Charter schools and segregation

The folks who want to open a Waldorf-inspired school in Bloomington are back, this time with a plan that sounds a bit more secular than what they laid out the first time around.

They’ve asked the Indiana Charter School Board to approve a charter for what they’re now calling The Green School. The board will have a public hearing on the proposal Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at the Monroe County Public Library. Comments can be emailed until April 8 to charter-applications@icsb.in.gov.

The Green School charter application describes a school that will emphasize environmental sustainability and social justice with an “arts-infused” curriculum on the model of Waldorf schools, created a century ago by Rudolf Steiner. It will be a school “that meets the needs of the whole child: head, hands and heart.” Sort of a new-age 4-H club without the H for health – although that’s in the plan too: There will be crafts with beeswax crayons and natural paints and healthy cafeteria meals from the local co-op.

Initially calling their proposal the Green Meadows School, the organizers applied last year to Ball State University but withdrew that application. They have now dropped many of the explicit references to “spiritual” values and practices that made the first plan sound sectarian. But the Indiana Charter School Board should still look critically at whether a school whose curriculum is “informed” by Steiner can claim to be nonreligious.

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Preschool bill is one baby step for Hoosier-kind

It’s a start. A tiny one, for sure. But to use a cliché that for once is totally appropriate, you’ve got to walk before you can run. And in Indiana, we’re barely crawling when it comes to early childhood education.

House Bill 1004, which establishes a state-funded pilot program to help low-income parents send their children to preschool, was approved Thursday by the state House and Senate. The measure limits the program to five counties in its first year. It can be expanded later if lawmakers agree.

Best of all, the legislature dropped a provision that would have made participating preschoolers eligible for vouchers to attend private K-12 schools as they get older. As initially approved by the House, the bill had the potential to eventually make nearly half of Indiana students eligible for private-school vouchers.

Votes for the final version of the bill were 92-8 in the House and 40-8 in the Senate, with all the no votes by Republicans. It now goes to Gov. Mike Pence, who can sign it and claim the legislature approved one of his signature initiatives. Continue reading

Don’t let schools be an excuse for not fixing poverty

It’s a mystery. Why are people who call themselves education reformers comfortable with the status quo when it comes to poverty and economic inequality? Why are they OK with social circumstances that are convenient for adults but aren’t good for children?

Why can’t we talk about poverty and the challenges it presents for schools without being charged with excusing failure? As Adam VanOsdol of Indiana Education Insight noted recently: “Anyone raising the poverty issue these days gets accused of letting schools off the hook. These allegations stand in the way of serious form.”

Folks in the reform community like to say schools are the solution to poverty. Certainly good schools are part of what’s needed. But to suggest schools by themselves can solve the problem is naïve. And to suggest there’s nothing we can do is just giving up.

Just for a start, we could:

  • Raise the minimum wage.
  • Quit passing laws to weaken unions.
  • Create a fairer tax system.
  • Fund safety-net programs like food stamps, housing and unemployment.
  • Ensure people have access to health care.

And, yes, we could take on the shameful segregation of America’s education system Continue reading