The purpose of education: the three E’s

 

I have heard it said that the purpose of education in IPS should ultimately result in one of the three E’s:

Enrollment

Enlistment

Employment

I want to offer three alternative E’s for your consideration:

Emancipation

Enlightenment

Empowerment

Let us consider the differences between education in different settings.  The elite private schools of Indianapolis certainly don’t offer up “enrollment, enlistment, and employment” as the purposes for the education that they are offering their students.  In fact, one website I visited  included three C’s in their vision: curiosity, compassion, and courage.  It is just me, or are there radically different connotations to each of those lists of words?  Yep.  Enrollment, enlistment, and employment should not be the end game here.  Being enrolled, enlisted, or employed should be natural byproducts of an education that honors and inspires the whole child…a child who is:

EMANCIPATED:  has realized that his current socioeconomic status and/or identity is not predictive of or limiting his future possibilities.

ENLIGHTENED: has been exposed to a wide variety of curricula, activities, and interests, can apply that information to her current circumstance, and is inspired to pursue further learning on topics of her choosing.

EMPOWERED: has realized that his locus of control lies within himself, takes his resources into account and knows when to use them, demonstrates responsibility and self-determination.

Allow me to offer a couple of scenarios for your consideration:

School A students wait outside or on the bus until the bell rings.  Once allowed inside, they walk with bubbles in their mouths and their arms crossed in hallway hugs on the right side of the hallway, using the red tape line as a guide, with absolutely no talking.  They arrive at their classroom, and are greeted by an under-appreciated, underpaid and overworked teacher, who (in some cases) loves them anyway, and are doing the absolute best they can despite the current conditions.  School A student sits at their desk, quietly doing bell work.  Their day consists of a math block, a reading block (typically with basal readers and pre-made worksheets), and Science or Social Studies if it’s in a grade where it’s tested on ISTEP, and when there is time in the day for it.  The Indiana Academic Standards are posted on the wall so we always know which ones we are currently working on, and because there will be a test soon.  There is always an upcoming test; quizzes, benchmarks, I-READS, I-STEPS.  Student A gets gym twice a week, Music twice a week, and Art on a cart or library once a week.  She gets the same lunch as everyone else, whether kindergarten or high school athlete.  She sits down at the long cafeteria table, next to the kid in line according to alphabetical order.  Sometimes she has to sit in silence with the lights out at lunch, while a stressed out adult yells at them through a microphone to be quiet.  If she talks, she get after school detention.

A student from school B arrives at school early to go and speak with his favorite teacher before class starts.  There are no bells, but student B knows when it’s time to head to homeroom because he can hear the happy chatter of students in the halls.  Teachers throughout the halls are standing at their doors, smiling, and greeting students.  Student B enters the classroom and gets ready for his discussion in circle time.  He knows he will have to plan his day of learning, and his teacher guides him in planning to make choices throughout the day, such as where to sit, how to see the best in his (sometimes annoying) classmates, which books to read, which topics to write about, which centers to visit during math workshop.  When his friend helps him to discover grouping pumpkin seeds by ten to count rather than counting by ones, his teacher notes his success and celebrates by asking the class to stop and watch his demonstration.  At lunch, he sits outside in the spring air with a chosen group of friends but plans to visit the library during lunch tomorrow. In the afternoon, he has a disagreement with a peer that wouldn’t leave him alone.  He had to set aside time to attend a peace mediation session with his teacher, and everything is back to normal now – which is great, because the best part of his day is going to the Environmental Club after school.

As you think about the differences in the vignettes from school A vs. school B, please consider the following:
  • What organizational differences in these two settings are creating such a vast gap in the learning experiences of students?  What is the “work” culture of these two districts?  What policies are in place to set these conditions?  What role might standardized testing play?  How might the concept of accountability be experienced differently in school A vs. school B?
  • What do you think the adults in school A are doing differently than the adults in school B?
  • Trick question: which school has the highest paid outside consultants? (Hint: it’s not the one you might think.)
  • Which school offers more individual freedom?  What are the consequences of allowing students to make authentic choices, both negative and positive? (dare I say it, student AUTONOMY?)
  • How might the opportunity to make decisions in school affect a student’s learning…after all, isn’t LIFE about the ability for people to make sound decisions for themselves?
  • Over 12 years of schooling, what cumulative effects can we expect on human lives?  In other words, which set of three E’s is school A preparing students for?  School B?
  • Which school is designed to produce leaders and innovators?  Which school is designed to produce worker bees?  Does either school encourage the questioning of authority, or the status quo? Is this by design?
  • Does student A DESERVE different treatment than student B, based on an ability to pay for a private school education?  To what extent (if any) can a public school offer a private school education (or a semblance of it)?
_____________________________________________________
For the first time ever, I am allowing comments on this blog thread.  Responses are moderated, and idiocy of any kind is not tolerated.  Let’s discuss the questions above, and the general idea of the PURPOSE of education, public, charter, and private.  If your comments do not get posted, it’s because you did not give input to the questions.  Or you were inappropriate. Don’t take it personal…
_____________________________________________________
Do you want to share the story of what is going on in your Indianapolis school?  I am inviting teachers, school staff and students to write about their experiences, good and bad, to be shared anonymously (or not, you choose) on my blog.  Please email submissions to: gayle_cosby@yahoo.com
These thoughts are my own and do not reflect IPS or any other entity.  I assume no responsibility for the comments of others on this blog or in any other format.

 

Advertisements

STAND for something, fall for anything??

I came across this little gem in the Indy Star:
STANDletter
I suppose that I am the one cautious board member that is named in this letter.  So, allow me to address your concerns.  For the record, as a former IPS teacher, I have seen firsthand the “failure” that you speak of, and share some of your frustration. I am also currently an IPS parent. My child attends a school which will likely be rated a D or an F this year (if you care about that sort of thing, given the current state of standardized testing/ISTEP).  However, the devil of “innovation” is in the details. The dissent that I offer on the board in regard to innovation schools is because: I believe in equitable access to a free public education, and I do not believe that parceling out our public school system to become a loosely associated chain of charter organizations that have contracts with IPS is in the best interests of children.  Do you realize that when Phalen Academy was given a contract to run school 103, they got upwards of $3 million dollars to do so?  That money has to come from somewhere…and as we create more and more of these “innovation partnerships”, we are siphoning valuable and extremely limited resources from the very D and F schools that you speak of. 
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not only about the money – understand that these partnerships are with corporations (non-profit or otherwise) – so when you have a concern, you do not have an elected official (such as myself) to represent the people.  You will be taking your chances with a privately appointed board who is tasked with running the day to day operations of the school.  Good luck signing up to delegate there.
Reason #456 on my list is because: people will undoubtedly lose their jobs. As private organizations take over, they do have the right to hire their own teachers.  Frequently at lower pay.  There will be layoffs of teachers.  These organizations also have the right to contract out any services they desire – including janitorial (bye bye, IPS custodians), food services, bus drivers – you name it, it will no longer be a secure source of employment for our community members with stable pay and benefits.  It will be McBusDrivers Incorporated sending folks from out of town that don’t know how to navigate Indianapolis that will be driving your kids around for minimum wage and no health insurance.
Reason #992: Have you checked the performance of most Indianapolis charter schools lately?  They fare no better than IPS.
Don’t believe the hype – innovation is possible without privatizing our public school system.  Look at Project Restore, which is a model in place at schools 99, 88, and 93.  It is a homegrown IPS concept that has been very successful – and it doesn’t need a contract, millions being given to an outside organization/board of directors in order to make it happen.  Those schools are given the latitude needed to increase student achievement, and it works.  Let’s think critically about how to really improve our school system without fragmenting and reducing it to a binder full of  $$ contracts.  I applaud your advocacy for your children, but you need to ask some hard questions.  What is the real agenda of Stand for Children?  Why have they thrown hundreds of thousands of dollars into getting IPS board members elected, including myself?  Why aren’t they putting that money toward helping IPS develop more innovative homegrown programs like Project Restore, and making them available to other schools, MINUS the middlemen with their hands out?? Are you getting the whole story?
My thoughts are, obviously, my own.
Email me if you’d like: gayle_cosby@yahoo.com

On Governance

What the IPS Board should be doing…and what it should not.

Some people were quick to point out that my definition of democracy varied from Webster’s – after my last blog post in which I related some of my experiences as (non)democratic.  In order to avoid further confusion, let’s review the definition of governance together now:

Governance refers to “all processes of governing, whether undertaken by a government, market or network, whether over a family, tribe, formal or informal organization or territory and whether through LAWS, NORMS, POWER or LANGUAGE.”

To be clear, we are going to discuss governance, or (non)governance, in reference to IPS, a formal organization.  Whether you deem it to be governance or (non)governance depends entirely on your point of view.  My point of view on this matter just so happens to be front and center, since I am still technically one out of seven people who together comprise the governing body for Indianapolis Public Schools…although I must admit, I’m feeling like I’m definitely on the fringe of the group.  Maybe even on a last-to-know basis.

I guess they don’t like my blog, y’all.  Sometimes the truth is so bright it’s blinding.  It could make you run for your momma.

Any-whoo, my views are my own and I have never purported to represent the views of the entire board… And I still think there’s something like protected free speech in this country.  So let’s go.

The definition of governance above refers to four processes of governing: through LAWS, NORMS, POWER, or LANGUAGE.  Let’s explore these, shall we?  I think it will be fun!

The laws which outline governance for the Indianapolis Public Schools can be found in Indiana Code 20-25-3 sections 1 through 15, among others.

The bylaws are developed by the IPS school board and are our way of governing ourselves and the way we conduct business.  Our bylaws can be viewed by visiting board docs – I am including a link because it’s very tricky to find on your own and requires some navigational skills.  Once you visit you should probably bookmark it.  This site is where you will need to be if you care to view our meeting agendas or policies.  You can find the categories for bylaws, meeting agendas and policies at the top of the page.
If I could pick just a few of the most telling bylaws it would go something like this:
The school board exists to govern a free K-12 public education for children within IPS boundaries. (PURPOSE)
The Board shall have the management and control of all facilities and programs in the Corporation and the employees, students, and other persons entering upon its premises. (POWER: not as individuals, but as the governing body collective)
The Board shall focus its efforts on maintaining adequate communications with citizens of the school district:
 The citizens of the District are to be viewed as the ownership and clients of IPS, to whom the Board is primarily responsible and for whom the Board acts.
(Bet you didn’t know you had this POWER, did you?  The board was elected by the citizens of the IPS district and is therefore expected to reflect their wishes!)
Members of the Board have the responsibility to attend all Board meetings, intelligently and objectively discuss items on the agenda, make suggestions and recommendations in the best interest of the total educational program, and vote upon motions and resolutions presented in accord with their conscience. (defining expected NORMS)
It is important that Board members be non-partisan in dealing with school matters and not subordinate the education of children and/or youth to any partisan principles, special interest group, or personal ambition. (defining expected NORMS)
Individual Board members have no unilateral authority to make decisions about policies created by the Board, and Board members have no unilateral authority to supervise or direct the Superintendent but no member of the Board shall be denied documents or information to which s/he is legally entitled and which are required in the performance of his/her duties as a Board member.  (defining expected NORMS)
Since I have been on the board, in just the past couple years, I have seen a significant shift in the norms, or unspoken rules and expectations of the school board.  This really is the most important part of this particular blog entry, and one that I hope constituents will pay the closest attention to. When I first became a commissioner, we had six meetings per month.  There were two big meetings, one agenda briefing session on the 3rd Thursday of each month, and one action session on the following Thursday where votes were taken on the items we were briefed on the preceding week.  There were also four smaller committee meetings per month.  The four committees were Legislative, Education, Community Outreach, and Operations.  The intent of these committees was to provide a public forum for discussion on relevant topics before they reached the briefing agenda.
Contrast that with the current board meeting schedule: two regularly scheduled meetings per month.  TWO.  One briefing and one action session, which take place only two days apart, on the last Tuesday and Thursday of the month.
In the “AGE OF TRANSPARENCY”, the IPS board has cut our public interactions and information-giving sessions in the form of regularly scheduled meetings by 66 PERCENT.
The second norm shift that I have noticed is a new paradigm which suggests that board members fly at 30,000 feet above the district (mentioned in articles by the Indianapolis Recorder and Chalkbeat Indiana).  I am in absolute agreement with the fact that the board’s job collectively is to navigate the course, while the superintendent drives.  However, I have received way too many phone calls from disgruntled constituents who have tried to get other commissioners to listen to their concerns, to no avail.  In light of the IPS policy language illuminated earlier, The citizens of the District are to be viewed as the ownership and clients of IPS, to whom the Board is primarily responsible and for whom the Board acts,” I find this to be a morally reprehensible stance.  We are officials elected by the people to represent the people.  If we cannot hear the voices of the people we represent while flying at 30,000 feet, then we are not doing the job we were elected to do.  Unfortunately, some elected officials feel beholden to the organizations which financially supported their campaigns (or indirectly pay their paychecks, or support them in other ways) rather than to the voters, taxpayers and residents of their district.  Yep, I said it…and yep, I got that money too.  Good thing I had a wake-up call, a revelation, an epiphany of sorts.  You can read all about how that happened in a previous blog entry of mine.
Closing thoughts on governance:  If special interest groups, politicians, well-to-do investor types, tokens, and other windbags all over the city can abuse their POWER to influence NORMS and LAWS and craftily co-opt LANGUAGE to spread false tales about the good they are doing our children with this privatization scheme…

then certainly I can find POWER in truthful LANGUAGE that illuminates an immediate need to challenge purchased legislators’ LAWS and the NORMS that accompany corrupt forms of GOVERNANCE.

(UPDATE: There are some policy revisions on the agenda for the upcoming week.  Some of the aforemetioned policy may be subject to change.  I’m also taking bets on how long THIS –> The citizens of the District are to be viewed as the ownership and clients of IPS, to whom the Board is primarily responsible and for whom the Board acts”   language will remain as a part of IPS policy, now that I have lifted it up.  It certainly is not evidenced in current practices of the board majority.)

My thoughts are not reflective of anyone other than myself.  If what you have read today concerns you, please email me at gayle_cosby@yahoo.com

The definition of governance excepted from: Bevir, Mark (2013). Governance: A very short introduction. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

How I got here: the sun in my eyes

The 2012 campaign proved to be a pivotal turning point in the history of Indianapolis school board elections.  As my good friend John Harris Loflin delineates in his guest blog post, pre-2012 IPS elections typically raised a couple thousand dollars at best.  The total raised in 2012 for all candidates was over a hundred times that.

Why has the local school board election, which used to cost candidates a few thousand dollars at most, turned into a cut-throat race garnering tens of thousands of dollars?

What happened between the 2010 election and the 2012 election that changed the political landscape?

Enter:  Special Interest Groups.

The heavy hitting funders in the 2012 election, by far, were Stand for Children and Democrats for Education Reform, which both exploded on the Indianapolis “ed reform” scene between 2010-2012.  You can see their involvement in my campaign finance by reviewing the report here.  A complete list of IPS school board candidates finance reports is also public information – available online.

Why did these Special Interest groups decide to set up shop in Indianapolis?

“The stars had aligned” (Eli Lilly, The Mind Trust, and the Mayor’s office, mainly) to make Indianapolis a very hospitable place for Charter Schools.  Charter Schools, as you know, are in direct competition with traditional public schools (IPS) for students.  Each student who chooses to enroll in a charter school brings more income for that school, so recruiting and advertising is very important…anyway, now that you have introduced this free-market approach to education, schools are beginning to be run like businesses.  Since each student brings in roughly the same amount of funding, if you are in a business, you start to think of things like overhead (rent, electricity, etc) and profit margin.

___________________________________________________________________________________

The Indiana State Consitution – ARTICLE 8. Education

Section 1. Common school system

Section 1. Knowledge and learning, general diffused throughout a community, being essential to the preservation of a free government; it should be the duty of the General Assembly to encourage, by all suitable means, moral, intellectual scientific, and agricultural improvement; and provide, by law, for a general and uniform system of Common Schools, wherein tuition shall without charge, and equally open to all.

(Hmm…I don’t think the Indiana State Constitution precludes Charter Schools, but it sure doesn’t sound like our forefathers intended for folks to be profiting off of educating our children.)

____________________________________________________________________________________

Back to my 2012 campaign:

I decided to run in early 2012 for a variety of reasons.  I’m a die-hard eastsider, born, raised, and still here. I am a third generation graduate of IPS schools, K-12.  I sent my child to IPS.  From 2007-2011, I taught in IPS as a Special Education teacher.  Product, Parent, Employee.  I had multiple perspectives to bring to the table, but the most pressing one was the need for change I saw as a teacher in IPS elementary schools.  To highlight several of the most pressing issues:

  • The overarching need for our schools to have more autonomy, based on the fact that teachers and principals know the needs of their students better than folks at the district level (no more top down, one size fits all mandates)
  • Teachers need to be freed from constrictive pedagogy focused on passing tests – teaching at its best is an art designed to inspire young minds (UGH! no more Pacing Guides to tell me what to teach by the week, day, and hour)
  • Curriculum focused on teaching to the test ensures a failure rate of about half of the student population if you assume a normal bell curve distrubution
  • Parents, on the most basic level, have the right to choose where to send their children to school
  • In 2012, I felt that a change in IPS leadership was overdue and absolutely necessary

None of these principles which were a part of my campaign platform, have changed.  I still believe these things as I did in 2011-2012 when I campaigned for this seat.

What has changed:  I am no longer as naive about how this game called politics works.  After two years of connecting the political dots, I have come to realize that most of these people are in each other’s back pockets.  Now, hindsight is 20/20, and I’m seeing things for what they really are.  The IPS board has been purchased by ed-reform groups, most notably Stand for Children.  Some seats they didn’t have to purchase, because some people ran unopposed in 2012.  But the ed-reform ideology perpetuates all board members except myself…and Stand for Children has been the largest / most consistent campaign contributor.

I guess they tried to buy my vote.  They were not successful, if that was their goal.

I weigh every single decision I make on its own merits.  I have not been afraid to be critical of decisions that warrant criticism.  I don’t care if I piss you off…I’m really not here to make friends.  I will continue to advocate for the children and the district that I love, unafraid, until my time on the school board is over.  I will continue to think critically about decisions and when concerns arise, I will continue to share those concerns in a very public way.  I will serve in the capacity that an elected official should – not merely glossing over and rubber stamping everything the Superintendent wants – but truly striving to represent MY community.  After all, their votes elected me.  They are my constituents.  I am their voice.

As always, if you have questions, comments, or concerns, please email me:

gayle_cosby@yahoo.com