Autonomy for Automatons 101

There is an IPS ad-hoc committee meeting to discuss ‘autonomy’ Friday, July 3rd, 1pm, in the board room.

I have come to hate the word autonomy when it is used in the context of education.  Why?

Quite simply, because it is the most overplayed word in the world of “ed reformers”.  Maybe Indianapolis ed reformers, especially.

Everyone reading this blog probably knows how language can be carefully massaged and crafted until it means something entirely agenda-specific.  This is precisely what has happened to the word, and the concept, of school autonomy.

Let me explain.

On the face of it, the concept of school autonomy is a very promising one.  So promising, in fact, that I used the word quite a bit in my 2012 campaign to describe a utopian ideal where teachers, principals, students, parents (AKA the school community) had a great deal more influence over…everything.  Staffing, Curriculum, Title I Funding – to name a few.  To me, the word autonomy connoted a school community freed from many of the top-down processes of the bloated IPS central office.  Sounds pretty good, right?  I thought so.

As time has passed and I’ve gained experience in my role as a commissioner, I’ve come to learn that autonomy is really a code word for something much darker and more sinister.  The word has gradually been co-opted.  Instead of reflecting a wide variety of options that could be weighed carefully and selected based on what suits our city’s needs, the ed-reformers in this city use the word ‘autonomy’ to refer to anything associated with the PORTFOLIO SCHOOL MODEL, which is the true agenda of the current IPS board majority.

THE PORTFOLIO SCHOOL MODEL is the brainchild of the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE), run by Paul T. Hill – whose educational background is in political science, not education.

Since the current board majority and administration have been doing the bidding of the powers-that-be in Indianapolis, the Portfolio School Model has already begun to be implemented here in IPS, despite the fact that true discussions on “autonomy” have not taken place yet (The first meeting of the ad-hoc committee takes place Friday, July 3rd at 1:00pm at the Ed Center.  Yes, it is an IPS holiday.  I know, crazy, right?)   Here is proof from the CRPE website that the portfolio model is already being implemented in our city, without any input from IPS stakeholders whatsoever:

CRPEportfolioprogress

And this, from a CRPE white paper:  CRPEportfolionetwork

Dear constituent (taxpayer, parent, teacher, student, resident of Indy)…do you see this as a problem?  The utter foundation of public schooling as you know it is being shifted without your knowledge, let alone your input.  Remember in my last blog post when I shared with you that “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”?  This comes directly from IPS policy, and I am giving you a direct example of a violation of that policy.

Google ‘Portfolio Schools’, look beyond the barrage of CRPE links, and read for yourself how this has played out in the network of cities mentioned above.  There are plenty of examples like this article about Philly.
The Portfolio Model operates on the premise that a free market approach will “weed out” lower performing schools by replacing them with private options – whether they be for-profit or non-for-profit charter schools or vouchers.

Kenneth Saltman of the National Education Policy Center (2010) has conducted research on the portfolio school model and this is his conclusion:

Although the strategy is being advocated by some policy centers, implemented by
some large urban districts, and promoted by the education reforms proposed as
part of the Obama administrations Race to the Top initiative, no peer-reviewed
 studies of portfolio districts exist, meaning that no reliable empirical evidence
about portfolio effects is available that supports either the implementation or rejection
of the portfolio district reform model.
Nor is such evidence likely to be forthcoming.
Even advocates acknowledge the enormous difficulty of designing credible
empirical studies to determine how the portfolio approach affects
student achievement and other outcomes. There are anecdotal reports
of achievement gains in one portfolio district, New Orleans. The New Orleans results,
however, have been subjected to serious challenge. Extrapolation of research on the
constituent elements of the model is not helpful because of the complex interactions
of these elements within the portfolio model.
Moreover, even when the constituent elements are considered as a way to predict the
likely success of the model, no evidence is found to suggest that
it will produce gains in either achievement or fiscal efficiency. Finally, the policy writing
of supporters of the portfolio model suggests that the approach is expensive to implement
and may have negative effects on student achievement.
In light of these considerations, it is recommended that policymakers and administrators
use caution in considering the portfolio district approach. It is also highly
recommended that before adopting such a strategy, decision makers ask the following questions:
What credible evidence do we have, or can we obtain, that suggests the
portfolio model offers advantages compared to other reform models?
What would those advantages be, when might they be expected to materialize, and how
might they be documented?
If constituent elements of the model (such as charter schools and test
based accountability) have not produced advantages outside of portfolio systems, what
is the rationale for expecting improved outcomes as part of a portfolio system?
What funding will be needed for startup, and where will it come from?
What funding will be necessary for maintenance of the model?
Where will continuation funds come from if startup funds expire and are not renewed?
How will the cost/benefit ratio of the model be determined?
What potential political and social conflicts seem possible?
How will concerns of dissenting constituents be addressed?
If you find these truths to be unsettling, I would urge you to print of this list of questions, and attend the IPS ad-hoc “autonomy” committee on Friday, July 3rd, at 1:00 pm.  It will be held in the IPS board room at 120 E. Walnut.  Be prepared to hear the Portfolio Model packaged very beautifully, like a gift you can’t wait to open, with a bow and everything.  You’ll have to be very discerning to hear the elements of school privatization woven oh-so-carefully into the conversation, but it will be there.  You won’t get to speak…yet.  But your time will come.
The truths expressed here are as I see them, are mine alone, and do not reflect the views of any organization officially.
If you’re as concerned as I am, please email me at: 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.

Imagine…

I’m inviting my readers to an imaginary place where Gayle gets to draw some real-life comparisons and entertain some fantastical thoughts, most of which start with the word Imagine.

These are in direct response to our board meeting last week – the highlights of which are a $3 million dollar CASH price tag for the Phalen Academy deal for next year at school 103 (that $3m is not inclusive of the free building, free utilities, free transportation, free food service, free Special Education and ELL services), passed 6 to 1; an approval to create a one time exception to our own policy to alow a partnership with the for-profit, miserably failing charter school company Charter Schools USA, which operates Emma Donnan, Howe, and Manual High School (passed 6 to 1 also); and also a myriad of other deals including TFA, TNTP (both at Marian University) and a new Principal/Leadership training program at Marian also.

So, my friends, imagine with me…

  • Imagine if this board and administration were willing to invest in our own schools, our own students, our own leaders, and our own teachers in the same manner in which we keep investing IN OUTSIDE ENTITIES.

(Phalen Academy will be receiving at least 1.2 million dollars more than school 103 received to educate the same children.)

(We spend millions upon millions of dollars on outside consultant groups while our teachers beg for relevant professional development.)


  • Imagine if IPS had the unmitigated GALL to try to sell themselves as a product capable of turning around student achievement if our only data showed that the longer we educated black and brown kids, the worse they performed?  Imagine what that media firestorm, and the headlines would look like, if it was IPS instead of Charter Schools USA.

  • Tech and Crispus Attucks are both performing better than any of the Charter Schools USA schools.  Imagine if those two school leaders were given the same amount of consideration…

  • Imagine how you would feel, as an IPS principal or teacher at an exceptional elementary school, when you discover that Phalen Academy, which has no proven track record in terms of an official letter grade from the state or other reliable indicators of student performance, gets a half million dollars before their doors even open while you continuously buy things with your own money to make your school a great place for kids.

You might say I’m a dreamer.

But, since you’re reading this, I know I’m not the only one.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Thoughts, concerns, questions, are we dreaming in tandem?

Please email me at gayle_cosby@yahoo.com

It goes without saying that this is a personal publication.

How Sweet It IS…to be Phalen Leadership Academy

2015-4-28 IPS_PLA_1321 Agreement

I just had to make you all aware of the sweetest deal in the history of sweet deals.  Next week IPS will be briefed (Tuesday night at 6pm) and vote (Thursday night at 6pm) on a contract with Phalen Academy to take over the operations of school 103, on Indy’s far east side.

For more history on how this deceptive deal came to pass, please see my previous blog post on the Innovation Network Process.

Let’s dissect this agreement, shall we?

What IPS provides: A free building, complete with water, sewer, electricity, heating and cooling, snow removal and lawn maintenance, factilities maintenance, security services, transportation.

IPS even throws in a few copier machines for good measure.

IPS also will provide the staffing and oversight for ALL SPECIAL EDUCATION and ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNER programs.

WHAT IPS PAYS:  This is where the contract gets a little murky for me.  If you are a mathmetician or a lawyer, and I’ve made a mistake reading the contract, please let me know.  Here is what I gathered from the document:

$635.91 PER MONTH, per student, payable on the first business day of each month (CONTRACT DOES NOT SPECIFY DURING THE SCHOOL YEAR, SO I’M ASSUMING 12 MONTHS PER YEAR)  $7630.92 per student.  That is equivalent or more than the entire financial allotment per student that IPS would be receiving based on the funding formula.

PLUS:

A “FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT FEE” Which Begins at 10% of the Monthly Payment amount, then decreases by 1% each year following… So add $63.51 per student per month…

In case you didn’t think the deal could get any sweeter than that…

PLUS:

$175,000 “PREOPERATIONAL FUNDS” TO GET STARTED WITH!!

I’m beside myself. If we poured this many resources into ANY OF OUR schools, we’d all be passing the stupid tests.  What are we doing that mirrors this for our own teachers in our own buildings??

As always, if you have comments or questions – email me at gayle_cosby@yahoo.com

Thoughts are my own, not reflective of official district viewpoints…obviously.

If you’re as pissed as I am, come to the board meeting.  Sign up to be a delegate by calling 226-4418 (although we might have missed the deadline on this one, folks).

Myth vs. Fact: The Mass Insight deal

Tonight the vote went down (6 – 1 [ME]) to approve the contract with Mass Insight to create a “Transformation Zone” over several years, starting with the westside of the district (GW and Northwest and feeder elementary schools).

I raised several concerns at Tuesday’s briefing about specific language in the Scope of Work document, which is an attachment to the contract which specifies the work to be done.  Hayleigh Columbo of Chalkbeat highlighted my concerns and also posed her own questions about specific details in the scope of work: http://in.chalkbeat.org/2015/03/17/ips-board-supportive-of-plan-for-2-high-schools-but-cosby-has-doubts/#.VQue6o54pcQ

I want to outline those for you here, so you can determine for yourself, whether they should be deemed mythical or factual.

These are the items which are allegedly myths that need to be dispelled, according to IPS Administration prezi:screengrabPlease.  I invite you, implore you, to review the entire document for yourself by clicking here.  You will see that there is no mention of community involvement until phase 2 of the project, where it mentions “fostering community support” after decisions have been made.  “Hey, let me tell you what we’ve done to your schools, and then tell you why you should like it.”  Sure thing.

You will also see language indicating a change to the governing structure:

screengrab2

As well as very direct language stating that staff in the Transformation Zones will have to re-apply for their jobs:

screengrab3

Oh, and the contract will cost IPS money.  Maybe not the whole 2.1 million, but it will cost IPS money.  Look at the first bullet/checkmark above.  Mass Insight expects a financial commitment of ‘at least $750,000 per school’!!

The board should not vote on pretty powerpoints which attempt to discredit their commissioners and other stakeholders by labeling their concerns and pointed questions as myths.  That is rather dismissive, and I took offense to it.

The board should, however, vote on the legal contract and the associated documents – which include the Scope of Work discussed above.  I urged my fellow board members to consider moving toward amendments to the Scope of Work document before ratifying the contract with this company.  They declined to do so.

I guess I was just brought up to read carefully before I sign.  This isn’t even the fine print, people…it’s as plain and bold as day, right in our faces if we are only looking.  It’s like shopping for a car.  You want to listen to everything the slick salespeople say, but you know damn good and well you better read that document before you sign.

Let’s go… you know I couldn’t make this stuff up.  And I’ve got the screen shots to prove it.

My next post will most definitely be all about my 2012 campaign, and how I got here.  I will try to average 1-2 posts per week.  Thanks for your support!  Over 1,000 people viewed my first blog post, and it was shared on facebook over 200 times!  🙂

Check out the Chalkbeat follow-up article to the post above: http://in.chalkbeat.org/2015/03/19/ferebee-calls-cosbys-concerns-myths-as-board-approves-plan-for-2-high-schools/#.VQufHI54pcQ

Ideas, thoughts, suggestions, questions?  Email me at gayle_cosby@yahoo.com

Innovation Network, 1321, Phalen Leadership Academy

SO… Here it is, after much prompting from others, and admittedly, some procrastination on my part.  A blog.  From your local school board member.  🙂

Why?  Let’s suffice it to say that if I felt that you were getting the whole truth and nothing but – well, then…this blog wouldn’t be neccesary, would it?

My grandmother used to say that sunshine is the best disinfectant.  To me, that means:  Transparency.  People are empowered by knowledge.  When there are not multiple layers (like an onion) that have to be peeled away before you get to the core, people are provided with true rationales and can make their own judgements.  The public school system of Indianapolis is just that: public, in every sense of the word.  It is free and open to all, and it is funded by public dollars.  Therefore, all of the doings of the governance team are public information and can be found on Board Docs by following this link: http://www.boarddocs.com/in/indps/Board.nsf/Public

During my tenure, I have come to the realization that not many are informed, even myself at times.  My hope is that this blog is informative, and the information provided here is EMPOWERING.

I need you to feel empowered.  I need you to speak up, show out, stand up.  Our kids need you to be empowered to do all of these things and more.

Let’s go.

The first topic I want you to be informed about is timely… just recently it was announced that school 103 will be operated next year by Phalen Leadership Academy.  Y’all really need to know how this deal evolved:

Last year, The Mind Trust was successful in establishing the Innovation School Network.  The board reluctantly agreed to it because the purpose of it was to take applications from individuals who had a school idea and give them a year to incubate their idea before launching a school.

The board vice president (myself) and president were a member of the selection committee.  Which meant that we were able to look at four candidates ( after the ~80 initial applications were screened) and choose three out of the four.  Yes, you heard that right, we got to see about 5% of the applicant pool.

One of the four applications we saw didn’t fit the mold.  It was an already established charter school organization – not an individual with an idea.  It was Phalen Leadership Academy.

We expressed our concerns about the intent of the Innovation School Network program.

We said we would not support it.

Phalen Leadership Academy is new to Indianapolis and does not have accountability grades from the state yet, because they did not have any students in ISTEP grades (3-8).  THE PURPOSE of the Innovation Network is to raise the school’s state accountability grade.  How can we expect to raise our state grade by putting a charter school operator in charge WHO HAS NEVER BEEN GIVEN A STATE ACCOUNTABILITY GRADE?

We voiced our concerns about the lack of available data to suggest that Phalen Leadership Academy would be capable of turning around a failing school.  We said we would not support it.

Phalen was chosen by The Mind Trust anyway (not the selection committee that the IPS Prez & VP sat on, but the corporation) and the principal awarded $100,000 salary plus benefits.  He was given a year incubation period to grow a school model which was already in existence.  Everything proceeded as if the school board had no say in the matter.

When it came time to vote in December 2014, we did exactly what we said we were going to do all along.  WE DID NOT SUPPORT IT. The motion for the partnership failed for lack of a majority, with myself, Annie Roof, and Samantha Adair White voting no.  Mike Brown was absent.  The other three voted yes.

Then a board election resulted in a change of three board members effective January 2015.  Mike Brown, Samantha Adair White and Annie Roof lost re-election campaigns.  The three who supported it stayed.

No time was wasted before the Phalen partnership was put back on the agenda for a second time and subsequently approved.

Even more disappointing than the chain of events I just described is the process by which school 103 was chosen to be the recipient of this trojan horse bestowed upon the district.

PL 1321 allows for these type of charter partnerships to take place within any failing IPS school…so there are several to choose from.  When the board was informed that school 103 was the choice, I immediately questioned the selection process.

Was any work done to determine best fit?  Were students, parents, staff, or the community at large asked to weigh in on this decision?

No, no, no.  They were not, and will not.

How’s that for autonomy?

EMPOWER, people.  Please share, and stay tuned for more enlightening tales from your local school board, at work.

I couldn’t make this stuff up.

Comments, questions, ideas?  Email me at gayle_cosby@yahoo.com

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