Mind Trust CEO: Mayoral control no longer part of IPS transformation plan

When the Mind Trust unveiled its plan to transform Indianapolis Public Schools late last year, a key component was turning control over to the Indianapolis mayor. That’s no longer part of the deal, Mind Trust CEO David Harris said Wednesday.

“It turns out, we were the only people who thought this was a good idea,” Harris said at a Bloomington symposium on urban education. “The reality is, it’s not going anywhere.”

One problem was the fundamental fact that IPS is just one of 11 school districts in Marion County, and its residents are a minority of Indianapolis voters. Another: Mayor Greg Ballard turned out not to be interesting in running the schools.

Harris shared a stage with IPS Superintendent Eugene White, and they found a few points of agreement. Both said Indiana should invest in pre-kindergarten education. And both said it’s crucial to hire and keep good teachers. But, not surprisingly, they expressed different visions for the future of IPS at the Bloomington forum sponsored by the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University.

Harris pushed the plan, which the Mind Trust unveiled almost a year ago, to remake IPS into a system of autonomous “opportunity schools,” with responsibility on the principals, not central administration. “We don’t think the people are the problem,” he said. “We think the structure itself needs to change.”

White said it’s naïve to think you can dramatically change results by changing structure. “You don’t go, in urban education, from where we are to utopia,” he said. “It doesn’t work that way. It has to be a process.”

On early childhood education, White lamented that Indiana not only doesn’t fund pre-kindergarten programs, it doesn’t require school attendance until age 7. Harris said Indiana is “in the Dark Ages on that front;” it’s one of 11 states that don’t fund pre-K.

That puts the two in alignment with the 7,200 Indianapolis residents who responded to a survey Continue reading

Superintendent debates, urban education forum

The Indiana superintendent of public instruction campaign is finally getting some attention, less than two weeks before the election. A debate will take place tonight (Oct. 26) between Republican incumbent Tony Bennett and Democratic challenger Glenda Ritz. It’s in Fort Wayne and runs from 7-8 p.m., sponsored by Northeast Indiana Public Radio and the Andy Downs Center on Indiana Politics at IPFW.

This event has a standard election debate format: two rounds of questions, posed alternately to each candidate, followed by closing statements. There will be no studio audience, but Northeast Indiana Public Radio will broadcast the debate, and folks can listen online. Kyle Stokes of NPR State Impact Indiana will moderate. As of Thursday, he was taking suggestions for questions.

Bennett and Ritz appeared Wednesday night in a forum at Wabash College. They didn’t debate, though. Indianapolis Star columnist Matthew Tully asked questions, first to Bennett, then to Ritz. You can watch on Wabash’s Youtube channel. Continue reading

IPS voters favored Kennedy over Ballard for Indy mayor

Melina Kennedy outpolled Greg Ballard by a hefty margin among Indianapolis Public Schools district voters in the Nov. 8 race for mayor of Indianapolis.

Of course, Kennedy, a Democrat, didn’t win. Ballard, the Republican incumbent, was re-elected and will serve another four-year term. He won despite being beaten soundly among voters within the IPS boundaries, roughly the pre-1970 city limits.

And that highlights one issue with the recent proposal by the Mind Trust to redesign Indianapolis Public Schools. A key factor in the plan is turning governance of the schools over to the mayor of Indianapolis. The mayor would appoint three members of a new IPS school board, while the Democratic and Republican leaders of the city-county council would appoint one member each.

But the mayor and city-county council are elected by voters from throughout Marion County; that’s been the case since city and county government were consolidated via “UniGov” in 1970. IPS is only one of 11 school districts in the county, and its residents are a minority among the voters who choose Indianapolis city-county officials.

It’s a little tricky to figure out exactly what the results of a Ballard-Kennedy contest within IPS would have been. The Marion County clerk’s office does a good job of making precinct-by-precinct results available. But some voting precincts are apparently split between IPS and other school districts Continue reading

The Mind Trust’s plan to redesign IPS

The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit that promotes education reform, released an ambitious proposal Sunday for remaking Indianapolis Public Schools. It certainly has people talking.

Here are some initial thoughts:

— A key feature of the plan involves killing off the IPS school board and turning control of the district over to the Indianapolis mayor and city-county council. Whether this is a good or bad idea, it’s certainly undemocratic. As Heather Gillers points out in the Indianapolis Star, it means “telling voters who live in IPS that they are the only ones in the state who will not be allowed to elect their school board.”

More significantly, the city of Indianapolis and IPS cover very different geographical areas –- the mayor of Indy isn’t the mayor of IPS. The mayor and city-county council are elected by voters from throughout Marion County, but IPS is only one of 11 school districts in the county. About three-fourths of public-school students in Marion County attend non-IPS schools.

The argument for mayoral control is that the mayor will be “politically accountable” for the schools. But even if the mayor screws up, IPS residents may not have the votes to punish him at the polls.

— More than 80 percent of IPS students qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches. No other public school district in Indiana comes close to that level of poverty, except for some districts in Lake County (Gary, East Chicago). The Mind Trust plan barely mentions this fact Continue reading