It’s time to discuss ‘equity’ instead of ‘accountability’

There’s no word that a political candidate could utter in regards to education that causes me to turn into a raving lunatic faster than “accountability.”

Our teachers and schools have been clubbed over our heads with the “accountability bat” by legislators and school board candidates for 10 years in Indiana.

Frankly, I’m tired of hearing it.

“Accountability” has been the guiding factor in every single policy decision made in Indiana education in that time, and these policies have only weakened our schools.

The lie that our schools and teachers must be “more accountable” has led to a climate of number crunching, standardization, and educational jargon and endless acronyms that now control our schools and stifle far too much critical thinking and creativity.

“Accountability” has led to an era of fewer educational options for our children. How many Indiana schools have lost their arts programs, electives, and even libraries in this era of tight budgets that are often so strained because our state spends so much money on standardized tests?

Yes, we have replaced the joy of books and music in our schools with the art of filling in a bubble with a Number 2 pencil.

All because we now worship data, most of which is used to prove what we usually already know anyway.

Our public schools have become “accountability factories” in America’s desperate race to prove that every fact, standard, and nugget of knowledge can be fully measured at any given moment.

Educational historian Diane Ravitch says it best in the documentary “Rise Above the Mark,” which reveals the truth about what’s happening in Indiana schools right now.

Ravitch says, “What the standardized test does, over time, is that it rewards conformity, it rewards the people who can pick the right bubble…it punishes divergent thinking, it punishes creativity, it punishes originality. If you think about what that’s going to do to this country over the long haul…we are raising a generation of children who have been taught that there’s only one right answer.”

That’s the true irony of the “accountability movement” in education. The very policies designed to ensure teachers and schools are “accountable” — standardized tests, overly complicated teacher evaluation models, letter-grade labels for high achieving and low performing schools — actually prevent the most essential kind of learning.

Because the truth is that the most valuable kind of learning so often simply cannot be measured.

Certainly, no one would argue against the notion that our schools or teachers should be accountable to ensuring that students are learning.

But far too often legislative and school board candidates use the idea of “accountability” as a convenient catch phrase — it sounds impressive.

However, “accountability” has far too often been used as a weapon against schools by those who are often the least accountable themselves.

So, until we are ready to talk seriously about parental accountability to their children, our legislators’ accountability to their communities, corporate and business accountability to ethics and the truth, and even students’ accountability to themselves, then we need to stop overusing and misusing this concept as a basis to manage our schools and monitor our teachers.

We have seen over 10 years of “accountability” in Indiana education policy.

Those policies have failed. Those who have voted for and supported those policies in the legislature have failed.

It’s time replace “accountability” with “equity.”

Hoosier legislators are anything but conservative when it comes to education

Imagine if you woke up tomorrow morning to the news that President Obama created a new federal education agency with tax dollars to accompany our current Department of Education.

Let’s give this shiny new hypothetical agency an official name so that it actually sounds different from the Department of Education.

Hmmm. How about the Center for Education and Career Innovation, or CECI?

Let’s, too, grant this new agency a budget almost equal to the Department of Education. In fact, let’s pay several of the top people at CECI as much — in fact, more than — current Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Oh, and here’s one more tidbit. Let’s assume that the president created the CECI at taxpayer expense by executive order.

That’s right. No legislative debate in Congress. No public debate. Instead, a brand spanking new federal agency created simply by the stroke of a pen.

Imagine the reaction of small government conservatives everywhere, including here in Indiana.

Why, images of bulging eyes, frothing mouths, and anguished screams of “Socialist!” and “Big government!” would fill our television screens on the nightly news. Surely these outraged proponents of limited government would call upon our Indiana legislators in D.C. to condemn such a move.

And, imagine the righteous fury that would erupt if our U.S. senators and congressmen then remained silent in the face of this big government creation of the CECI.

That’s right. No sound bites on CNN. No press conferences or even press releases. Instead, complete silence.

Now stop imagining and consider this — the scenario I just described actually happened. Only, it was Indiana governor Mike Pence, not Barack Obama, who created the CECI by executive order with no legislative or public debate.

And it was our Indiana state legislators, many of them Republicans now seeking re-election, who remained curiously silent in the face of the creation of an agency at taxpayer expense that serves no real purpose.

Further, for some odd reason, it’s Indiana conservatives who also have remained oddly quiet in the face of their governor’s big government move and their legislators’ utter hypocrisy.

Where is the justifiable concern over the creation of a government agency by executive order? Where are the questions about the disturbing lack of legislative or public debate over the creation of the CECI?

For that matter, where was the concern over Common Core standards when Republicans like Mitch Daniels and Tony Bennett and the GOP-controlled State Board of Education — not Barack Obama — brought those standards to Indiana?

And, where is the concern over the fact that, despite incumbents’ claims to the contrary, Indiana school corporations now operate under less local control than ever before?

My point here is simple. When it comes to Indiana education policy, our “conservative” state government is anything but conservative.

From the hefty price tag of more standardized testing, to overly complicated teacher and school evaluation systems, to unnecessary restrictions on how teachers can bargain contracts, to a state-sponsored voucher program that costs Indiana $16 million, to Common Core and legislators’ silence over the governor’s new CECI, one fact emerges — the myth of a conservative state legislature in Indiana is just that — a myth.

We voters have been inundated with quite a few slick campaign cards in our mailboxes over the last few weeks. Some of them play a bit loose with the facts. Some even include scary images of President Obama in an attempt to link a certain local state legislative race to our president.

As we voters head to the polls this week, we would be well served to remember which legislators stood silently by as Mike Pence created his CECI by executive order with no legislative or public debate, and ask ourselves who the real conservatives are, and who really supports big government.

The answer may surprise you.

Imagine that.

Teachers: It’s time to speak to local voters

Two weeks.

We have two weeks until Election Day 2014.

We usually view mid-term or “off year” elections with some apathy, but Indiana teachers know that this year’s election is crucial to our livelihoods, our profession, our school children, and our schools.

We must send a bold, clear message to our governor, legislature, and State Board of Education: Stop!

We are in the midst of one destructive idea after another in regards to Indiana education policy. Our public schools and the profession we love have radically changed in the last five years. We know it. We feel it. And we know that we cannot continue down the same path.

One trusted colleague of mine with almost 40 years of experience as a teacher recently made this observation — she has never seen teachers as upset, as burdened, or as fed up as we are right now.

Another Indiana educator, a fifth-grade teacher who has chosen early retirement and whose story is shared in the documentary Rise Above the Mark, says this:

“I still love what I do, and I loved it up until the end, but I feel like the legislators have beaten us down, and I hope that some way we find a way to fight our way back up to the top.”

Later in the documentary, she adds, “They’ve taken education, the profession that I love, and turned me into a number.”

This is the truth of what is happening in Indiana schools all over the state thanks in part to our current legislature. I won’t rehash the litany of bad ideas here — feel free to explore past posts on this site for more details — but I will say this:

Our mailboxes been inundated with a glossy litany of half-truths and lies from legislators all around the state claiming to have preserved local control of our schools in the last few years.

Teachers know the truth. Teachers know that is simply not true.

Indiana public schools suffer from less local control and more excessive intrusion from our state legislature than ever before.

When it comes to education policy, this current legislature is full of fake conservatives who shackle innovation, stifle creativity, and intrude endlessly into our local schools.

Our daily lives as teachers are burdened with the evidence of less local control — from excessive standardized testing, to the ludicrous flip-flop of standards (Yes, we’ll adopt Common Core. No, wait, no we won’t!), to the fact that the state has changed our evaluation system, to restrictions on how we bargain our contracts, to the reduction in the worth of our advanced and master’s degrees — the list of excessive intrusion into our schools and classrooms from our current state legislature is long and tedious.

So, please know this, voters — any current legislator who claims to have worked tirelessly for the cause of local control of Hoosier schools while supporting and voting for corporate education “reform” scams is either deceitful or delusional.

Or both.

And that is why I am calling on all teachers to talk with voters here. Now. Because we teachers must speak up now.

We must tell voters the truth about how our profession and our schools have changed.

We must tell voters that while we love our profession, our schools, and our students, we will no longer silently tolerate the constant assault of bad legislation that has radically altered our public schools.

We must ask voters to stand with us to restore local control, common sense, and research-based decision making to our schools.

And locally, we must make the case with voters to vote for three outstanding educators and experts — Kevin Sue Bailey, Heidi Sellers, and Chuck Freiberger.

I challenge every teacher to find a way to work with or on behalf of at least one of these pro-education candidates.

Teachers, do not be silent. Do not be passive. There simply is not time.

This is not about political parties or ideology. This is about telling voters the truth about how our current legislature has hurt our schools.

Tell the truth about our schools.

We have two weeks.

Teacher Appreciation Week 2014: The Art of Teaching

by Jim Lang

From Hilda Kendrick to Tony Willis to Jack Dvorak — these are the teachers who helped make me the person I am today. I appreciate them all. I thank them all. I hope I can have a similar impact on my own students. I hope I can contribute to the noble profession of teaching as they have.

As I reflect on the teachers who shaped my life, one unique quality connects them all – they were all intrinsically motivated to make the lives of their students and colleagues better.

I point this out because I think that to truly appreciate teachers we must honor those qualities that make them so exceptional.

Every great teacher in my life cared about me. Not my test scores. Not my data. Not my grades. Me.

Yes, my learning was essential, of course. But by caring about me, they ensured I learned.

These great teachers were not motivated primarily by academic standards. Or data walls. Or “highly effective” evaluations. Or merit pay. Or competition with their colleagues next door or down the hall.

These great teachers were great because they worked tirelessly to make my life and the lives of my peers better. That’s it. That’s the secret. That’s the art of teaching.

So, as we end Teacher Appreciation Week, my final appeal to those who desire to truly thank and appreciate a teacher is this – let us teach.

Indiana has been on the education “reform” rollercoaster for 12 years. New standards, more standardized testing, more accountability, more restrictions on our schools and universities, new merit pay proposals, new teacher evaluation proposals, new school corporation rating systems, the nation’s largest government-sponsored voucher program, an entirely new education agency created with no debate – none at all.

Effective teachers will share the truth about these “reforms” – that most of them are unnecessary, wasteful, and wholly ineffective. Moreover, most of these ideas dampen the very art of teaching that drives so many of us to make a difference in the lives of our students.

So, as I reflect on the past, I also ponder the future. I worry that this art of teaching that drives the truly great teachers is being diminished by a steady stream of bad ideas. I suspect that teaching is, in fact, a dying art if we continue down the same path.

And yet, I know that the desire to appreciate teachers also reveals a real belief in us and a genuine concern for our best interests. This gives me great hope for the future of our profession.

As we end Teacher Appreciation Week, know that the best way to honor all teachers is to simply respect us. Listen to us. Trust us. Believe in us. Support us. Work with us. Join with us to stop this steady stream of bad ideas in Indiana. Join with us to advocate for ideas that really work.

And most importantly, just let us teach.

This really is the best way to show your appreciation. It’s the best way to help us serve your children and our communities better.

It is the best way to ensure that the art of teaching continues.

The best way to thank us is to simply let us do what we love.

Teacher Appreciation Week 2014: A Special Place Defined by Two Special College Teachers

by Jim Lang

And then there was college and the IU School of Journalism. I double majored in English and journalism and spent an extra year earning my education degree, but the J-School was always my home on the IU campus. Those were the classes that most defined my college years. To this day, the Ernie Pyle Hall School of Journalism remains the most special place in Bloomington for me. Those who sat through a lecture class in the old, pre-renovated Ernie Pyle lecture hall and took notes on the far-too-tiny and intricately carved-up wooden desks know what I mean – you know you’re smiling at that memory now.

For me, the teachers have always been what most defined the excellence in the IU School of Journalism. We had great teachers. Yes, they were journalists, writers, photographers, researchers, graphic designers, and artists, too, but most of all, they were teachers. They were people who shaped our lives. And those of us fortunate enough to have studied, learned, and graduated from the J-School are all connected by the experiences and stories we shared with the teachers who influenced us the most.

For me, those teachers were Claude Cookman and Jack Dvorak.

I took a graphic design class from Claude back in the days when graphic design consisted of colored pencils, border tape, x-acto knives, and Pagemaker.

Pause for veteran graphic designers to nod and smile while everyone else takes a moment to Google “border tape,” “x-acto knife,” and “Pagemaker.”

The quality I remember the most about Claude’s teaching was his ability to demand excellence from each student in a remarkably comfortable way. He took a genuine interest in each of us as individuals and honored our diverse talents and backgrounds. He made it clear that we were all learning together in our classroom community and that the responsibility for our learning was ours.

As a teacher myself, the quality I have always most admired about Claude is that he never stops learning himself. He is a lifelong learner who has a gift for bringing out each student’s very best. His lessons have remained with me in my own classroom over 20 years later. When my own journalism students attend the IU School of Journalism to further their education, I always provide this advice: Take Claude Cookman’s classes.

I couldn’t possibly count the number of ways and times Jack Dvorak has been there for me professionally and personally in the 27 years I have known him.

I first met Jack when I attended the IU High School Journalism Institute as a high school senior in 1987, his first year as director of a program that has always meant a great deal to me. Since then Jack has served numerous roles in my life – teacher, faculty adviser, employer, mentor, and friend. Years ago he gave me the great gift of hiring me as a floor counselor at HSJI. I never left. Twenty-five summers later, I’m still there, although now I am teaching and my former students work as counselors. HSJI continues to provide guidance and opportunities for my own students at Floyd Central High School.

Jack has always been an advocate for scholastic journalism through HSJI and his consistent support and research, but his greatest contribution as an educator has been shaping the lives of countless students and educators with his wisdom, patience, kindness, and generous spirit.

More than any educator I know, Jack Dvorak makes those around him better simply by being himself. I would not be the teacher or person I am today without him.

I was blessed with so many outstanding teachers and professors at IU, particularly in the School of Journalism. These educators made IU a truly special place.

Friday: The Art of Teaching

Teacher Appreciation Week 2014: The Places I Loved and the Lessons I Learned in High School

by Jim Lang

The next four years Jeffersonville High School took me into the world of high school journalism, and thanks to Tony Willis, I never really left. To this day no educational experience has so thoroughly shaped me as a person and as a teacher as being a member of The Hyphen newspaper staff. I loved every minute of it.

I learned to write and report in Tony Willis’s classroom. I learned how to lead and listen, to rely on and value others. I learned how to work with my peers as a team and how to problem solve. And along the way I gained valuable friendships and experienced a love for scholastic journalism that guides virtually every decision I make in my own classroom today.

Mr. Willis’s newspaper room (it was always more than just a classroom) was my home for four years of high school. I carry the lessons I learned from him and my fellow Hyphen journalists to my own student journalists every day. He influenced me in a way that no other teacher ever has.

That’s what I remember the most about Jeffersonville High School – the incredible number of exceptional teachers who contributed so much to who I am today.

French teacher Jenni Herfel initiated my love for travel during a 20-day, 5-nation European class trip in 1985 that remains one of my favorite high school experiences. Traveling with Mrs. Herfel was just like learning in her classroom – it was a fun adventure.

Social studies teacher Margaret Shea taught me to love history and to think deeply, critically, and logically; to this day, I still love solving logic problems because of her European history class.

Government teacher Bill Wilson introduced me to my love for politics and government. English teachers Rita Blois and Judie Wortham continued to introduce me to authors and books that I loved. Reading was fun in their classes. Their colleague, Carolyn Carter, pushed me as a writer more than any English teacher ever has, and in doing so, sharpened my writing skills for college and beyond. Chemistry teacher Jim Kennedy was the strictest teacher I’ve ever had – I had to work every day to earn a “B” in his class. More than any teacher, Mr. Kennedy taught me how to study and to push beyond barriers to learn.

And then there was Jill O’Daniel. I spent three consecutive years in her French classes. Every day was fun. I confess I don’t remember a lot of high school French – Bonjour! Je m’appelle Jim! Aujourd’hui! Um, and oddly enough, Ferme la bouche! But French was just like journalism – project-based, interactive, and challenging. We used to create elaborate projects and posters using French terms. We all had French names – I was Jacques for three years. And perhaps most of all, I remember really enjoying learning with my fellow students. Ms. O’Daniel had this oddly sneaky way of always being prepared yet always placing the responsibility for our learning in our hands. She made me a better student, and in doing so, ultimately has made me a better teacher, too.

My high school years prepared me perfectly for life. Jeffersonville High School was a school full of special, dedicated teachers who worked every day to make a lasting impact in the lives of their students.

And here’s the thing. Don’t let the false rhetoric of education “reform” and misguided emphasis we now place on standardized tests and school-wide grades fool you – Jeffersonville High School is still filled with dedicated, incredibly talented educators. The names have changed. The challenges are different. But the dedication to the success of each child remains.

Thursday: A Special Place Defined by Two Special College Teachers

Teacher Appreciation Week 2014: Patience, Priesthood, and a Middle School Prediction

by Jim Lang

My middle school years were spent at Sacred Heart in Jeffersonville, where Anne Malone introduced me to the world of books. Her shelves were stocked with Agatha Christie mysteries. I’m sure I checked out and devoured every whodunit.

Exceedingly kind and always patient, Mrs. Malone pushed me to embrace the unfamiliar, and in doing so built my confidence in ways I did not appreciate at the time. I played a priest in an eighth-grade production of short stories that Mrs. Malone directed (just call me Fr. Jim, I guess). That was the beginning and end of my theatrical career, but as the quiet kid who rarely stepped out of the box, I remember that night and those moments as some of my favorites in middle school.

I believed more in myself because Anne Malone believed in me. And when I graduated from Sacred Heart and moved on to high school, Mrs. Malone included a prediction in her comments that she wrote in my yearbook – that she would someday enjoy reading my work as a writer or as a journalist.

She was close. Of course, neither of us knew at the time that my love for writing and journalism would blend so well with my love for teaching.

I’m sure that Anne Malone had something to do with that.

Wednesday: The Places I Loved and the Lessons I Learned in High School