Voters embrace education reform locally, but not in state race

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Change within the Indianapolis Public Schools board is coming faster than expected even for The Mind Trust, the locally based education reform group pushing for a sweeping transformation of the district.

Tuesday’s election saw three reform-minded IPS board candidates—Gayle Cosby, Caitlin Hannon and Sam Odle—win their races by sizeable margins. Another candidate, reform-minded incumbent Diane Arnold, ran unopposed.

Combine the four with like-minded board members Samantha Adair-White and Annie Roof, who won in 2010, and The Mind Trust could have allies in six of the seven seats.

Michael Brown strongly supports Superintendent Eugene White, who opposes The Mind Trust’s more radical plan for change.

“If you had asked me a year ago when we released our plan, I would have been completely surprised,” Mind Trust CEO David Harris said Wednesday morning. “A lot of times, you have shifts that balance things out. Now, you have six votes for a reform agenda. It brings a real opportunity to bring about significant change.”

The Mind Trust plan released in December details the sweeping changes the organization views as necessary to reverse decades of decline in the district. The plan recommends gutting IPS’ central office and freeing up $188 million a year to provide universal preschool, to pay key teachers more than $100,000 a year and to transform the district into a network of autonomous “opportunity” schools.

And to make it happen, The Mind Trust says the state Legislature should yank control of the district from the IPS school board and hand it to the Indianapolis mayor.

Mayor Greg Ballard has been cool to the idea of taking responsibility for IPS, arguing that it is incongruous for the mayor of the entire city to control just one of its numerous school districts.

Even so, business interests say the election results prove that a majority of Indianapolis residents agree that the school district can no longer continue to replicate “the failures of the past.”

“I commend the citizens of Indianapolis for casting their vote in favor of a better Indianapolis and electing true change agents who will work to provide the tools necessary for student achievement across the board,” Indy Chamber CEO Scott Miller said in a prepared statement.

In one of the more glaring examples of that change, Cosby, a Lawrence Township teacher, routed incumbent Elizabeth Gore in District 2, winning 75 percent of the vote.

Hannon, a former IPS teacher who now works at the not-for-profit Teach Plus, beat challengers Jim Nixon and Larry W. Whiteman in District 1, capturing 67 percent.

And Odle, a former executive of IU Health, defeated Larry Vaughn for the at-large seat by receiving 63 percent.

Hannon raised more than $62,000, amassing the largest war chest in the race, which groups like The Mind Trust and Indiana Democrats for Education Reform saw as pivotal to improving the management and performance of IPS.

Harris at The Mind Trust said the group has worked with IPS in the past, but the election results represent an opportunity for real change to occur for the betterment of the district.

“It was as seismic shift,” he said, “and I think it sends an unmistakably clear message that voters in the district want significant change in how it’s operated.”

Meanwhile, at the state level, Hoosiers reacted differently to the reform movement, rejecting the changes that Indiana Schools Superintendent Tony Bennett championed.

School librarian Glenda Ritz from Indianapolis denied the Republican a second term as voters spurned his sweeping education overhaul.

The Democrat's win was seen as a victory for Indiana teachers who felt Bennett blamed them for school failures. Many educators opposed changes under Bennett that include expanding charter school access, limiting teachers' collective bargaining powers and basing teacher pay raises on annual evaluations.

Bennett also pushed for the state's private-school voucher program and oversaw the first state takeover of troubled public schools.

In his concession speech, Bennett said he had no regrets.

“Four years ago, we came here and we promised to do big things for Indiana families and their children,” he said. “We were going to put children first, without any consideration of whether we were going to be re-elected or not."

He ended by saying, “I beg this state to continue" reforming education.

With the election of Republican Mike Pence as governor, and with Republicans maintaining control of both Houses in the Indiana General Assembly, Ritz may have a tough time undoing Bennett’s reform measures.

“She’s clearly expressed opposition to some things expressed in state law,” said Derek Redelman, vice president of education and workforce development at the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. “So she’s not going to be able to just walk in and remove those things as her campaign kind of suggested.”

Further, as state schools superintendent, Ritz will chair the State Board of Education, whose 10 members, one from each of Indiana’s nine congressional districts and an at-large member, were appointed by Gov. Mitch Daniels and ultimately will be appointed by Pence.

“The consensus and momentum for reform is rock solid,” Daniels said at a press conference with Pence on Wednesday morning. “Not one of those laws is going to change.”

Teachers’ unions fiercely opposed Bennett. Even though Ritz was dramatically outspent by Bennett, Indiana’s 60,000 educators waged a ferocious campaign on social networking sites and through word of mouth.

“Frankly, I don’t think anybody saw that coming until the last few days,” Redelman said. “It was truly a grassroots effort.”


  • Parents Voted Out Bennett, too
    I think it is important when Bennett claims to have put children first, that the readers understand that the people who really put children first are their parents, grandparents and the teachers who spend every single day with them! WE saw how harmful Bennett (and his financial backers) and his "reforms" were to our children. These changes were not backed by any educational research. We know that the joy of learning involves far more than that which can be neatly and mathematically tested: hands-on projects, drama, the arts, music, science experiments, curiosity, thinking outside of the box, resolving conflicts, these are the things that we parents expect our children to learn and experience. And those are things that Bennett was squeezing out of the curriculum. When you have an entire school's future (grade) and a teacher's job tied directly to the test score, that is all that will be taught. The rest will be a bonus. As a mother of four, I know that my children learn best when they are engaged and I expect the teachers they have to be well-educated, not just takers of a test with no classroom experience and school of ed. background, as Bennett would have them be (REPA2). Those of us paying attention also know that Bennett is an ALEC (google it .. esp. under alec exposed) pawn and the desire is to impose a business model on schools and privatize them. My children's education is not a commodity to be bought and sold. I and many other parents like me, wrote letters and made phone calls and worked the polls for Ritz because I know that when it comes to a business, the profit and profiteers will be first, making the needs of my children, last.
  • breaks
    John - Get a grip. Many teachers are still working through these breaks. The teachers still have to develop lesson plans, create tests, grade papers, grade tests, etc. Based on my calculations, my wife made less than minimum wage teaching at a public school because of all of the work that she had to do outside of the classroom. That is the real world.
  • breaks
    What about fall break, spring break, christmas break, columbus day, mlk day, president's day, summer break, the list goes on and on. Most people get 2-3 weeks vacation per year, teachers get 8 or more. Welcome to the real world.
    • So many anecdotes
      Whenever the discussion of teachers and teachers' unions comes up, all you hear is anecdotal stories about how difficult their job it. I grew up in a family of teachers and administrators; it's a mixed bag. There are many great teachers that work 50+ hours a week and provide a lot of value to their students. There are also teachers that only put in the effort required, cruise out of the building before many of the students can leave the parking lot, and generally don't care. I've had many of both. I had a high school teacher who inspired me to study Economics and was a great influence on my education. I also had a teacher who made us watch "historical" movies twice a week and put in as little effort as possible. I didn't learn a thing in that semester. The point is, we have many great teachers but we also have some very poor teachers. Colleges are pushing a lot of undecided young students into education because it's an easy degree. I was told to consider teaching my two different academic advisers. We need to have an honest discussion about the quality of teachers in Indiana. I believe that 80% of our teachers are great and deserve high praise. However, being so involved in education, I can't ignore that there are also many teachers who only got into teaching for the long vacations. There are teachers who are only there because they want to coach. These are the teachers we need to address, yet the teachers' unions have worked tirelessly to convince people that reforms are going to hurt the good teachers. Everyone in a school knows who the poor teachers are: students, teachers, administrators and parents; they all know. Yet, these poor teachers are getting way too much protection. I had a lot of my time in high school wasted because of teachers that didn't care. The great teachers outnumbered them 5:1, but there is no denying that the poor teachers are there. If we want to properly educate our youth, we need to have educators who want to be there, not educators counting down the days until the spring, fall, winter or summer break.
    • Welcome to my world
      John...Perhaps you need a calendar. School starts in Aug. and ends in June. That is more than eight months. Come to my classroom for a day if you dare. Out of my 24 students, five have IEPs and two are ENL. Three students are ADHD, two are homeless and one is in foster care. Let's see you teach the manditory 90 min. of reading, followed by math, social studies, science, and language arts all while part of the kids are gone for speech, OT, PT, getting their medicine or talking to the counselor. Not to mention supervising the cafe or recess duty and spending my preparation time returning phone calls and emails from parents.
      • Merit Pay
        John - I don't know what world you live in, but you clearly do not understand what teachers actually do. My wife just left teaching at a high school. She was working part time - just 1/2 the normal class load for about $20,000 per year. She had 100 students and worked around 90 hours per week. Teachers do get the summer off, but they generally have to take additional classes just to keep their licenses. My wife was lucky that she was assigned mostly honors classes. But she still had to deal with students with "learning disabilites." Unfortunately, the schools cannot tell the teachers what those disabilities are because of the HIPPA laws. It is sort of like driving in the rain at night blindfolded. A merit pay system can be extremely punitive regardless of the teacher's performance. There are kids who want to learn and do well and other kids who just do not care. The merit systems would make it far too easy for an administrator to reward or punish teachers simply by the classes that are assigned. I honestly cannot understand why anyone would want to be a teacher. They easily can make two to three times as much money with half the effort working at other jobs. That is a substantial understatement for the math and science types. We really need to decide whether we want good teachers and pay them accordingly, or should we just hire babysitters.
      • Merit pay
        Teachers SHOULD be paid based on their performance, just like everyone else. Teachers only work 8 months per year, but expect raises automatically even if their students fail. And it's never their fault.
        • Privateering Does Not Work
          Here's what will happen with privateering of schools: the privateers (investors) will hire qualified teachers, and students may or may not do better. Over time, the teachers will not be given raises, to keep up the profits of the investors, so they will hire younger, less experienced teachers, and then guess what will happen? Kids will do poorly, but the investors will make money, at least for awhile. Privateers love the business model where people are forced to pay taxes, and then they come up with a way to take as much of the tax dollars as possible

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