Autonomy for Automatons 101

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

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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

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