EDITORIAL: Start over to fix Indianapolis schools

 IBJ Staff
June 16, 2012
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IBJ Editorial

Change is hard. We get that. But sometimes, it’s necessary.

This is one of those times.

We’ll put it as simply—and bluntly—as possible: Indianapolis Public Schools is broken, and drastic changes are the only way to fix it. The status quo simply isn’t acceptable anymore.

Local education-reform group The Mind Trust is leading the charge for an IPS overhaul, calling for its elected school board to be replaced by a governing body appointed by the Indianapolis mayor and City-County Council.

As IBJ’s J.K. Wall reported last week, mayoral control of schools is nothing new. Cities such as Boston, Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C., for example, have taken the bold step and saw students’ test scores rise—albeit modestly.

Still, critics of the idea abound. One of them, to no surprise, is IPS Superintendent Eugene White, a once-promising educator who has turned into an unabashed IPS apologist.

“I don’t know of one [example of mayoral control] that I could point to that would be more successful than what we’re currently doing in Indianapolis,” he told IBJ, predicting that the Legislature will balk at giving city leaders such powers.

If that’s true, we’re in trouble.

Although IPS has made some improvements—increasing its graduation rate from 46 percent to 65 percent over the past five years, for instance—a school district where fewer than half the students pass state-standardized tests isn’t getting the job done. White should be willing to do whatever it takes to fix the problem. Instead, he is cheering on mediocrity.

Sure, mayoral control of schools isn’t a panacea. It didn’t work in Detroit or Cleveland. And just changing the name at the top of an organizational chart won’t make much of a difference. But The Mind Trust’s scorched-earth approach isn’t about trading one bureaucracy for another. It is a way to overcome a natural aversion to much-needed change and welcome new ideas.

The group recommends decentralizing school operations and streamlining IPS’ bloated administrative staff, freeing $188 million a year that could be used to pay outstanding teachers and fund universal preschool. Why hasn’t that happened already? For the same reason corporate executives get performance bonuses even as rank-and-file workers lose their jobs. It’s good to be the boss.

White and other opponents of mayoral control say appointing a board would disenfranchise the public by denying them a vote. But it seems to us that having the buck stop on the desk of an elected mayor would actually increase accountability, given the historically low interest in—and turnout for—school board elections.

Politics complicates matters, to be sure. We can think of no other reason that Mayor Greg Ballard still has not declared a clear position on the idea more than a year after it became public. But this isn’t a topic we can afford to discuss much longer.

Something needs to change. Our city’s future depends on it.•


To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.


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  1. The east side does have potential...and I have always thought Washington Scare should become an outlet mall. Anyone remember how popular Eastgate was? Well, Indy has no outlet malls, we have to go to Edinburgh for the deep discounts and I don't understand why. Jim is right. We need a few good eastsiders interested in actually making some noise and trying to change the commerce, culture and stereotypes of the East side. Irvington is very progressive and making great strides, why can't the far east side ride on their coat tails to make some changes?

  2. Boston.com has an article from 2010 where they talk about how Interactions moved to Massachusetts in the year prior. http://www.boston.com/business/technology/innoeco/2010/07/interactions_banks_63_million.html The article includes a link back to that Inside Indiana Business press release I linked to earlier, snarkily noting, "Guess this 2006 plan to create 200-plus new jobs in Indiana didn't exactly work out."

  3. I live on the east side and I have read all your comments. a local paper just did an article on Washington square mall with just as many comments and concerns. I am not sure if they are still around, but there was an east side coalition with good intentions to do good things on the east side. And there is a facebook post that called my eastside indy with many old members of the eastside who voice concerns about the east side of the city. We need to come together and not just complain and moan, but come up with actual concrete solutions, because what Dal said is very very true- the eastside could be a goldmine in the right hands. But if anyone is going damn, and change things, it is us eastside residents

  4. Please go back re-read your economics text book and the fine print on the February 2014 CBO report. A minimum wage increase has never resulted in a net job loss...

  5. The GOP at the Statehouse is more interested in PR to keep their majority, than using it to get anything good actually done. The State continues its downward spiral.