrolls Indiana GOP

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has given another $700,000 to a pro-charter-school Indiana PAC, which has funneled a big chunk of the money to supporting Republican legislative candidates.

The PAC – called, without apparent irony, Hoosiers for Great Public Schools – reported only one contribution in its 2022 pre-primary campaign finance report, covering Jan. 1 to April 8: the one from Hastings, a California resident with a net worth estimated between $4 billion and $6 billion.

Hoosiers for Great Public Schools then gave $100,000 to another PAC, Hoosiers for Quality Education, which favors school choice in all its forms, including private school vouchers. Hoosiers for Quality Education has made over $600,000 in contributions this year, all to Republicans. Most has gone to GOP House candidates who are favored by caucus leaders and are in contested primaries.

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A legislator, a university and school vouchers

No one has done more than Rep. Bob Behning to shape Indiana’s wide-open system of school choice, including what’s arguably the most generous private-school voucher program in the country. Now Behning’s employer is tapping into that system as it launches an online private school.

Marian University Preperatory Academy will open in the fall of 2022, according to a news release from Marian University, a private, Catholic institution in Indianapolis. The school, described as “flexible” and “faith-focused,” will operate in a partnership with for-profit Stride Inc.

Tuition will be $9,500 a year for the school’s hybrid program, which will include in-person and online instruction; and $7,500 for its fully virtual program. The school’s FAQ section provides guidance for applying for Indiana’s voucher program, which can help pay tuition for families at most income levels.

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Session could have been worse for education

The 2022 session of the Indiana General Assembly produced plenty of bad news, but at least there’s this: When it comes to education, it could have been worse. Much worse.

Republican legislators failed in their all-out effort to ban the teaching of what they misleadingly call “critical race theory” in schools. They also fell short in their efforts to politicize school board elections, encourage book-banning, and make public schools share funding with charter schools.

Indiana Statehouse
Indiana Statehouse

Their one truly harmful action regarding schools was the approval of House Bill 1041, which prohibits transgender girls from playing girls’ sports. This cruel legislation was designed for one purpose only: to toss a bone to the GOP’s right wing. Maybe – hopefully — Gov. Eric Holcomb will veto it.

Other than that, Republicans wasted people’s time and energy with lots of sound and fury about education, but it ultimately signified almost nothing.

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Days of the living dead

This is the season of the zombie bills, the bad bills that refuse to die. You think you’ve driven a stake through their heart, but they rise and keep coming. Or so it seems.

For example, House Bill 1134, Indiana Republicans’ response to the phony outrage over schools teaching “critical race theory,” faced overwhelming public opposition. It was supposedly dead after the Senate failed to approve it by a deadline. Then it wasn’t: Legislative leaders said they would revive parts of the bill. Then it was dead again when they couldn’t agree on how to do that. But will it stay dead?

We won’t know until the session is adjourned.

As approved by the House, HB 1134 would have banned teaching about certain “divisive concepts,” required teachers to post lesson plans online, let parents sue over supposed violations, and so on. A Senate committee removed some of the worst provisions; but the Senate Republican caucus, after an apparently contentious closed-door meeting, let the bill die.

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Homeschool ‘bridge’ program works to keep funding

Indiana legislators have given a green light – for now — to a school that helps parents use state education dollars to buy Hulu subscriptions, museum memberships and American Girl dolls.

The school, Tech Trep Academy, operates through an arrangement with Cloverdale Community Schools. The state considers it a virtual or online school, but in fact it’s part of a growing trend of “bridge” programs that combine the freedom of homeschooling with public funding.

It opened in 2020, recruiting homeschool families with a promise of $1,700 per student to spend on educational products and programs. State officials warned that was an illegal enrollment incentive, so the school switched to offering points that could be traded for goods and services.

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‘People who hold $460,000 jobs don’t give them up’

Indiana House Speaker Todd Huston’s duties as a state legislator meshed just fine with his responsibilities as an official of the College Board for nearly 10 years.

Then something changed. Huston’s $460,738 job with the testing organization fell victim to the right’s contrived war against so-called critical race theory.

Indiana Statehouse

The speaker stepped down from his position as senior vice president of the College Board two weeks ago after questions were raised about his support for House Bill 1134. As approved by the House, it would have restricted teaching about “divisive concepts” regarding race, sex and religion and required teachers to post lesson plans online so parents could opt out.

As speaker, Huston typically votes on bills only to break a tie or to signal that the measure is a priority for House Republicans. He voted for HB 1134, which passed, 60-37.

The legislation is part of a national campaign, playing out in state legislatures and elections, aimed at fighting “diversity, equity and inclusion” programs and curricula in school. And it’s in direct opposition to the culture of diversity and inclusion the College Board claims to favor.

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Senate amendment helps – but not enough

I’m all for giving credit where credit is due, and some credit is due today to Indiana Senate Republicans. They’ve offered an amendment to House Bill 1134 that would make a truly bad bill significantly less bad.

Sen. Linda Rogers, R-Granger, unveiled the amendment Tuesday afternoon. It’s expected to be considered when the Senate Education and Workforce Development meets at 1:30 p.m. today.

As approved by the House, HB 1134 would require teachers to post learning materials and lesson plans online for parents and others to review, and it would restrict teaching about “divisive concepts” related to race, gender and other topics.

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