Could Hinckley’s instructional focus be what IPS needs?

Peggy Hinckley, the new interim superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools, doesn’t much sound like she plans to be a caretaker. Could that present a dilemma for advocates of big-idea education reform in Indy?

Hinckley takes over from Eugene White, who accepted a buyout after he lost school board support. She retired last year after 11 years as superintendent of Warren Township schools.

The Indianapolis Star’s Scott Elliott recently pointed to reasons that Hinckley and IPS may not be a good match even for the short term. Her approach is “laser focused on standardizing instruction,” he writes. The dominant vision of reform in Indianapolis, by contrast, involves choices for parents and autonomy for schools. It’s modeled on the Mind Trust’s “opportunity schools” plan and the Center for the Reinvention of Public Education’s portfolio schools concept.

This approach seems to go hand-in-hand with a yearning for visionary, “cage-busting” leaders. Mind Trust founder and CEO David Harris argues in a recent Star op-ed that IPS should be free to hire non-educators as superintendents. Star opinion editor Tim Swarens adds that the district’s new leader should be a “reformer.”

But Hinckley suggests that meaningful reform involves what happens in the classroom. Continue reading

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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