We are so proud of our work here at Indiana Coalition for Public Education in Monroe County. Look at all we have taken part in this year:
In January we hosted our first community conversation: "Legislative Agenda for Education: What to Expect this Session and What You Can Do About It"
State Senator Mark Stoops gave us a preview of some of the expected bills facing public education and what their impact would be. Local education blogger Steve Hinnefeld of School Matters connected the money and the "players" behind the initiatives for these bills. Our chairperson, Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer, filled in for state-level ICPE founder Vic Smith (absent due to winter weather).
Our letter writing to our legislators, education committee members, state board of education members, and to the newspaper for awareness-raising began with a vengeance. We used social media to continue the letter-writing campaigns. We were concerned with bills concerning the role and power of our state superintendent Glenda Ritz, the expansion of vouchers, union dues deducted from teacher paychecks, and lowering qualifications for educators (REPA3).
In February, a number of our ICPE members attended the premiere of the film "Rise Above the Mark" in Indianapolis and enjoyed the panel discussion afterward on education reform in Indiana. At the end of February and early March, our ICPE chair Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer and board member Wendy Marencik joined public education advocates from all over the country at the first annual Network for Public Education conference in Austin, TX. It was an inspiring event and helped connect ICPE with others who are fighting the same or similar battles!
In March ICPE hosted "Making Sense of ISTEP and Other Standardized Tests: A Discussion Circle with Authors Phil and Joan Harris" which debunked much of the myth surrounding ISTEP and was very informative.
Also in March we spearheaded a letter-writing campaign speaking out against the Green School, a charter school that was seeking approval to open here in Monroe County. Most of the people who spoke out in favor of their public schools and against spreading the funding to more charters were our ICPE members and friends. The comments were so eloquent and the Indiana State Charter Board declined to approve the Green School
On May 1st we hosted another community conversation: "Let's Hear Teacher Voices" It was our most popular and praised forum to date. Local teachers spoke eloquently and passionately about their careers in the current hostile climate surrounding public education.
In June WFHB's Interchange program hosted a conversation about education with ICPE chair Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer, the Project School's Cathy Diersing, and Harmony's Steve Bonchek. Also in June
Democracy for Monroe County sponsored a Link-Up conversation in which Cathy and Project School charter school board member Charlotte Zietlow had a debate/friendly discussion on charter schools.
Over the summer our letter writing continued with focus on power grabs from Ritz by SBOE.
During the lovely months of the Farmer's Market, our tireless ICPE volunteers sat at our booth passing out information, signing up new members, and continuing the education conversation.
The fall was a very busy time which really began with a general membership meeting at the end of August followed in September by another forum: "Librarians Lead: Best Practices in MCCSC School Libraries" which was well-attended and inspiring to see the great things our local school librarians do!
Also in September we rallied our "troops" for another letter-writing and public comment campaign to stop the Seven Oaks Charter School from coming to our area and siphoning off more public tax dollars from our public schools. The eloquence and passion with which our friends defend public schools is amazing. Again, the Indiana State Charter Board turned down Seven Oaks.
In September we also co-sponsored with MCCSC the "Rise Above the Mark" documentary. Over 200 people attended this amazing event and stayed for the panel afterward. Out of that event, we had new people join ICPE and help us put together a legislative report card for our local legislators focused on their voting record for public education.
The fall was a crazy busy time trying to get people involved in the local races for school board and state legislature. ICPE hosted two forums in October, one for MCCSC school board and one for state legislative races.
Although the pro-public education candidates lost in the contested races for state representative, we made more connections with public education advocates and are consoled by the fact that the incumbents suddenly felt moved to position themselves as public education candidates. We were and we are being heard.
It would not be a review of the year without mention of our co-founder, Carl Zager's passing this past January. Carl was a tireless advocate for public education, he loved the conversations he had with people (particularly at our Farmer's Market booth) and always lent a valuable perspective. We miss him and yet his memory inspires us to keep up the fight.
Thank you so much for all you do. Please encourage your friends to join us. Rest your fingers up for the new year because we will need your letter-writing in the upcoming legislative session.
Happy New Year!
This guest post is written by our ICPE-MCSCI co-founder and retired educator, Mike Walsh:
Before the Legislature jumps headlong in support of our governor’s proposal for more vouchers and charter schools, would it be prudent to ask them to examine some history?
Let’s take Milwaukee, which has offered vouchers since 1990. Seventy-five percent of students who started in a voucher school left before graduating. The annual attrition rate is 33 percent. Wouldn’t our solons wonder why? In 2011, the National Assessment of Educational Progress ranked Milwaukee at the bottom of the five lowest-performing districts nationally.
The preponderance of credible research finds virtually no impact for vouchers in raising achievement above public school levels. So why are our legislators and governor forging ahead to expand vouchers when they currently take more than $15 million from public school funds and 95 percent of them go to sectarian schools?
I contend that it is primarily the ongoing effort to privatize as much of public education as can be gotten away with. Vouchers, along with private for-profit charter school groups now have access to public tax dollars. No less a person than Rupert Murdock has referred to education as “a 500 billion dollar sector.” Any wonder that the corporate world has leapt into the “reform” movement? Any doubt that the primary function of voucher expansion is political?
As for charter schools, begin with the encouragement of private for-profit organizations by the governor with the blessing of the legislature to take over “failing” schools. Imagine an outside group being hired to “turn around” Fairview School.
There is little or no transparency in charter school operations. Local control is lost because taxpayers do not elect charter school board members; they are appointed. Nor is there local control over management, including what they are paid or the percentage of profit. The public has no input on how charters are staffed, run, administered or evaluated. Open meetings or public reporting of academic achievement are at the discretion of the charter school.
In 2010, a U.S. Department of Education study showed charter schools underperformed compared with public schools with the same demographic. Without that inclusion they performed about the same. What we have is an expanding, unneeded, multitiered education system: public, charter, voucher — all pulling from the same pot of funds.
Our governor is committed to expanding vouchers, which reduce public school funds which push communities of organize and fund referenda to make up for the critical loss of public school dollars, and by doing so, gives the legislature a convenient excuse to avoid the challenges facing public schools by not themselves raising taxes.
It is very difficult in this era of a supermajority with all save one state office controlled by one party to watch what seems to be a continuous attack on our public schools, but one would hope that people understand that privatizing our public education system is a terrible move and that they express this to their representatives, the governor, and the IDOE board. Unless they perceive a growing concern for their actions, the assault will continue.
Make no mistake. Governor Pence was not trying to appease Superintendent Ritz nor the 1.3 million voters who elected her when he announced that part of his new education plan was to dissolve his shadow department of education, the CECI (Center for Education & Career Innovation).
Claiming this was "in the interest of restoring trust and harmony,” he then announced his intention to allow his appointed state board members to elect their own chairman, unseating Ritz. If the governor were truly concerned with trust and harmony, he would trust Glenda Ritz to represent the people of Indiana. He should remember why Indiana voters chose her.
Glenda Ritz ran on a platform of keeping public funds in public schools. Now the governor wants to bleed more of that funding into private schools through unlimited vouchers and charter schools that have no democratically-elected, accountable boards. Every Indiana child has the constitutional right to a free, high quality public education. What the governor is proposing is that we now fund three separate (but equal?) systems of education with our tax dollars: public schools, charters and voucher/private schools.
The governor calls this tenet of his policy plan: “Fairness in Funding.” Orwell would be proud.
What is fair about redirecting public money to private and charter schools that play by different rules with different kids? Public schools accept all children regardless of background and ability.
Glenda Ritz ran on a platform of more teaching and less testing. Now the governor wants to push for more test-driven obsession, further tying teacher pay and even school funding into his test-based, warped system of grading (labeling, stigmatizing) schools. Achievement on standardized tests closely tracks socioeconomic status of students’ families. Grading schools according to test scores means punishing poor communities for poverty. It makes it a liability for teachers to work with children from low-income families or those with special needs. With the threat of a stigma, loss of funding, loss of jobs, loss of status, tests are the focus and the curriculum is narrowed. The creativity, the hands-on projects, the joy, are being lost in a data-collecting “accountability” frenzy.
Governor Pence calls this policy point: “Freedom to Teach.”
1.3 million voters went to the polls to choose a direction in education in 2012: Glenda Ritz. The resistance that the governor is meeting is that people do not want to continue this corporate education “reform” where the rich make money off of "failing" schools and the poorest children get jerked around from one school to the next. Voters elected Ritz because they wanted schools to be for children, not testing factories or for-profit ventures. Voters elected Ritz because they wanted educators to guide what happens in the classroom, not politicians in the statehouse or business executives in a board room.
Public education is the cornerstone of our democracy. Voting is its lifeblood. Our governor, who received far fewer votes than Glenda Ritz, has shown that he clearly has no respect for the democratic process nor democracy as a whole.