Little diversity in Indy charter schools

The Hechinger Report and NBC News collaborated over the weekend for some solid reporting on racial segregation in charter schools. They focused on Lake Oconee Academy, a Georgia charter school where 73 percent of students are white while 68 percent of students in surrounding public schools are black.

Their stories identified 115 charter schools that they deemed racially segregated – much more heavily white than surrounding public schools. Texas and Michigan were home to the most charter schools where African-American and Hispanic students were dramatically underrepresented.

Hechinger and NBC defined a charter school as “segregated” if its share of white students was 20 percentage points higher than the whitest nearby public school. They also found at least 747 charter schools that enrolled a higher percentage of white students than any public school in the same district.

I wondered if Indianapolis would have charter schools on the list. It didn’t, but it might have if reporters had set their criteria a bit differently.

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Panel to take on virtual charter schools

The State Board of Education’s committee on virtual charter schools will have its first meeting today. It has a formidable task – figuring out how to bring effective oversight to the online schools that have become the fastest-growing education sector in Indiana.

“I think there’s just a real concern about accountability,” said Gordon Hendry, the state board member who will chair the committee. “Virtual charter schools should be accountable for their performance. We spend tens of millions of dollars on them, so we want to make sure the state of Indiana, as well as the parents and students, are getting the very best education possible.”

So far, they don’t seem to be. All four virtual schools that were in operation in 2016-17 received F’s in the state’s school grading system. Test scores and graduation rates were uniformly low, even though virtual schools generally serve less disadvantaged populations than public schools. Critics have referred to the sector as the Wild West for its anything-goes ethos. Continue reading

Life after Janus? The view from Indiana

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hand down a decision this month in Janus v. AFSCME, a lawsuit that argues it’s a violation of the First Amendment for unions to collect “fair share fees” to offset the cost of representing employees who choose not to join up and pay dues.

If the court rules for Mark Janus, the Illinois government employee who brought the lawsuit, the result will be bad for public-sector unions in the 20-plus states that permit fair-share fees. But unions can still be effective if they work at it, according to officials with the Indiana State Teachers Association – which has been down this road before.

Keith Gambill

“We really focus on the greater work of the association: our ability, when we join together and speak collectively, to be in a better position to effect change,” said Keith Gambill, the association’s vice president. “It’s that collective action, that coming together, that really assists us in working to make learning conditions better for our students.”

Indiana used to have fair-share fees for teachers, but the state legislature outlawed them in 1995. The ISTA, which represents teachers in most of Indiana’s 291 school districts, lost members and revenue as a result, Gambill said. In the years that followed, it lost key battles over education funding and teacher bargaining rights. But it hasn’t been sidelined, and it’s still a player at the Statehouse – despite fighting uphill battles as a group aligned with Democrats in a state controlled by Republicans.

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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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