The Octopus in Indianapolis

In my previous blog post, I attempted to begin unraveling the tangled mess that is neoliberalism.  I thought of a good analogy, the Octopus (well, I thought it was clever) and wanted to follow up with a more detailed explanation of how the Octopus works in Indianapolis.  Then, this article by Darcie Cimarusti, Communications Director for the Network for Public Education, a national organization spearheaded by Diane Ravitch, was printed in the Washington Post.  And it explains what is happening in Indianapolis really well, albeit without my cool Octopus references.

You should definitely go read it, here’s the link: Darcie Cimarusti / Valerie Strauss WAPO 

P.S. The Network for Public Education is having their annual conference in Indianapolis this year.  Click the picture below for the registration link.  I’m told some limited funds are available for anyone unable to afford the full cost.

NPE 18




The Rat Race x2

This is not a blog about education at all.  This is a blog about how I’ve been perceiving the world, and I wonder if you’ve felt it, too.

The world has shifted.

I can’t put my finger on what is different about us.  About people – about society, as a whole.  But I think there is a new gnawing in the underbelly, a permanent deep frustration, and an urgency in all of us that wasn’t always there.

This writing is an exploration of that feeling.

A couple of weeks ago I walked into Walgreens.  I was greeted with the usual, “Hi! Welcome to Walgreens!”  And so I replied – “Hello, thank you!”  I went on about my shopping toward the front of the store.  As I browsed, I heard the same “Welcome to Walgreens” greeting several times.  Not one person replied to the greeting.  Once I finished shopping and went to the checkout, I asked the cashier how many people responded to her greeting.  She said thoughtfully, “Maybe one out of every ten.”

In drive-thru lanes, through the static I can hear the shock when I always ask in return ‘ “How are you?”  The last woman I asked was so happy she said, “Wow! I’m doing good.  Thank you SO MUCH for asking!”


Just the other day I was picking up my six month old son, Atticus, from the YMCA.  I exited the building juggling his car seat on one arm, the diaper bag over one shoulder, and my (admittedly huge) purse on the other shoulder.  My baby is a big boy, y’all.  He is 18 pounds.  Add the carseat and the luggage, and I was struggling to carry it all.  I look to my right as I step off the curb, and I see a car coming, but it’s a distance away and has to slow down for two speed bumps before it reaches me.  So I head for my vehicle, directly in front of me and across the wide swath of driveway.  Would you believe – – instead of seeing me in my heavy laden misery and slowing down to let me pass – – the driver of said car pulls right up in front of me, blocking my path?  She apparently thought it was necessary to cut me off in order to sit there and wait for another driver to leave their parking spot.  She pretended not to hear my choice words as I walked around the back bumper of her Subaru station wagon.

Bear with me, there is a point.  My dear friend schooled me on something called the “precariat”.  The precariat is a relatively newer class of people who lack financial security, thus they are “precariously” positioned.  I got a B.A. in Sociology in the early 2000’s, read the hell outta some Marx, and had never heard of the precariat.  Interesting.  So, the precariat are the folks working “part-time” with no benefits for 39 hours a week, maybe they run their car into the ground delivering food for GrubHub, maybe they are breaking their back at the Amazon warehouse, maybe driving for Uber on the weekends.  Maybe they do some combination of all three and still find time to dream about owning their own business and being their own boss someday, or writing a book, or getting a record deal.  They take care of their kids, cars and homes the best they can in the little spare time they have.  They also look for ways to improve their financial circumstances, maybe an online college degree in medical coding will do the trick.  They can pay their rent now but worry about what might happen if they get sick.  They can’t get sick, because there’s no fucking health insurance.  They can’t get sick because if they take off work, then their pay is one day short and that’s too much to recover from.  Gotta keep it moving, keep on striving, keep on keepin’ on.

The precariat is a thing because neoliberalism is a thing.  Neoliberalism is a hard concept to define, mostly because it’s like the uber elite  and wealthy masterminds who run the world via their corporations got into a lab together and created the most evil and deranged Octopus ever, except the octopus has more than 8 tentacles, and the Octopus is so huge that it wraps around the whole world.  The deadly tentacles have wound their way into everything – the economy; governments, politics, and elections; jobs and the culture of working; higher education; K-12 schooling; and our concepts of leisure and family time; even the ways in which we procure our needs. There are remnants of “the way things were” still left, but the Octopus tentacles have infiltrated everything and what we are seeing happening are the tentacles slowly continuing their advance, taking hold of more and more.

What effects does this have on us, as humans?  Neoliberalism in the workplace has advanced the precariat by busting unions; therefore diminishing job security.  Think: the increasing numbers of adjunct instructors at colleges, TFA teachers in K-12 classrooms instead of experienced teachers, the freelancers, the temp workers.  AKA the “gig economy”.  The precariat is the largest growing economic group.  This financial insecurity, the need to be constantly in motion, working, striving, because one job just isn’t ENOUGH, will eventually have deleterious effects on us.  We need time to be human, to develop ourselves, to hear silence, to attend to our families, children, and friendships.

Instead, we are so in a rush we do not have time to respond to the Walgreens clerk.  When the drive-thru worker asks how we are doing, we plow right on through to our order because there’s shit to do and people waiting on us.  And fuck the lady carrying the baby, she is insignificant, we must rush to claim our parking spot so we can hurry up and get inside the YMCA and work out.  Because, time.  If the work out is not done by 4pm then I won’t have time to cook dinner and then the kids are late to bed, and then I can’t work on my online class, and then, and then, and then the domino effect is almost as irrevocable as missing a day’s worth of pay.

Our eye is so trained on the prize.  The neoliberal/precariat economic realities of the day have conditioned us to relish only in the outcome of things, never finding joy in the process.  Vincent Van Gogh presented one of his stellar pieces to the world and received high praise for his art.  One critic was especially fond of the piece and gave many compliments.  Van Gogh responded to the effect that it was not about the finished piece of art that he had just completed.  For him, it was the process.  His joy was in each stroke of the brush.  We, as people, need to mind the process, and find the joy in it.

Next blog: More about the Octopus.

“If you love something, let it go…

I love IPS, and I let it go.  I let go of my concern, my advocacy, the constant staying on top of everything that is happening.  I focused instead on our new baby, Atticus, mostly…trying to be a good mom while taking care of self (ok, kinda taking care of myself) is exhausting.   I also continued plugging away at school.  IPS still existed, doing IPS things, on the periphery of my life’s tailspin.

if it comes back to you, it’s yours.  If it doesn’t, it was not meant to be.”

IPS came back to me Saturday.  I was attending the Black Business Bazaar, [great event, btw] and a politician friend greeted me with a hug.  “How come you haven’t been writing?  There’s a lot of people that read your stuff.  We miss your voice.”

The answer to his question was right there in my arms.  I nodded to my four month old son and we chuckled at the demands of parenting.  However, our brief exchange had an impact on me.  Sometimes all we need to get back on track is to simply be confronted with it.

So, about this election we have coming up.  Alot of you are focused on the primary, but you know I am skipping all that to talk about the IPS board election that is held in November.

My simple question to you is this: do you think a free, democratically-controlled public education in Indianapolis should cease to exist?

If your answer is yes – then go ahead and vote for the incumbents: Mary Ann Sullivan (at-large), Kelly Kennedy Bentley (district 3, northside) and Dorene Hoops (district 5, west/northwest side).

(If you are saying to yourself – what the hell do you mean, “cease to exist”, then please read this article to get caught up!!)

IPS is on a destructive path – closing schoolschanging school start times, over-utilizing inexperienced teachers, under-paying the teachers they do have, teachers leaving in droves, clustering choice school offerings in white/wealthy/gentrifying areas and being indifferent to segregation in the district.

Many of us, mostly experts in the field of education, just so happen to think that this self-imposed destruction is very intentional and is paving the way for the privatization of our public school system.

If you believe in the promise of public education, you better be finding yourself a true grassroots candidate to vote for.  (As candidates emerge, I’ll write about them, maybe some will even grant me an interview.  I’ll interview incumbents too, if they are interested).

Till then, friends – vote wisely in the May primary and hold your elected officials accountable!!





Destroy Public Education (DPE); It’s a Billionaire Fueled Agenda

Awesome summary and expansion of work done with Drs. Jim Scheurich and Nate Williams.


Three researchers from Indiana coined the terminology Destroy Public Education (DPE). They refuse to call it reform which is a positive sounding term that obfuscates the damage being done. America’s public education system is an unmitigated success story, yet, DPE forces say we need to change its governance and monetize it.

We are discussing the education system that put a man on the moon, developed the greatest economy the world has ever seen and wiped out small pox. It is the system that embraces all comers and resists all forms of discrimination. In the 1980’s, it was laying the foundation for the digital revolution when it came under spurious attack.

Not only are great resources being squandered on DPE efforts but the teaching profession is being diminished. Organizations like Relay Graduate School and the New Teachers Project are put forward as having more expertise in teacher education than our great…

View original post 2,010 more words

The REAL A-F Grades in IPS!

That’s one hell of a curve.

A couple days ago, the letter grades came out for all of the schools in Indiana.  A very smart person among us (hats off to MaryAnn Schlegel Ruegger) realized that the grading system was not fair at all.  She uncovered the fact that new charters and IPS Innovation Network Schools are all allowed to be graded on growth only if they so choose.

(They chose).  There are over 40 schools statewide that are choosing to report bogus grades in this manner.

Many of the news articles that have been released discussing the letter grades for the schools did not point this out.


This, of course, provided a PR field day for IPS and especially the Mind Trust- whose reputation is at stake if their incubated Innovation Network Schools should be reported as failing:









So these grades are based on growth in scores ONLY, resulting in the A and B grades.  But, what are the REAL scores for these schools?  Let’s take a look at the actual percentages of students PASSING BOTH MATH AND ELA:

Cold Spring:  30.2%

Enlace: 28.0%

Global Prep: no data

Phalen 103:  12.8%

Phalen 93: 38.2%

Kipp Indy: 18.0%

Kindezi: no data

I teach at the college level, and my students would never get an A or B for these scores.  Do the parents know that their child’s A and B-rated school is graded on the sell-out curve?  Do the parents know that in the world of public education, the dollar sign is highly favored over the percentage passing sign??  And bogus grades are being created in order to continue to drive customers to failing schools?

And do the parents know there are some traditional public IPS schools that are performing better than the schools listed above?  But this is the truth that the Mind Trust and IPS don’t want the public or the parents to know, so that the privatization of our public schools can continue.

Please share widely, and if you haven’t already, follow Indy Apples and the IPS Community Coalition on Facebook, or become a member of the IPS Community Coalition at this site.  Those are two groups dedicated to exposing the truth about public education in Indianapolis.


*Thanks to MaryAnn Schlegel Ruegger and Indy Apples for graphics and ideas.  Data comes from IDOE Compass or 9/6/17 Chalkbeat article detailing ISTEP scores.


Focusing on key issues

Let’s talk about neoliberalism, gentrification and race instead of who-said-what at the last meeting.

Dear Mrs. Sheila Kennedy,

In response to your blog dated 9/7/2017 “How Not To Win Friends and Influence People” :

You don’t know me, but I do seek to find commonalities before highlighting what divides us.  So first, I’ll say that I voted for Lugar in the primary the last time he ran.  I like him and I especially like his across the aisle political style.  A moderate.  But, as some of your commenters point out, desperate times call for desperate measures.  And many of the folks who pay close attention to IPS issues felt the ‘desperate measures’ threshold was crossed some time ago.   Please allow me to explain.

While your blog entry is focused squarely on civility in public discourse (some of which I do happen to agree with) – the time for us liberals to be burying our heads in the sand regarding what is truly happening with IPS has got to end, or there will be no IPS left.  Hence the strong language and attention-grabbing testimonials.

Based on what I have read of your blogs, I’m interested in your thoughts on the deeper issue here. When it comes to IPS, it seems that you have skirted the underlying issues while instead focusing squarely on superficial happenings such as the tone of one person’s delegation.  But, what about the underlying message?

Jim Scheurich (full professor of Education at IUPUI with decades of experience) and other concerned citizens of the IPS Community Coalition are speaking directly  to the effects of neoliberalism which are playing out in our own backyard with IPS.  Our free public school district is, piece by piece, becoming free market, privately owned, and our tax dollars a source of fine income for the owners.   If you require further explanation, please see my previous blogs on Phalen Academy, Innovation Network and their CEO Earl Martin Phalen, a Boston resident managing one Indianapolis charter and one IPS Innovation Network school.  Phalen’s salary rivals or exceeds that of IPS Superintendent Dr. Ferebee’s (who manages ~60 schools and is present in Indianapolis every day).  Don’t take my word for it – please follow the links in my blogs to explore the IPS Board Documents which ratified what I am describing.

Mrs. Kennedy, in your blog you state:

“…he has lectured the Board that it is “amateurish,” accused members of being “bought and paid for,” and characterized their elections as “undemocratic.”

As far as Dr. Scheurich’s comments regarding being bought and paid for, there is a large network of organizations that are supportive of this neoliberal agenda- organizations which give large campaign finance donations.  I was “bought and paid for” as well in my 2012 election, as are six of the seven current IPS Board members (excepting only Elizabeth Gore, elected in 2016, who was not supported by the ed-reform organizations).  Campaign finance documents tell the tale.  I would further agree that his characterization of the elections as “undemocratic” are spot on.  What average citizen can compete with millions of special interest campaign spending?

I bet that your comeback (if you amuse me with one) is going to point to the declining enrollments and declining quality of IPS due to the poor test scores.  You will justify your daughter and former student’s IPS board actions by saying that it is necessary to close schools (I’m not talking about closing schools) and you might even dare to propose on that basis that IPS is justified in handing over schools and resources to outside entities (who stand to profit, regardless of 501c3 status).

This is a divisive issue, especially among white liberals.  I’ll tell you why I think it is so – based on the lingering effects of racism and segregation.

There are some white people who have moved beyond the city limits who are simply tired of making that long drive everyday, or who live in elite enclaves of the IPS district.  They need a school that they feel *comfortable* sending their kids to.  These folks are generally supportive of anything that might create a school *just diverse enough* for their kids to attend.

Mrs. Kennedy, I bring this up because of your following comment:

” He topped it off by telling the white members of the Board they were racists. (He’s white.) He rarely looked at the Board during this extended diatribe; instead, he aimed his rhetoric at  the largely African-American attendees who were clearly his real audience.”

Race is a real issue for a school board making decisions in the throes of advancing neoliberal policies located within a city in the midst of gentrification.  There are white liberals (such as yourself, your daughter, and your former student) who tend to make the issues of race and segregation worse by assuming that racism is a problem solely for the black community to solve.  One of the facets of white privilege is obliviousness.  The black community isn’t the intended audience…black people have long been aware of racial issues in IPS and see it not as a new problem, but one that simply continues to exist.  Dr. Scheurich was not speaking to only the black people in the room because I’m sure he realizes that it will take ALL of us to tackle these seemingly insurmountable issues.  I say insurmountable because, the first step in solving them would be for our elected representatives to get beyond their white privilege and be engaged listeners.

Can we focus less on the mode of delivery for a group of people in the city who are feeling unheard, and focus more on the bigger issues mentioned above?  I’m on campus.  Let’s grab a coffee.


Hey! Enroll Indy, we’ve got questions.

We need to know what the process really is.

So I was perusing Facebook, and I came across this article on the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation website about school reform and the resulting need for school enrollment reform:

In this article, it notes that “unified enrollment” systems such as Denver, DC, and New Orleans simplify the problems of school choice by offering families just one choice after applying a complicated matching algorithm.

We say, this is a problem in itself.

If we are going to have school choice, then we need choices.  If I am choosing, it is because I am being offered several options, not just one.

Besides, shouldn’t it be my choice, as the parent?  Or is it truly to be left up to a computer program?

Indianapolis parents deserve to know how this is going to play out.  Can we get a demo, a response, an explanation?

Credit to Mary Ann Schlegel Ruegger for inspiring this post.

Comments are open, if anyone can enlighten us on the intricacies of unified enrollment.