‘The Sum of Us’ can be more than our parts

There’s a “solidarity dividend” to be gained when we work across lines of race and class to improve lives for everyone, Heather McGhee writes in her excellent and incisive book “The Sum of Us,” published this year. Everyone gains when we work together and don’t waste our efforts holding others back.

Conversely, she writes, we all pay a penalty when we succumb to racism and to social and economic divisions. The zero-sum myth, which holds that someone else’s gain is necessarily our loss, lets politicians and the powerful divide us into warring, partisan factions.

Book cover of 'The Sum of Us'

One sphere where this plays out is education. The belief that there is a limited supply of “good” schools — and that they are in affluent communities and enroll mostly white students — hurts us all. Schools become more segregated by race and class. Many children attend schools that are stigmatized as failing while the fortunate pay a premium for the schools they want.

“But what if the entire logic is wrong?” McGhee writes. “What if they’re not only paying too high a cost for segregation, but they’re also mistaken about the benefits?”

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Vaccine refusal has consequences

Not surprised but disappointed. That’s my reaction to the news that we probably won’t reach “herd immunity” for COVID-19 anytime soon. And that we may never reach it.

For much of the past year, experts were saying we could reach herd immunity, the stage where the virus stops actively spreading, when 70% or so of the population was vaccinated or immune from having had the infection. We hoped schools could return to normal by this fall, after a year and a half of disruptions.

As Shari Rudavsky writes in the Indy Star, herd immunity was the Holy Grail, the prize that would let life get back to routine. Now it seems to be out of reach. Health officials no longer promote the idea.

What happened? One factor was the rise of more contagious variants of the coronavirus that causes the disease. That meant more vaccinations would be needed to reach herd immunity. But another factor, and the one that’s truly disappointing, is that many Americans refuse to get vaccinated.

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Outsourcing in Fort Wayne

Fort Wayne Community Schools expect to save $4.4 million by outsourcing school custodians. The FWCS school board voted 6-1 for an agreement that will “cut wages, shrink custodial staff and force more than 200 custodians to apply for jobs,” according to the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette.

The school corporation is contracting with Sodexo, the international outsourcing giant. According to the J-G, much of the savings will come from eliminating 24 jobs and cutting wages by as much as $6 an hour. The district’s 217 custodians can apply to Sodexo to keep their jobs.

FWCS officials said they regretted having to make the decision but didn’t have much choice given cuts in state funding.

We’re likely to see more outsourcing of nonteaching employees around Indiana as school districts struggle to balance their budgets. Continue reading

Welcome to School Matters

Welcome to the School Matters: Indiana K-12 blog, our modest attempt to be part of an essential conversation about education in America, Indiana and, especially, our community of Bloomington, Ind.

Why are we doing this? Primarily because we think it’s the right thing to do. Our schools matter more than anything else to the future of our nation and the well-being of our children and youth. Yet it’s not easy to get access to a full range of news and views about education. As a report in December by the Brookings Institution lamented, “During the first nine months of 2009, only 1.4 percent of national news coverage from television, newspapers, news Web sites, and radio dealt with education.”

We are grateful, living in Bloomington, that the Herald-Times has experienced, full-time reporters covering both K-12 and higher education, a rare commitment of resources these days. We’re also inspired by the growth of online communication about school matters, such as the Support Public Education in Monroe County Facebook group and the Support Our Schools online forum. We hope to augment these traditional and new-media sources with news, analysis and links that are timely, accurate and relevant.

We both spent years covering K-12 education for the Herald-Times, and we remain intensely interested in the topic. We find ourselves thinking and talking about education nearly every day. As journalists, we try to make sense of the world by reporting and writing about it. And nothing is more in need of making sense right now than the state of our schools.

The immediate impetus for starting this blog was the MCCSC’s decision, in response to state funding cuts, to reduce spending by $5.8 million and eliminate the jobs of 142 teachers, librarians and administrators – 79 of them through reductions in force and the rest through retirements. Nearly every week has brought new questions to address: Why these reductions and not others? Will state legislation provide a way out? Will the MCCSC launch a tax-increase referendum this fall or next spring? What will it take for a referendum to win?

But local school issues don’t exist in a vacuum. Teaching jobs are being slashed across Indiana. Schools are closing in Kansas City, Detroit … and New Albany. Debates are raging over charter schools, public school choice, merit pay for teachers, school turn-around methods, and how to best prepare, motivate and evaluate teachers. There’s so much to learn, so much to say – let’s get started.