Opposition to HB 1134 is strong and diverse

UPDATE: Senate Republicans are offering an amendment to HB 1134, which will be discussed in the committee meeting Wednesday. Some details are here.

House Bill 1134 was supposed to divide us. It was designed to pit parents against teachers, white people against people of color, city folks against Indiana’s rural population. It looks like it may be having the opposite effect.

We’re seeing strong and unified opposition to the bill, which would restrict what teachers can say about “divisive concepts” like race and force them to post lessons online so parents can opt out.

Indiana Statehouse

Opposition is coming from teachers’ organizations across the state, with the Indiana State Teachers Association calling on members to pack the Statehouse this week to stop HB 1134.

It’s coming from individual teachers, who warn that the bill could lead to a mass exodus of educators, who simply can’t do their job well under the restrictions it would impose.

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Lawmakers to consider restrictions on teaching about race

Legislation aimed at preventing students – including high school and college students – from being exposed to certain ideas about race and American history will be discussed this week at the Statehouse.

Bills have been filed in both the House and Senate to set parameters for teaching and learning about race, sex, religion and other potentially divisive topics. One of them, Senate Bill 167, is set for a hearing Wednesday morning before the Senate Education and Career Development Committee.

Indiana Statehouse

The first thing to know about these bills is that they aren’t original or unique to Indiana. They are part of a coordinated national campaign against so-called critical race theory, with similar versions having been filed or passed in dozens of states. The language is copied from an executive order by former President Donald Trump and from “model bills” promulgated by right-wing advocacy groups.

The second thing to know is that they are, at best, a solution in search of a problem. The folks pushing them seem to think Hoosier teachers are woke activists pushing a leftist agenda centered on identity politics. They aren’t. Teachers are like everyone else: some are liberal, some are conservative – some are very conservative – and many don’t care about politics.

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1619 belongs in classrooms

We remember the canonical years from our American history classes: 1492. 1776. 1861-65. It’s past time to add 1619 to the list. I just read the 1619 Project book, and I’m convinced.

It was in August 1619 that Jamestown, Virginia, colonists bought 20 to 30 enslaved Africans from English pirates. “They were among the more than 12.5 million Africans who would be kidnapped from their homes and brought in chains across the Atlantic Ocean in the largest forced migration in human history until the Second World War,” writes Nikole Hannah-Jones in the book’s introductory essay.

Image of The 1619 Project book cover.

Arguably no event had a more pivotal and long-lasting impact on the United States. As the 1619 Project makes clear, chattel slavery and the accompanying doctrine of white supremacy shaped American history and American attitudes, and they continue to do so today.

“The story of Black Americans cannot be disentangled from the story of America, and our attempts to do so have forced us to tell ourselves a tale full of absences, evasions and lies,” writes Hannah-Jones, the project’s creator and lead author.

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Schools reflect demographic change

The Wall Street Journal had a fascinating story last week about America’s increased diversity as revealed by the 2020 census. Focusing on Columbus, Indiana, it showed that “small Midwestern towns” are where the nation is diversifying the fastest.

“One in seven residents in Columbus … was born outside the United States,” the story said. “Public school students collectively speak more than 50 languages and dialects at home. Roughly three dozen foreign companies operate in the area.”

You can also see this trend in enrollment figures for Indiana schools. Between 2010-11 and 2020-21, students in Indiana public and charter schools who identify as a race or ethnicity other than white increased from 26.9% to 34.2%, according to Indiana Department of Education data.

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1619 project affirms American ideals

I read the 1619 Project when it was published in 2019, and I thought it was one of the most powerful collections of writings about America that I had ever encountered. I reread parts of it this week, including Nikole-Hannah Jones’ lead essay, and I still feel the same way.

I’ve been mystified to see the project turned into a political lightning rod. Following the lead of Donald Trump, critics argue it is racially divisive, anti-white and anti-American, and that it seeks to make us ashamed of our country. (None of that is true). Some legislators want to outlaw teaching it in schools.

The 1619 Project: New York Times Sunday Magazine cover.

I can only assume that these people are making their arguments in profoundly bad faith, manufacturing outrage for the 2022 elections. As Notre Dame professor John Duffy writes, many of the critiques seem “cynically opportunistic – gasoline poured into the trash can fires of the culture wars.”

An ambitious initiative by the New York Times, the 1619 Project aimed to “reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.” It examines 400 years of history through the prism of race and racism, starting with the arrival in 1619 of the first Africans brought as slaves to what would become the United States.

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IPS, Gary dominate charter school demographics

Two themes jump out from Indiana Department of Education demographic data on charter school students in Indiana. First, it’s a tale of two cities – or, more accurately, a tale of two districts.

Over half of Indiana’s nearly 45,000 charter school students live in the Indianapolis Public Schools and Gary Community Schools districts, even though those districts account for fewer than 5% of the state’s students. State charter school data are overwhelmingly skewed by what happens in those two districts.

Second, Indianapolis’ approximately 50 charter schools enroll higher percentages of Black and economically disadvantaged students than IPS schools – even though IPS has significantly more Black students and students from low-income families than most districts in the state.

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Black legislators were right to talk about race

Some Indiana House Republicans lost their cool last week when Democratic colleagues dared to raise the issue of race. According to the Indianapolis Star, the Republican legislators “shouted down and booed Black lawmakers during floor debate on a bill that some see as discriminatory.”

Rep. Greg Porter (House Democratic Caucus).

Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis, became emotional and walked off the House floor when Republicans interrupted his attempt to speak, the Star reported. Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, began talking about his own experiences with racism and “was met with ‘boos’ from several … GOP lawmakers.”

But Porter and Smith were right. Lawmakers were debating House Bill 1367, which would allow Greene Township in St. Joseph County to secede from South Bend Community Schools and join John Glenn School Corp. Greene Township’s population is 98% white, according to census data, while nearly three-fourths of South Bend students are Black, Hispanic or multiracial. John Glenn’s enrollment is 90% white and less than 1% Black. How can you debate a bill like that and not talk about race?

According to the Star, the conflict in the House spilled into the hallway, where a confrontation erupted between Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, and Rep. Vanessa Summers, D-Indianapolis. Eberhart said Summers called him a racist. She said Eberhart “just went off and got mad and tried to hit me.”

Eberhart told the Star, “I don’t have a racist bone in my body.”

But bones aren’t at issue; and, actually, neither are hearts. It doesn’t matter if Republicans aren’t stereotypical racists who hate Black people. Their actions are what matter. When legislators promote laws that make schools more segregated, their actions should be scrutinized.

The same should apply to Indiana’s state-sanctioned open enrollment policy, in which families may transfer their children from the school district where they live to another, provided there’s room. The policy accounts for about half the “school choice” in the state. In theory, it lets parents choose the public school that best fits their children’s needs, as long as they can provide transportation. In practice, families are leaving racially diverse urban schools for mostly white suburban or rural districts.

Muncie Community Schools, for example, where 57% of students are white, lose nearly a quarter of their prospective students through inter-district transfers. Many go to nearby districts where over 90% of students are white. Figures are similar for Marion Community Schools, where 48% of students are white and many leave for districts that are 80% or more white.

Rep. Jake Teshka, R-South Bend, the author of HB 1367, said it has nothing to do with race but would address transportation concerns for Greene Township students, 274 of whom already attend John Glenn schools. The bill sets up a “pilot project” and applies only to one township and two school districts. But Teshka acknowledged there is interest in similar district secessions in other parts of the state.

The House approved the bill, 53-42. If the Senate follows suit, it could open the door to redrawing district boundaries in ways that make many districts more racially segregated. That policy decision shouldn’t happen without debate, and Black legislators shouldn’t be on their own in forcing it.

‘Polite protest’ marked racial progress in Indianapolis

Oscar Robertson should have been on top of the world. He had just led Indianapolis Crispus Attucks to the 1955 Indiana high school basketball championship, the highest achievement imaginable in the basketball-crazed state. The city had enthusiastically supported the all-Black team.

But instead of the traditional champions parade through downtown Indianapolis, the team and its fans were routed to a park in a Black neighborhood for a celebration. Robertson, insulted by the slight, left early for his father’s house.

“Dad,” he said, “they just don’t want us.”

The anecdote, from Robertson’s autobiography, concludes Richard B. Pierce’s “Polite Protest: The Political Economy of Race in Indianapolis, 1920-1970.” Published in 2005 by Indiana University Press, the book offers plentiful evidence that Robertson was right.

Its thesis is that Black people took a different path in Indianapolis than other Northern cities in seeking racial progress in education, housing and jobs. They largely rejected demonstrations and vocal advocacy for the “polite” tactics of coalition-building, petitions, lobbying and litigation. Thwarted by the city’s white power structure, Black citizens “met with interminable delays and ineffectual remedies,” according to Pierce, a history professor at the University of Notre Dame.

In education, Crispus Attucks High School was Exhibit A. Opened in 1927, it didn’t admit its first white students until 1967 – 18 years after the Indiana legislature outlawed racial segregation in schools.

“Indianapolis fought school desegregation with a ferocity rarely matched by any other northern city,” Pierce writes.

In the early 1900s the city’s elementary schools may have been segregated by neighborhood, but Black students attended high school with white students. That changed in the 1920s, a time of increasing racism and nativism nationally and the dominance of the Ku Klux Klan in Indiana. The school board voted to open Attucks as a separate high school for Black students. African American leaders pushed for integrated schools, but school boards resisted time after time.

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White teachers are the norm

Indiana has a teacher diversity problem. This has been an issue for a long time; and even though some school districts have been trying to hire more teachers of color, change comes slowly if at all.

Data from the Indiana Department of Education are discouraging, showing most students are missing out on the experience of learning from diverse teachers.

  • Over 93% of Indiana teachers are white. That compares with 66.4% of students in public and charter schools who are white.
  • Fewer than 4% of teachers are Black, compared with 12.7% of students.
  • Only 1.7% of teachers are Hispanic, compared with 12.8% of students.

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Proficiency gaps deserve a look

IUPUI faculty member and Indianapolis Recorder columnist Marshawn Wolley makes a provocative statement in a recent piece on Indiana’s 2019 ILEARN results:

“It just doesn’t seem to matter when Black students fail state standardized tests.”

He’s got a point. Everyone has been up in arms about the steep drop in proficiency rates that resulted when Indiana shifted from its former ISTEP test to the new ILEARN assessment. But very little attention has been paid to the gap in proficiency between black and white students.

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