Dark money clouds IPS election

Stand for Children is at it again. The Oregon-based education advocacy group is spending big money to determine who gets elected to the Indianapolis Public Schools board.

That in itself could be cause for concern. But what’s really troubling is that the amount Stand for Children is spending and the source of its money are being kept secret.

If you or I give more than $100 to a candidate for school board or any other public office, the contribution is made public. And candidates have to report how they spend campaign money. But Stand for Children is carrying out a so-called independent campaign in support of the slate of IPS candidates endorsed by its Indianapolis branch. So under the law, it doesn’t have to tell us anything.

It is sending glossy mailers to residences in the IPS district, an expensive undertaking that you might expect in a race for mayor but not in a school board election. It did the same thing in the 2014 IPS election, and its favored candidates won by overwhelming margins.

Judging by the limited and vague information Stand for Children reports to the Internal Revenue Service on its Form 990, it’s a safe bet the organization spent $200,000 or more in Indy in 2014. The report says it paid an Indianapolis firm over $140,000 for printing and mailing services. It also reportedly paid individuals to stand at the polls and hand out fliers on Election Day.

That would be in line with what the group reported spending this year on school board elections in Nashville, Tenn., where it is now facing complaints that it violated campaign finance laws.

But Jim Scheurich, part of the local Our IPS group that is pushing back against Stand and endorsing a different slate, estimates the group is spending considerably more than that this year in Indianapolis. Continue reading

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The myth about teacher effectiveness that won’t go away

Like a bad nickel, the claim that a teacher’s influence on learning is 20 times greater than any other variable, including poverty, keeps turning up in the debate over Indiana education policy.

The latest to pass off the proposition is the Oregon-based organization Stand for Children. Stand landed in Indiana last month to lobby for legislation mandating a new system of teacher evaluation and performance-based pay, which it has labeled “Great Teachers, Great Schools.”

The “20 times greater” claim is at the top of a “comprehensive list” of research findings on which Stand’s positions are supposedly based. Gov. Mitch Daniels made the same claim in his State of the State address. Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett has made it too.

As we reported in January, the claim comes from a policy speech that attributed it to a preliminary draft of a paper written in 1998 by Texas researcher John Kain. But Kain’s paper didn’t actually make the “20 times greater” claim. And Eric Hanushek, Kain’s collaborator and probably the best-known academic advocate for measuring the effectiveness of teachers, told School Matters it’s not a legitimate claim.

As for other studies on Stand for Children’s list, some of the interpretations are at least questionable.

— Stand cites the McKinsey research group’s “Closing the Talent Gap” report from last year as the basis for its contention that failing to fire bad teachers makes the profession less attractive to talented prospects. School Matters wrote about the report in December. If that specific claim is there, it’s well hidden.

— It makes the often-repeated statement that “four consecutive years with an effective teacher can erase the black-white testing gap.” But as Matthew Di Carlo explains on Shanker Blog, that claim is “little more than a stylistic riff on empirical research findings, and a rough one at that. Continue reading

Oregon group lobbying for teacher merit pay in Indiana

Stand for Children, an education advocacy group based in Portland, Ore., has parachuted into Indiana to join the push for Senate Bill 1, state legislation that would mandate performance pay for educators and make it easier to fire teachers.

The group was recruited to the state by The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis nonprofit that seeks to improve education by “empowering education entrepreneurs to develop or expand transformative education initiatives.”

Stand calls itself a “grassroots child advocacy organization,” and it does appear to be reaching out for local support. But it arrived in Indiana with a paid state director, an Indianapolis office (at the same address as the Indiana Public Charter Schools Association), two high-priced Statehouse lobbyists and a ton of positive publicity courtesy of Indianapolis Star columnist Matthew Tully. It received $242,300 from The Mind Trust and $150,000 from the Chicago-based Joyce Foundation to support its Indiana launch, according to a Mind Trust news release.

Real grass-roots organizations should be so lucky.

SB 1 does a number of things, but its primary thrust is to implement a system of annual teacher evaluations, with each teacher rated highly effective, effective, improvement necessary or ineffective. Multiple ratings of improvement necessary or ineffective could be grounds for dismissal. And teachers with either of those ratings couldn’t get a raise the next year.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett insists schools will be free to design their own evaluation systems. But the legislation says decisions about pay raises “must be based primarily on student academic performance.” Continue reading