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.

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.

Letter to Southern Indiana Teachers: Join Us for April 1 Teacher Rally for Education

by Jim Lang

Dear Southern Indiana Teacher:

It is Sunday morning and like you I am counting down the final hours of Spring Break before we return to our students and our classrooms.

If you are like I am, you’re beginning to compile The List.

We all have versions of The List, that odd blend of assignments to grade, lessons to plan, phone calls to make, and meetings to attend during the week. If your list is like mine, it often also includes strange lingo that only educators could decipher – ISTEP, CFA, ECA, PD, PLC MTG, AP/IB TEST, and most recently, Accuplacer Test. These are the activities and acronyms that shape our lives.

For years I have used a yellow legal pad for The List, probably a tribute to my dad, a retired attorney. During the particularly busy weeks it seems my success or failure as an educator hinges on how many items I can feverishly scratch off of The List. Sometimes I mutter a satisfied “Yes!” to myself as I strike a line through an activity that was particularly time consuming or painful. Other times certain items linger on The List, simply being relocated or reassigned by a frustrated-looking arrow, a sign that either time ran out or unexpected activities invaded, shoving that item to another day.

As our Spring Break winds down and we begin the eager march to the end of the school year, our lists expand with job and family responsibilities. It is easy to ignore or delete items on The List as we work selflessly to serve our students and families. In my twenty-plus years as an Indiana educator, the one constant in education is this: teachers are the most selfless, noble people I know. We sacrifice our own time, energy, plans, and well being to serve others.

Every great teacher I know would ignore every item on The List in a minute to help one of our students or to serve our school.

It is in this spirit of service that I ask every Southern Indiana teacher to add this item to his or her list for this Tuesday, April 1:

Teacher Rally for Education – Tuesday, April 1 – 4-5:30 p.m. – New Albany Public Library

Yes, I know your Tuesday list, like mine, is likely already full. I am also certain that every activity on your list is essential, meaningful, or special. Your time is in demand, especially this week when grades are due and children and students are returning to their post-Spring Break routines.

I am asking to you find time and space on your Tuesday afternoon list anyway. Squeeze the time and place into the margin of that jam-packed April 1 list. Highlight it. Underline it in red ink. Mark it “urgent” on your phone calendar. Be there. Please.

Here’s why. This year’s election is the most important moment for Southern Indiana students, schools, and our fellow teachers since we helped elect Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz in 2012. And Tuesday’s Rally for Education is an essential first step in continuing the work we began in 2012.

We accomplished something special and necessary in 2012. We joined with Hoosiers from all political persuasions to send a clear message to state government – value our schools, listen to educators, and abandon the education “reform” schemes burdening our students and damaging our schools.

As teachers, we experienced firsthand the damaging effects of Indiana education policy and knew we were headed in the wrong direction. When we explained those issues to Hoosier voters, they overwhelmingly stood with us to send a simple message to state leaders: Stop. Enough. You’re Wrong.

Indiana voters spoke clearly – we value our schools. We support public education.

And the response? A legislative “double down” on bad ideas. Take, for example, the governor’s creation of an unnecessary second education agency with no legislative or public debate at all; or an expansion of the nation’s largest government-sponsored school voucher program that redirects tax money to private schools and to schools not even in our own district; more standardized testing that consumes valuable instructional time, including most recently the Accuplacer test; a state-ordered rush to adopt new academic standards to replace the Common Core Standards that the state ordered us to adopt in the first place; continued disregard for teachers’ voices in the education legislative process.

In short, more wasted time and money with few real results. Meanwhile, Indiana schools are being squeezed financially harder than ever as class sizes grow — some are even considering charging for or eliminating transportation or other elective programs and services – while the State of Indiana pours millions of dollars into standardized testing, failing charter schools, and more layers of government bureaucracy.

No reasonable person could support this agenda or believe it is what’s best for our kids or our schools. No reasonable person could legitimately argue that we should continue down this same path.

This Tuesday provides a new chance to continue what we started in 2012. It is our chance to support Glenda Ritz, who will be speaking at the event. It is our chance to listen to and support pro-education candidates like Dr. Kevin Sue Bailey and Heidi Sellers, candidates for the Indiana House of Representatives; and Chuck Freiberger, candidate for the Indiana Senate. Most significantly, though, it is our chance to gather together as educators to speak and organize for our students, colleagues, and profession.

This election year provides our next, best chance to accomplish something as essential to the success of our students, colleagues, and schools as any lesson plan we ever create – sending educators to the Indiana legislature who actually understand the issue of education and who will provide Glenda Ritz the support she needs to accomplish genuine education reform.

Our work is not yet finished. We must send knowledgeable voices to the Statehouse to speak on our behalf. And we must join together now to initiate that change.

So, I am asking you to find the time in your busy schedule to join us at the New Albany Public Library this Tuesday from 4-5:30. I know The List is cluttered and full. But if your list is like mine, it is full because of your commitment to and love for your students, families, and schools.

If you believe this cause can help you serve your students, families, and schools better, then Tuesday’s Teacher Rally for Education could be the most important item on The List.

Join us. Become the change you want to see.

Indiana’s rejection of Common Core reveals need to question our state’s leadership

by Jim Lang

Well, it’s official.

Indiana has become the first state to officially withdraw from the controversial Common Core Standards. Somewhere in Indiana I am sure conservatives who live in mortal fear of the federal government are celebrating their victory over big government intrusion.

But perhaps instead of celebrating we should take a final look at who brought Common Core to our doorsteps in the first place.

Let’s begin by examining the language in a January, 2010 memo from the Indiana Department of Education and superintendent of public instruction Tony Bennett outlining Indiana’s feedback on the proposed Common Core Standards:

“Indiana supports the efforts put forth in collectively developing a core set of academic standards in English language arts and mathematics. Indiana is committed to preparing students with the knowledge and skills they need for college and careers as well as to be prepared to compete globally. As evidenced by our Race to the Top application, Indiana is committed to the adoption and implementation of the Common Core Standards in August 2010.”

In 2010, Republicans like Bennett embraced the Common Core initiative. In fact, it was one of the cornerstones of much of the GOP-led education “reform” movement.

And that Race to the Top application that is mentioned? That was a reference to Indiana’s failed attempt to “win” up to $250 million dollars in federal funding, which was partially linked to implementation of Common Core Standards.

Yes, Indiana Republicans were falling all over themselves in 2010 trying to secure millions of dollars from the same federal government that they so regularly criticize as intrusive.

And it is important to note that the real conservatives in halting the Republican attempt to link Indiana education to the federal government cash trough were members of the Indiana State Teachers Association.

That’s right. The ISTA refused to sign on to the Republican-led plan to secure federal Race to the Top funding, which is one of the reasons the application was abandoned.

Teachers – and their union — were the real conservatives here.

Fast forward then, to August of 2010, when the Indiana State Board of Education unanimously approved Common Core Standards, describing the standards as “robust and relevant to the real world.”

Who appointed the members of the Indiana State Board of Education that approved these standards?

Republican Governor Mitch Daniels.

In fact, a well-written 2013 editorial in the Indiana Economic Digest concisely outlines the history of Common Core, including the fact that it began as an initiative by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

The federal government was never involved until President Barack Obama and his Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, linked the Common Core initiative to their competitive Race to the Top initiative.

My reasoning for re-examining this brief history of Common Core Standards in Indiana is not to condemn. As an educator and teacher, I questioned Common Core Standards from the beginning, but not because I felt they were a part of a maniacal federal government takeover of our schools. I just didn’t see any need to trade our state standards, which were among the strongest in the nation, for the Common Core Standards. And while I disagreed with the need for Common Core, I do believe that most who supported the initiative at the time were thinking about students first.

However, I also believe that Hoosier voters have a responsibility to their children and to our schools to remember that Republicans have controlled Indiana politics for 10 years. In that time, Indiana has proposed and passed more education “reform” legislation than any other state, measures that have radically altered Indiana public and private schools. In my view as an Indiana educator, most of that “reform” has been disastrous.

So, our Republican leaders now turn their backs on Common Core Standards – their plan – because they claim to oppose the very federal intrusion they once sought.

Apparently, they were wrong about Common Core. This should make us all wonder what other education legislation has been faulty, misguided, or just plain wrong.

Perhaps it is time to question and re-examine the political leadership in our own state instead of blaming Washington, D.C. for our frustrations and legislative missteps.

Hoosier educators can finally fight the WAR ON CHRISTMAS!!

by Jim Lang

Well, Christmas came early for Indiana teachers and our students.

After years of budget cuts and education legislation and rhetoric that would make Ebenezer Scrooge proud, one state senator is poised to finally address the most significant problem facing Hoosier schools today … the WAR ON CHRISTMAS!

First, you may notice I have capitalized the WAR ON CHRISTMAS! We all know this is necessary, as a WAR as significant and pervasive as this one requires extra EMPHASIS, as well as excessive use of EXCLAMATION POINTS!!

According to an article in the Indianapolis Star, state senator Jim Smith, R-Charlestown, will introduce legislation in January that would “preserve Christmas traditions in Indiana schools.”

Specifically, the legislation will protect public school educators who want to celebrate Christmas. As Smith said in a press release, Christmas is under attack, and Hoosier teachers fear acknowledging Christmas traditions in our classrooms because of potential lawsuits.

I think I speak for all educators when I state that this is a true CHRISTMAS  MIRACLE!

After years of budget cuts, school closings, program cuts, larger class sizes, an increased  emphasis on standardized testing, less local control of our schools, an increasingly convoluted teacher evaluation system, growing child poverty in Indiana, and education “reforms” that marginalize teachers’ voices and defy all current research and best practice, the good senator has swept in like Buddy the Elf to address my greatest frustration as a teacher and fight for my right to hang shiny ornaments on a plastic tree in my classroom.

Finally, we educators are once again empowered to fight the WAR ON CHRISTMAS! in our classrooms, just as our founders who sought religious freedom for all intended for us to do.

Imagine the immediate changes that will result if this legislation is passed.

Suddenly, for the first time ever, public school music programs (that haven’t been cut due to decreased funding) can FINALLY! invite the public to listen to holiday music at Christmas concerts.

Elementary art teachers (whose programs haven’t been cut due to decreased funding) can FINALLY! fill those three leftover minutes after standardized testing by letting the little tykes draw a Christmas tree, Santa Claus, or the Baby Jesus.

Educators can triumphantly wish our students a MERRY CHRISTMAS! or HAPPY HOLIDAYS!, confident that we no longer risk the danger of sacrificing our “highly effective” status, losing our twenty dollars of merit pay, or being fired or imprisoned as a result.

As Smith points out, “Christmas is under attack in a way that no other cultural traditions are.”

As a public school teacher who has watched school closings, program cuts, budget cuts, benefit cuts, larger class sizes, education “reforms” that have re-routed public tax dollars to private schools and failing charter schools, and a devaluing of the teaching profession by Indiana governors and legislators through their rhetoric and policies, it truly warms my heart that we have a legislator who is so willing to fight for a tradition that is so persistently under attack.

Hoosiers must not forget who is really responsible for Common Core Standards in Indiana

by Jim Lang

News that the very people who have created a mess of Indiana education are now considering abandoning Common Core Standards should have educators and critics of corporate education “reform” especially thankful this Thanksgiving.

Yes, the GOP, the party that signed on to the set of national standards created by governors and state school chiefs in 2010, now appears ready to reverse itself, according to an article in the NWI Times.

If true, could it be that the GOP, the party that eagerly tore into Indiana public schools like crazed dogs into a Thanksgiving turkey, has actually listened to educators they have scorned and insulted for so long?

More significantly, could it be that Hoosier Republicans are finally going to act like conservatives again and begin rejecting a nationalized set of standards that wastes money and offers little-to-no improvement in schools at all?

Yeah, right.

More than likely, they see the backlash building against Common Core as other states begin backing out of the initiative. Even GOP darling Scott Walker in Wisconsin is feeling the Common Core heat as the Tea Party pressures him to pull out of Common Core.

Suddenly, legislators all across America are realizing what Indiana Republicans — including former governor Mitch Daniels, former superintendent of public instruction Tony Bennett, the State Board of Education, and Republican leaders in the House and Senate failed to realize from the start — that the national Common Core initiative financed largely by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and embraced by corporate leaders, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, potentially reduces local control and comes with a hefty price tag.

In other words, it’s not conservative.

As an skeptic of the Common Core initiative since the beginning, I suppose I should be thankful that Hoosier leaders may have finally seen the light and are listening to what so many qualified Indiana educators have said about the Common Core Standards since the beginning — that they were expensive and unnecessary.

But I suspect that this sudden enlightenment has less to do with what’s best for students and schools and more to do with manipulating Hoosier voters.

According to the NWI Times article, House Speaker Brian Bosma calls the Common Core Standards “a distraction,” and points out, “It is the only thing that approaches the phrase ‘Obamacare’ with concern and violent reaction around the state.”

And here we may be seeing next move in the GOP manipulation machine — subtly linking the Common Core fiasco to Barack Obama. Because everything that doesn’t work must be Barack Obama’s fault.

Now, it is certainly true that the Obama Administration and current Secretary of Education Arne Duncan leaped eagerly onto the Common Core bandwagon and have made it a focal point of their Race to the Top agenda, even if they haven’t always done so eloquently, as seen by Duncan’s recent misstep in insulting suburban moms. As I have stated previously here, this President is no friend to public education.

But one view of the timeline of the Common Core initiative reveals that Washington, D.C. and Barack Obama had nothing — that’s right, nothing — to do with the creation of Common Core. In fact, it was governors and state school chiefs during the Bush administration — many of the same education reformers who embraced corporate education “reform” in their own states — who began developing Common Core Standards before Barack Obama was even a candidate for president.

A closer look at implementation of Common Core in Indiana reveals a similar truth: this has been an agenda that Indiana Republicans once proudly embraced.

It was clearly their agenda, and they implemented it despite concerns from many vocal critics.

So, let’s be clear here. Barack Obama, Arne Duncan, and the federal government simply supported an initiative that was developed and initiated in many states, including in Indiana, by Republicans.

It is important that Hoosier voters understand this, because I have a feeling that the very people who are responsible for creating this mess will now attempt to initiate the most elaborate flip-flop in the history of Indiana politics.

Suddenly, the very people who have worked tirelessly to implement one nitwit education “reform” idea after another will now stand united against the evils of federal intrusion, socialism, Barack Obama, and any other terrifying big government monster they can create to distract Hoosier voters from the truth — that the Common Core Standards are the result of corporate education “reform” initiated at the state level far more than at a federal level.

The roots of Common Core lie in the corporate interests that seek to own and profit from our schools. While the Obama Administration hooked the federal government to the Common Core train to disaster, it was initially the plan of state officials, largely Republicans, that constructed the train, laid the tracks, and charted the destination. Especially in Indiana.

It was their plan.

Just like the creation of an unnecessary second education agency at taxpayer expense with no legislative or public debate at all.

Just like the implementation of the nation’s most expansive government-sponsored school voucher program.

Just like the support for charter schools that often never exceed — or even meet — the academic standards or accomplishments of most public schools.

Just like their continued support for ideas like merit pay that studies prove have little-to-no impact at all on student achievement or teacher motivation to excel.

Just like their continued willful disrespect for superintendent of public instruction Glenda Ritz, the voters she represents, and defiance of Open Door policies designed to maintain transparent government.

One of the advantages to having one political party so solidly in control of every level of state government is that it eventually becomes easy for voters to see who is responsible for all decisions, both good and bad.

Hoosier voters began to realize last year that we do not like what we see when it comes to Indiana education policy. That is why we elected Glenda Ritz. And since then, we have seen a double-down of bad policy, more disrespect toward teachers and educators, and a disturbing lack of good judgment and ethics by our state government.

And that is the real reason, I believe, why we may see such a sudden shift away from Common Core Standards.

Because those most responsible for Common Core Standards in Indiana now need voters to conveniently forget that this was their idea. They own this, and they now need us to forget that fact.

As voters and citizens, we owe it to our children, our schools, and ourselves to understand and remember whose agenda some of our state “leaders” now prepare to abandon.

Their own.

Education ‘reform’ that only Dwight K. Schrute could love

by Jim Lang

Ever since Indiana governors and legislators began dismantling our public schools through their education reform schemes, I have wondered how they developed such an exhaustive list of idiotic ideas.

After all, it takes a special kind of stupidity to be so consistently, well, stupid.

This week I think I have discovered the answer. They have apparently been consulting Dwight K. Schrute.

Corporate education "reform" that only Dwight K. Schrute could love.

Corporate education “reform” that only Dwight K. Schrute and The Office gang could love.

For those who do not follow the antics of NBC’s The Office, Dwight is the power-hungry assistant to the regional manager of Scranton paper company Dunder Mifflin. When Dwight’s not feuding with his co-workers or digging his stapler out of a lemon jello mold (trust me…just watch Season 1), he’s developing new schemes to take over the office and make his co-workers miserable.

As I re-watched an episode titled “Doomsday” from Season 8 this week, I suddenly realized that Dwight may be sharing his management techniques and not-so-brilliant ideas with Indiana’s elected “leaders.”

In the episode, hapless regional manager Andy Bernard is ordered by CEO Robert California to “end the mistakes” being made by his workers. Dwight then eagerly implements his new “accountability booster” management system that, as he puts it, “holds people accountable for everyone else’s work.” The system is designed to severely punish the entire office staff if they make five or more errors during the work day. Always the voice of reason, it is Dwight’s rival, Jim Halpert, who rightfully describes the “accountability booster” as a “doomsday” strategy.

The idea of “holding people accountable for everyone else’s work” to “end the mistakes” makes for an entertaining half-hour of comedy with Dwight, Andy, Jim, and the rest of The Office gang. However, here’s a truth that’s not nearly as funny — thanks to our own merry band of “accountability boosters” here in Indiana, this has also become the driving philosophy behind the education of our children in school.

Consider the new evaluation systems that now tie teachers’ pay and “measure” their effectiveness with student scores on standardized tests that can be easily affected by a student’s bad day, lack of sleep or breakfast, test anxiety, or indifference to taking any test at all.

Yes, teachers are being held accountable to everyone else’s work, as well as societal problems like poverty or poor parenting that studies prove will impact those scores as much as — and possibly more than — teacher instruction.

And, let’s not forget the consistent problems Indiana and other states have had with testing irregularities that can also impact those same scores.     Perhaps Indiana officials should ask CTB/McGraw-Hill to use Dwight’s “accountability booster” to “end the mistakes” that continue to cost taxpayers money and disrupt our educational process.

Or how about the controversial plan to grade and label each Indiana school with an A-F letter grade and a promise (or is it threat?) that the state will take over failing schools?

Ah, yes, the ultimate “doomsday” strategy that turns “failing” public schools over to charter school corporations that will magically solve the problems, or, as Robert California says, “fix the mistakes.” Of course, it’s easy to “fix” the mistakes when the system allows for convenient manipulation of data. Kind of gives an entirely different meaning to Dwight’s concept of  being an “accountability booster,” doesn’t it?

In fact, most Indiana education reform is based on the false premise that we can improve our schools and more effectively educate children if we just make teachers accountable for everyone else’s work.

When was the last time any of our elected officials in Indiana or nationwide developed an effective plan to address poverty, especially child poverty? How about debated ways to hold parents accountable for their children’s performance in school? Held a legislative hearing on the shrinking middle class? Boldly analyzed the fact that the wealthy continue to get richer in this country despite our harsh economic conditions? Examined why higher income communities have “more successful” schools, or questioned why “failing” schools are primarily in urban (and poorer) communities? Addressed the easiest and most obvious way to enhance student performance: reducing class size?

In other words, when will our “leaders” address everyone else’s responsibilities to educate our children, and examine the real reasons for struggling schools?

Instead, they follow the Dwight K. Schrute management model. They waste our time and money on more intrusive teacher evaluations, a punitive (and failed) A-F school rating system, government-sponsored voucher handouts, and corporate education reforms that are all based on the idea that children who struggle or fail are “mistakes” to be fixed, and that teachers must fix these mistakes…alone…or else.

It’s a scheme that would make Dwight Schrute proud. Almost.

You see, the truth is that comparing Dwight Schrute to our current crop of factually-challenged, willfully ignorant “leaders,” especially those in Indiana, is an insult to Dwight Schrute.

Yes, Dwight Schrute, the misguided, stubborn, fictional office manager, is more capable, reasonable, and ethical than any elected official that embraces education reform, because Dwight actually listens to reason.

At the end of the “Doomsday” episode, Dwight ultimately listens to his co-workers and abandons the punitive measures that would cost them all of their jobs. And while this is the kind of conveniently compassionate response that we usually only see in half-hour sitcoms, it is also the most necessary element to truly improving schools in Indiana and beyond.

It is time for our governors and legislators to finally listen to the millions of dedicated, devoted, talented educators to find real solutions to hold us all accountable for our children’s educations.

Because unlike most of the people currently making decisions about education, we are actually qualified to do so.

And because our children are not “mistakes” to be fixed.

If our “leaders” want to truly — and finally — lead, they should also remember another piece of wisdom from Dwight K. Schrute:

“Before I do anything I ask myself,  ‘Would an idiot do that?’ And if the answer is yes, I do not do that thing.”

The real story of Indiana education ‘reform’ — it’s a fraud

by Jim Lang

Another week, another news story revealing the truth about Indiana education “reform” — it’s a fraud.

A few weeks ago, the story was former governor Mitch Daniels’s attempts to ban historian Howard Zinn’s materials from Indiana classrooms.

As I wrote last week, Daniels’s actions revealed the motivation behind all Indiana education “reform” legislation — the cynical belief that teachers cannot be trusted.

This week, the focus shifted to former Indiana superintendent of public instruction Tony Bennett, now also the former school chief for Florida, after an Associated Press story revealed that under Bennett’s tenure in Indiana, an Indianapolis charter school run by a wealthy Republican donor had its grade changed.

Most Hoosier teachers and education experts have fought against Indiana’s education “reform” agenda because we have long realized the truth: it is a system based on half-truths, skewed research, and selfish motives, and it only improves one thing — the wallets of wealthy corporations and donors seeking to exploit our children and our schools for profit.

When you inject vast amounts of cash into the educational system, the system becomes political and corporate, and all decisions become self-serving. And, here’s the great irony of an education system that was sold to Hoosier voters as enhancing “accountability” — the very people who now hold schools and teachers “accountable” are the people who are contributing to the real problems in our schools in the first place.

School reform cannot be genuine or effective until we address the failure of the American family, increased poverty, and the problem of a shrinking middle class in a country where the rich continue to get richer. School reform must begin with honest discussions about family, poverty, and income inequality. Until we begin to address these issues, forget about effective schools in struggling communities.

So, Indiana and other states that have gleefully jumped on the corporate “reform” bandwagon have not improved schools at all. Not one bit. In fact, they make our schools worse. And, while I am sure that a defiant education “reformer” could very quickly toss out a statistic that reveals a stunning education miracle to prove my assertion wrong, remember this: we have learned this week that numbers can certainly be manipulated.

If we continue to support and elect corporate education “reformers” to distract us from our real problems with fake solutions like A-F grading systems, government-sponsored vouchers for private schools, corporate charter schools, merit pay, Common Core Standards, and other market-based “reform” solutions that improve virtually nothing, our true problems will only grow worse.

And so will our own culpability for these problems.

Public school educators who truly care about our children and our schools were right all along. There is no doubt about this now.

They fight for and teach our children despite the fact that their jobs grow more difficult with each new piece of “reform” legislation. They make a difference in the lives of children despite the fact that our state government now meddles in our schools and their classrooms more than ever before and continues to enact legislation based on a distrust of all educators.

My admiration for Indiana teachers grows each day. And yours should, too. And it’s time to finally listen to them. It is time to vote out anyone and everyone who supports these destructive policies.

It is time to finally address and solve our real problems.

So, those of us who truly support our schools and value education must carry a simple message to voters and citizens: the failure of Indiana’s education “reform”… and it will fail … won’t be because of Mitch Daniels or Tony Bennett, because the real story is not about these two men.

Indiana education “reform” will fail because it is a system designed to destroy rather than improve public schools while distracting us from our real problems and helping corporate “reformers” get richer. It is a fraud.

This is the real story.

It’s simple — Hoosier lawmakers do not trust teachers or understand education

by Jim Lang

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” ~Aristotle

When I return to my classroom next week for my twenty-first year of teaching, Aristotle’s quotation will be hanging in my classroom. It is a simple yet eloquent reminder for my students and for me that the true value of education is examining and evaluating everything, even ideas that may disturb or offend us.

Perhaps Aristotle’s quotation should also hang in the office of Purdue University president Mitch Daniels.

Recent revelations that as Indiana governor, Daniels sought to ban a book written by historian and anti-war activist Howard Zinn from classrooms prove that Daniels needs a reminder about the value of a quality education.

Daniels’s intentions, revealed in a set of 2010 emails obtained and released by the Associated Press, focused on Zinn’s controversial A People’s History of the United States, which was being used as a resource in Indiana teacher preparation courses.

Daniels’s critics charge his desire to ban Zinn’s book amounted to an assault on academic freedom. Even some of Purdue’s own professors released an open letter expressing concerns.

Supporters claim Daniels was right, referencing Zinn’s anti-war stance and liberal viewpoints, some even calling Zinn and his book “anti-American.”

Daniels himself later stated he was simply trying to keep Zinn’s book away from K-12 students. Perhaps this is why he called Zinn’s work “propaganda” and “execrable and anti-factual” in his emails.

Meanwhile, the debate over academic freedom continues, and Indiana teachers sadly nod our heads in unison.

Because, honestly, we told you so.

Daniels’s actions come as no surprise to so many Indiana educators, who have labored for years trying to provide a quality education to Hoosier students in spite of Daniels’s education “reform” policies that make our jobs more difficult with each passing year.

Because Daniels’s education “reform” agenda as governor, broad and sweeping in scope, sends the same basic message about education and teachers as his emails about Howard Zinn and his recent defense of his actions as governor — we teachers cannot be trusted.

What other conclusion could a reasonable person draw from Daniels’s defense at a Purdue trustees’ meeting: “The question is, would this lead to this material being taught to innocent school children? I promise that if the parents of Indiana understood what was in the book in question, 99 if not 100 out of 100 would want some other book used”?

The implied message is that Daniels, as governor, needed to protect our children from the threat of teachers who would use Zinn’s ideas and textbook to indoctrinate young people. He seems to suggest that somehow, teachers would present Zinn’s ideas and use his textbook as gospel truth.

This defense reveals a willful ignorance about the true nature of education and questions the integrity of all teachers.

You see, as a teacher, my primary job is to expose your children to all kinds of ideas, to help them critique and analyze those ideas, and to present and nurture the necessary skills for them to evaluate and think critically for themselves.

My job, as your children’s teacher, is to teach them how to value their own learning. And to achieve this, we must learn in a classroom where we examine even those ideas that challenge and disturb us the most. And, for this to work, you and your children must trust me. You must trust that my training, qualifications, passion for teaching, and respect for you and your children shape each and every decision I make in my classroom.

This is not easy, or comfortable, or clean. Real learning never is. It’s messy. It’s bothersome. It’s uncomfortable.

And it’s essential.

Because our children must learn to question, listen, defend, debate, and challenge. They must learn to value and respect the opposing viewpoints of others, even when they disagree. They must consider, too, why they believe what they believe. These critical thinking skills only happen in classrooms where ideas are shared, discussed, and evaluated, and where students trust the teacher and their peers.

And this is why Mitch Daniels is so very wrong — because he does not trust us. Because censoring academic materials — and make no mistake about it, this is censorship — assumes that a quality education should be sanitized and scrubbed free from ideas that disturb or challenge us. It assumes that our children are victims each time they step into a classroom with a teacher armed with a textbook, a syllabus, and a passion to teach.

And, it is the same kind of pessimism that defines virtually every piece of education “reform” that Daniels and Hoosier legislators so proudly take credit for. I have written before about Indiana’s expansive voucher program and the corporate education “reform” agenda that includes more testing, hefty financial perks for testing and educational publishing companies, absurd changes in teacher evaluations and training, and moronic ideas like “merit pay” in public education.

At the heart of all of these changes is a lack of trust for our teachers and a disrespect for the education profession in general. Somehow, we now believe that we must constantly test to ensure our children are learning, that we must evaluate each and every nuance of a teacher’s performance to the point of absurdity, and that it is a teacher’s primary responsibility to fill each child with knowledge like we fill our cars with gasoline.

Virtually every piece of Hoosier education reform in the last eight years is predicated on the notion that teachers cannot be effective unless we are measured, manipulated, or prodded. In short, we cannot be trusted.

And, yes, there are certainly some irresponsible teachers and ineffective schools. However, Daniels and reform-minded legislators enacted policies that judge all educators and schools the same — harshly. Indiana’s entire education “reform” agenda is based on the false assumption that the system is fundamentally broken and that no educator can be trusted to intrinsically do what is right.

Would anyone support a teacher who adopted a similar philosophy toward the children in his or her classroom? Why, then, do we continue to tolerate such shameful policies from our elected officials?

More ironic, however, is that this lack of trust in teachers and academic freedom was revealed in Daniels’s own emails. After all, it was Daniels himself who blamed last year’s election loss of then-superintendent of public instruction Tony Bennett to Glenda Ritz on unethical campaign tactics of teachers allegedly using school e-mail accounts. Somehow, it was easier to assume Ritz’s win was more the result of unethical behavior of teachers than of the political will of informed citizens.

But then again, Hoosier teachers were all-too-familiar with this kind of cynicism, which is why we joined so many voters in electing Ritz. After all, we cannot be trusted.

So, Aristotle’s quotation will serve as a call to action for my students and for me when we return to school next week. I want my students to embrace the opportunity to question, debate, evaluate, and learn.

I want them to value their education and trust themselves and their teachers more than Mitch Daniels and Indiana lawmakers do.