Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

What They’re Saying About A Plan To Overhaul Indianapolis Public Schools

Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

The Indianapolis Public Schools board meets in August. Superintendent Eugene White (pink tie at center) is presiding over the meeting.

For a “conversation starter,” the proposal The Mind Trust released Sunday sure is explosive.

The 154-page report proposes gutting the Indianapolis Public Schools’ administrative budget, dissolving the locally-elected school board in favor of mayoral control, and giving IPS schools freedom to set their own budgets and curricula.

Agree or disagree, it’s possible the report could have a nationwide ripple effect as political and education leaders look for ways to revamp urban public schools. Then again, it’s also possible the report simply rehashes old ideas.

Mind Trust co-founder and CEO David Harris summarizes the report in this video:

The Mind Trust is the brainchild (pun intended?) of several political heavy hitters: Indianapolis’s former Democratic mayor Bart Peterson joined with Harris, who worked in the administration of Democratic governor Evan Bayh, to found the organization in 2006.

Screenshot/Mind Trust

The Mind Trust's report proposes nearly doubling the amount of Indianapolis Public Schools funding that goes directly to district schools. It also proposes significant cuts in the district's administrative budget, as shown in this graphic from a video The Mind Trust released with the report.

The group’s Board of Directors includes several other big names, including former NBC anchor Jane Pauley and TIME magazine education writer Andrew Rotherham. (On his blog, EduWonk, Rotherham called the report “significant.”)

One potential model for IPS’s turnaround, the report’s authors write, is the school system in post-Katrina New Orleans.

By many accounts, schools in New Orleans’ Recovery School District — dominated by charter schools or “schools of choice” — have seen significant improvements in test scores and a narrowing of the achievement gap. As NPR correspondent Larry Abramson has reported, though, the new system has created problems of access for some students.

Reactions started rolling in almost immediately after the report’s release.

From Indy Star columnist Matthew Tully:

Here’s my Christmas wish: It’s that the new Mind Trust report that calls for a sweeping overhaul of the way Indianapolis Public Schools operates will not turn into another tired battle over turf, pride and special interests. Instead, my hope is that it will lead to a broad and much-needed communitywide discussion about the future of the state’s largest, and in some ways most important, school district…

This isn’t a slam on the leaders within IPS. It’s simply an acknowledgment that even the greatest leaders would stumble under the bulky bureaucracy that has been built up over decades.

From Advance Indiana:

Notice that the driving principle here is that spending more per student leads to better schools, a demonstrably untrue claim that has been proven over and over again over the past several decades of our declining public school systems.

There is nothing novel about the Mind Trust proposal to hand control of a major city’s public school system to the mayor. It has been done in Chicago, Boston and other major cities with less than successful results…

If we really wanted to improve IPS, we would end teacher tenure to make it easier to get rid of bad, non-performing teachers, and we would break the school system up into much smaller community school systems with board members elected from those neighborhood schools.

From Indiana Barrister:

I like the part about blowing up the bureaucracy in the central office at IPS and redirecting those funds toward the individual schools. I have some questions about how this would work with the existing governance of Charter schools, however, this shows a thoughtful approach to dealing with education. If anything, it is a very good starting point for a thoughtful debate.

Well, if this doesn’t seem like “a starting point for thoughtful debate” in our comments section — what are your reactions?


  • Doug Martin

    Andy Rotherham is a corporate school reformer who has been out to destroy public education for quite some time. His working for TIME only means that the mainstream media is helping the corporate school reformers privatize the schools. If people want the truth about the Mind Trust, they can read my research at the B-Town Errant and Firedoglake. As for New Orleans, it should be noted that Milton Friedman wrote a letter to the editor of a major newspaper just before he died, stating how great it would be for the school privatizers to move into New Orleans and destroy what as left of the public schools. Disaster Capitalism at its best. Free-market Friedman psychopathic death-wish. These people need to be stopped now. Coporate school boards destroy what is left of our rights in a so-called democracy.

    It might be nice if NPR/State Impact Indiana would quote some real reporters in their reporting, instead of giving a voice to the same promoters of privatization again and again.

    My research:

  • Douglas Storm

    Doug Martin is right; reformers are not men and women interested in the education of our children. They comprise two kinds of folks. 1. Those for whom “reform” means profit–the majority, if not all of those in the article above. 2. Those who want to return to an era of “separatism” and segregation–be it along the lines of race or poverty. We might identify a third party: men and women who believe they’re being told the truth.

    We must continue to see the big picture here as ALEC and Republicans and Right Tanks push through restrictive legislation on immigration; aggressive legislation to destroy unions (which really means reduce worker protections to who has the best lawyer and which judge can be bought); and school “reform.”

    There is no altruism in reform–there is only the attempt to take more power and wealth. There is no interest in learning. There is the ruse that if we just allow this creative destruction–if we just allow a generation to eat mud and locusts–a new vibrant world will arise from the flames. This is the false promise of salvation after the fire, made by the arsonists. The arsonist does not rebuild. These arsonists make promises they have no intention of keeping.

    Failure in this kind of situation will always be able to blamed on parents and students and teachers, never the arsonists.

    This is the truth of all “consultancies”–if you failed, you must not have done exactly what I told you to do. That’s not my fault, the failure is within!

    Each and every journalist had better stop parroting the party line and start following the motivations. Start looking at the real damages that happen versus the created successes of “test” score increases.

    How are peoples’ lives betters after the conflagration? How are they worse? What will change? What are the logical (and intended) consequences of these moves?

    These politicians and for-profit loving Right Tanks have been laying the groundwork on this for decades…there is a next step, guaranteed, and it won’t be to bring you goodness and light.

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