Indiana election a model for pro-public school candidates

There’s a lot of buzz this year about the idea that education could be a winning issue for Democrats in the 2018 election. Candidates who are thinking about highlighting their support for public schools could look for inspiration to the 2012 Indiana election for superintendent of public instruction.

Glenda Ritz, a Democrat, won with a campaign that focused on her support for teachers and her opposition to vouchers and test-based school and educator accountability. In the solidly red state of Indiana, Ritz upset the Republican incumbent Tony Bennett, a hero of the national “education reform” crowd. Her grassroots campaign succeeded even though she was outspent more than 5-to-1.

Glenda Ritz

Glenda Ritz

Yes, Ritz was running to be Indiana’s chief school official, so it made sense that the race focused on education. But education should also be front-and-center in elections for governor and state legislature, offices that makes the laws governing how schools operate.

Ritz won by mobilizing teachers and their friends and supporters. Scott Elliott, then a reporter with the Indianapolis Star, analyzed the results and concluded she won via “a teacher-led movement, online and word-of-mouth, born of frustration with Bennett, his style and his policies.” If that kind of movement can elect a state superintendent, it could elect governors and legislators too.

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Government action created segregated housing, schools

Many people argue that schools are segregated because neighborhoods are segregated, and neighborhoods are segregated because most people choose to live with “their own kind.”

The first part of that statement may contain some truth, but the second part is mostly a myth, as Richard Rothstein explains in his recent book “The Color of Law.” Government policies at the national, state and local level created or strengthened housing segregation that persists today.

And because segregation resulted from law, called de jure, and not by choice, it violates the U.S. Constitution, argues Rothstein, a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute.

“If I am right that we continue to have de jure segregation,” he writes, “then desegregation is not just a desirable policy; it is a constitutional as well as a moral obligation that we are required to fulfill.”

In a sense, “The Color of Law” is a rebuttal to two key Supreme Court decisions. In one, the court ruled in 1974 that suburbs couldn’t be included in a Detroit school desegregation plan; in the other, issued in 2007, it barred voluntary school segregation plans adopted in Louisville and Seattle. In both, the court claimed segregation resulted from private choice, not legal requirements.

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School shooting trend hits Indiana

It was Indiana’s turn. An incident last week at Noblesville West Middle School brought the plague of school shootings close to home. We’ve had school shootings here before, of course; but following closely on deadly incidents in Florida and Texas, the Noblesville shooting grabbed national attention.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

The odds of a shooting in your child’s school are extremely low. School shootings are so horrifying and get so much media coverage that it seems they’re happening everywhere, all the time. But there are 50 million students attending over 100,000 schools in the United States. Very few of them will experience a shooting at their school.

As Harvard professor David Ropeik writes in the Washington Post, the odds of a child being shot to death at school on a given day are roughly 1 in 614 million, considerably less than the odds of dying from a serious disease or being killed on the way to or from school or from a sports injury.

I’m hearing stories of parents who are thinking about homeschooling their children rather than risk sending them to school. Of course, parents have every right to worry and make decisions about their children’s safety. But for most children, schools are among the safest places they can be.

It’s the guns. The United States has more mass shootings, including school shootings, than other countries for one reason: We have a lot more guns and put few restrictions on them. As Max Fisher and Josh Keller report in the New York Times, Americans are 4.4 percent of the world’s population but own 42 percent of the guns. Nearly one-third of gunmen in mass shootings are Americans. Continue reading

Muncie schools exempted from state grading, accountability laws

Republicans in the Indiana legislature have been hard-core supporters of school accountability for about as long as I can remember, so it seems odd that they would toss it out the window as part of a deal that hands control of Muncie Community Schools to Ball State University.

But they did. The state law that calls for schools to receive A-to-F grades on the basis of student test scores and other measures? Muncie schools will be exempt. The law requiring state intervention and potential takeover for schools that consistently get low grades? Exempt from that too.

Those provisions of House Bill 1315 got almost no attention in public debate or the news media before the legislation was approved on a near party-line vote in a special session Monday. One wonders how many lawmakers knew they were in the bill before they arrived to get their marching orders.

In general, the legislation doubles down on the state’s year-old takeover of financially troubled Muncie and Gary Community Schools. In addition to inviting Ball State to take charge of Muncie schools, it weakens the elected Gary school board and strengthens the emergency manager who runs the district.

Ball State’s trustees will meet today to approve a resolution to take over Muncie Community Schools. The trustees and Ball State president will appoint a school board to replace the elected Muncie board.

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School takeover law would disenfranchise citizens

The most serious problem with the school takeover law that the Indiana legislature is considering is that it will deprive the citizens of Gary and Muncie of the right to elect the people who govern their local public schools.

That’s especially problematic for Gary, a city that is 83 percent African-American. Ninety-three percent of students in Gary Community Schools are African-American. The Republican supermajority in the legislature, likely to back the bill, includes 70 representatives and 41 senators. Every single one is white.

There’s a long history in this country of white people preventing black people from voting. It was supposed to end with the 1965 Voting Rights Act, but apparently it didn’t.

Dwight Gardner, pastor of Gary’s Trinity Baptist Church, referenced that history Monday in testimony to the Legislative Council, according to the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette. “The right to vote, to select your own representation, is an essential value of what we call freedom,” he said.

The legislation, House Bill 1315, converts the elected Gary Community Schools board to an advisory board that will have no power and can’t meet more than four times a year. The emergency manager who runs Gary schools would no longer need to consult with the school board and the city’s mayor. Continue reading

‘A Nation at Risk’ redefined purpose of education

A common take on “A Nation at Risk,” the government report on education issued 35 years ago, is that it had its flaws but at least it provided much-needed attention to America’s schools. But it sure didn’t look that way from the trenches, said Ray Golarz, a long-time Indiana school administrator.

“The end result of ‘A Nation at Risk’ was that teachers, administrators and schools were seen as the enemy,” he said. “Now tell me that was a good result. I don’t think so.”

The 1983 report, by a commission created by Secretary of Education Terrel Bell, claimed the United States was falling behind foreign economic competitors for the first time since World War II and laid the blame on the nation’s substandard educational system.

“If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today,” read one of its best-known lines, “we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves.”

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Suspension rates extremely high at some schools

Some Indiana schools gave out-of-school suspensions to over half of their students during the 2016-17 academic year. That’s according to data provided by the Indiana Department of Education.

The suspension rates should be cause for concern, said JauNae Hanger, president of the Children’s Policy and Law Initiative of Indiana, which advocates for research-based and nonpunitive school discipline.

“When kids are not in school and are losing critical days of instruction, their risk of dropping out is greater,” she said. “But it’s also important to note that, when you have really high percentages of students suspended, it impacts the whole school.”

“We’re really missing the big picture if we don’t understand how school discipline can undercut what we’re trying to do, which is improve these schools for all students.”

The high rates of suspension come at a time of concern that excessive discipline fuels a “school-to-prison pipeline.” Researchers have found that students of color are more likely than white students to be punished for the same offenses, and that such disparities may contribute significantly to racial achievement gaps. As Hanger suggested, studies have found that harsh school discipline can have negative effects even on students who aren’t subject to disciplinary actions.

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