Saturday, April 11, 2015

Don't deny educators a voice in policy decisions

From the The Fort Wayne News-Sentinel
Friday, April 10, 2015 - 12:01 am

by Phyllis Bush

Dear Indiana representative:

The reason that I am writing today is because if HB 1638 passes, it will be a huge mistake, and once the consequences of this bill come to fruition, I would be shocked if you don’t regret voting for it.

Even though the talking points seem to revolve around the dysfunction between the superintendent and the Indiana Board of Education, HB 1638 is much larger than that. Gov. Pence set this dysfunction in motion by creating CECI (the Shadow Department of Education) and giving them powers that contradict and countermand the power of the Superintendent of Public Instruction while stating publicly that Supt. Glenda Ritz was the one who was the problem.


The latest fuel for dysfunction has been to initiate legislation that would remove her from her Indiana constitutionally defined role of chair of the Indiana State Board of Education while in the middle of a duly elected term of office. Soon before Ritz was to testify before the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, the State Board of Education sent an email that seemed aimed at undercutting her testimony. The email included links to stories with Ritz’s comments about the cost of standardized testing and SBOE actions.


Whether Ritz or the SBOE or the governor is to blame is irrelevant.

The consequences of this bill are not.

This bill will give unfettered authority to the SBOE to close schools which have been labeled as failing by the flawed A-F system. At their latest board meeting on March 12, the SBOE voted 6-4 to close the Dunbar-Pulaski Academic and Career Academy. For an appointed board to have so much authority to close down a school and to relocate the students to two failing charter schools is incomprehensible to me. As I listened to the testimony via live stream, I was shocked and dismayed by the cavalier manner in which the board voted to disrupt the lives of 700 students and to cause chaos in this community.

In addition to what I have already stated, here are my concerns about HB 1638:
  • This bill will accelerate the time from six to four years for these takeover schools. Shouldn’t the Republican mantra of small government suggest that the DOE and the communities involved should work together to turn the schools around rather than farming out the management to outside companies?
  • HB 1638 will create transformation zones which may begin with struggling schools, but they can also bring in “feeder schools” from the district that are not failing, potentially opening up the door to entire districts run by outside companies. This is another way, too, for these failed models to appear as though their grades will be better—by bringing in feeder schools that are not already struggling, which seems like one more bait and switch move by the SBOE.
  • Transformation Zone” management companies would specifically receive their funding directly from the state and would be given access to buildings, contents, equipment, facilities and all student records. This seems like yet another way to increase the number of charter schools.
  • Indiana currently has charter schools, takeover schools, IPS Innovative Network xchools, freeway schools — and this session would add Freedom to Teach Schools (HB 1009), Innovative Network Schools for the whole state (SB 566) and now Transformation Schools (HB 1638). Each one of these has at its core a vague flexibility coupled with changes to the collective bargaining laws.
While I realize that many people in your party have a strong distaste for unions, isn’t this bill yet another way to silence unions — and in effect, to keep educators from having any voice in policies which directly affect their schools, their students, and their working conditions?

If you feel as though you must vote for this odious bill, why not consider some of the amendments submitted by the ISBA:
1. If a school or district is demonstrating academic progress, even though they may not have improved by a letter grade, allow them continue their current improvement strategies … without state intervention.
2. If a school or district decides to implement a transformation zone (which allows for greater creativity in education approaches), the zone should be designed by the board and remain under control of the local board, including the ability to disband the zone if it is not accomplishing its goals. This way the focus remains on local control.
3. The IDOE has 13 “outreach coordinators” to assist struggling schools and districts. Please let them do their job. We don’t need the State Board duplicating their efforts.
Do you really want your legacy as lawmakers to be the General Assembly that destroyed public education? If not, please do not vote for HB 1638. It is unnecessary and it will cause further harm to public education.

Phyllis A. Bush is a resident of Fort Wayne.

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