I wanted to post the article in it’s entirety since the Indy Star made some edits – I didn’t realize until I read it very carefully.
Also, upcoming events of interest:
Here is the letter to the Indy Star, originally published 10/31/2015, before the edits:
Ordinary Indianapolis citizens no longer run IPS schools
Local democratic control of IPS schools by ordinary folks no longer exists. First, big outsider money has united with big insider money to make the cost of school board member elections far beyond the reach of ordinary folks. Second, a linked group of “local” “reform” organizations, funded largely by the same outsider-insider big money, are controlling IPS.
Third, while these “reformers” act as if local control and community input are important to them, they are basically running a top-down “reform” model whose key ideas were not designed in Indianapolis or Indiana. Fourth, the reform effort has NOT led to a major increase in academic success for all IPS students.
FACT: In 2010, those who could raise $5,000 among friends and supporters could run a successful school board campaign. Starting in 2012, the cost of a successful campaign shot up over to $50-70,000, far beyond the reach of ordinary citizens. Where did this money come from? Some came from wealthy donors like Michael Bloomberg (the billionaire ex-mayor of NYC, donated $30k in 2012) and Sheryl Sandberg (COO, Facebook, $5.5k, 2014). Local big money donors included Alan Hubbard (lawyer, $20k over 2012 & 2014), Christel DeHaan (local businesswoman, $2k), and Metropolitan Indianapolis Board of Realtors, $10k, 2014). Thus, the big outsider-insider money has put being on the school board completely out of the reach of ordinary Indy citizens, which severely reduces local democracy.
FACT: There is a group of “reform” organizations that act as if they are local and independent from each other. However, their reform model has significantly been imported from out of state. And they are in deep collaboration with each other. Also, they tend to be funded by the same big outsider-insider money. The Mind Trust is at the center of this, but the network of “reformers” also includes Stand for Children, Democrats for Education Reform, Eli Lilly (+ its foundation), Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, Center on Reinventing Public Education, the local Teach for America, and Teach Plus.
For example, the Eli Lilly Foundation website explicitly states, “Our philanthropic support is primarily directed to the Mind Trust and its affiliate organizations.” Additionally, the Chamber of Commerce routinely chooses their preferred school board candidates before the filing deadline, thereby excluding candidates not supported by big money. However, these organizations don’t telegraph their deep connections, though they are the ones largely orchestrating the reform.
This national model for the takeover of IPS is also being applied in New Orleans, Detroit, Baltimore, Denver, Chicago, and New York, among other cities. These takeovers are being driven largely by national big money businessmen who want to turn schools into corporate operations and treat children like commodities. That the “reform” model being applied in IPS is locally created is thus a charade.
FACT: These “reform” organizations act as if they care about local control and community input, but a more careful examination shows they do not. The operations of the school board, elected through big money funding, is a good illustration of this. The Board has given control of the decentralization of schools into independent, single, Innovation Network schools to the Mind Trust. The Board is not even voting on this, claiming it was embedded in the prior strategic plan vote. This is smoke and mirrors. Shouldn’t a change this big be publicly discussed, vetted, and voted on? Thus, the top down, big money “reformer” board does not really want community transparency or participation.
FACT: While the Mind Trust, etc. will quickly cite data or “research” that shows the success of the reform effort, in general independent local data and national research has shown the reform model being applied here and in other cities is no more successful than traditional schools. Yes, there are some successful “reform” schools, but there are also some successful traditional schools. Yes, many local schools were failing before the reform, but our point is that we are getting lots of so-called reform but no significant overall gain for children.
The problem is that the “reformers” only are interested in research that shows their success. Though they often tout accountability for others, they have little interest in independent research that does not support their success claims, and there is plenty of national research done by independent researchers that does not support their claims. Indeed, following the corporate model, they use research like a PR firm rather than as an honest investigation and real accountability.
We ordinary citizens of Indy are being sold a bill of goods. We call on all media to carefully examine what is going on and to quit being fooled by the PR hype and the big money. You media folks should be responsible to your community, get behind the curtain, and carefully look at who is the real wizard of Oz in local school “reform.”
What can ordinary folks do? Stop voting for “local” folks who are willing to have their election purchased by big outsider/insider money. Resist and complain about a reform model designed and funded from outside Indy and designed to decrease community participation. Let’s take back the democratic control of local schools by ordinary Indy folk. And, finally, we know they will come after us because they can’t stand open critique and transparency, so defend us when they attack.
Gayle Cosby, current IPS Board Member
Dr. Nathaniel Williams, professor, Knox College, Illinois
Dr. Jim Scheurich, professor, IUPUI School of Education
These thoughts are my (our) own and do not reflect that of any other entity, institution, or organization.
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