Public schools lost a true champion with the death this week of Phyllis Bush, a retired Fort Wayne teacher and tireless activist who inspired us all with her with her truth-telling and optimism.
Phyllis Bush, right, and Donna Roof at the 2018 Network for Public Education conference.
Her passion for public schools was in no way abstract or ideological. It came from experience and relationships. She taught school for 32 years, including 24 years at Fort Wayne South Side High School. And she radiated love and loyalty for her fellow teachers and former students.
When she spoke out against school vouchers and charter schools, it was because she hated what they were doing to her beloved public schools and the 90 percent of students who attend them.
She died Tuesday after a lengthy battle against cancer, which she chronicled in a blog that she referred to, with characteristic humor, as “Cancer Schmantzer.”
Seven Oaks Classical School headmaster Stephen Shipp makes several debatable claims in his Herald-Times guest column arguing that charter schools are public schools.
He suggests charter schools are public because they “are judged by the state’s A-F accountability system.” But in Indiana, so are private schools that receive vouchers. He says charter schools are “accountable to an authorizer who can shut them down.” Yes, but that almost never happens. Seven Oaks’ authorizer, Grace College, does not answer to the public.
Shipp claims charter schools are at a disadvantage because they can’t levy property taxes to pay for buildings and transportation. But they don’t have to provide transportation (Seven Oaks doesn’t). And, unlike public schools, charter schools in Indiana receive state funding — soon to be $1,000 per student — for those costs. They also qualify for grants, like the $900,000 recently awarded Seven Oaks.
The movement to support public schools is big, diverse and deeply committed. That’s the obvious take-away from the fifth annual conference of the Network for Public Education, which took place last weekend in downtown Indianapolis.
The network has grown like crazy since its start a mere five years ago, boosted by the reputation of co-founder Diane Ravitch but also by a hunger among teachers, parents and activists for a way to voice their concerns about the threats facing public education. The conference drew nearly 400 people.
And they came from all over – from California, New York, Washington and Puerto Rico, and from across Indiana, where public schools have been under fierce attack from the Republican-dominated state government and bunch of generously funded advocacy groups.
The mood in Indy was optimistic and determined. Teacher walkouts last spring in West Virginia, Kentucky and Oklahoma, and the public support they garnered, were still on everyone’s minds. The expansion of charter schools has slowed, studies have found that vouchers don’t work and news media have caught on to how unregulated school choice promotes segregation and inequality.
Four in five public-school parents would support local teachers if they went on strike for higher pay, according to results of this year’s PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes toward the Public Schools.
Seventy-three percent of the overall public would back a strike by local teachers, the poll found. Even among Republicans, support for a teachers’ strike was 60 percent.
The poll, released this week by Phi Delta Kappa, has tracked public opinion on schools and teachers since 1969. This year’s poll surveyed a random sample of over 1,000 adults in May 2018.
The support for teacher strikes is remarkable at a time when union membership is shriveling, strikes are rare and government officials from state legislators to the Supreme Court have declared war on organized labor. But walkouts last spring by teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kentucky received a lot of attention, and the poll suggest the public was sympathetic.
Indiana fares poorly in a “Grading the States” report issued this month by the Network for Public Education. One of 17 states to receive an F for its school privatization policies, it is near the bottom overall and for its policies on vouchers and charter schools.
That’s hardly surprising. Indiana’s Republican-dominated government has aggressively promoted charter schools for over a decade and vouchers for years. For a time, the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council advised states to “do what Indiana does” on education.
But it seems that other states may have caught up. Arizona, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Nevada all rank lower than Indiana in supporting public education, according to the Network for Public Education report. Indiana is 46th overall, 45th for vouchers and 42nd for charter schools.
The 29-page report, written by Tanya Clay House, a former U.S. Department of Education official, starts with the position that charter schools and voucher programs undermine the public schools that serve most students in the United States.
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.
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.
Indiana students lost ground academically after they transferred from public schools to charter schools, according to a new study by Indiana University education professors.
The students tended to catch up with their peers if they stayed in their charter school long enough. But here’s the rub: many did not. The study found that nearly half of the charter-school students returned to public schools within three years after leaving them.
The results don’t mean that charter schools are doing a bad job, said Hardy Murphy, a clinical professor in the IU School of Education in Indianapolis and one of the authors. Research has shown that students are likely to fall behind any time they move from one school to another.
“The problem is, charter schools were created as an option where that sort of thing wasn’t supposed to happen,” Murphy said. “It’s about the expectations and how they’ve been marketed.”
The researchers presented the study, “Unfulfilled Promises: Transfer to a Charter School and Student Achievement in Indiana,” at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association in New York. Along with Murphy, authors are Gary Pike, Patricia Rogan and Demetrees Hutchins.