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.

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My twenty ‘truths’ about education and reform

by Jim Lang

Writing and maintaining this blog has become like therapy for me, especially when some clueless legislator or governmental body pretends to know one iota about education.

On days like today, when the Indiana Supreme Court ignores our state constitution and unanimously upholds legislation that provides government-supported handouts…oh, I mean vouchers…to families to send children to private and/or religious schools, I feel like I have to vent.

On days like today, when Kentucky senator Rand Paul calls for federal legislation to expand vouchers (essentially the same irresponsible legislation supported by “Mr. 47 Percent” Mitt Romney), I feel like I have to do something to maintain the illusion that educators’ concerns and frustrations are actually listened to by our political “leaders.”

So, today, I am particularly disillusioned and annoyed. And to those who know me well, this means I must vent, often sarcastically and even maliciously, or explode. And since I do not want to explode during what has been an otherwise relaxing Spring Break, here are my own 20 “truths” about education, one for each year I have been teaching, and in no particular order:

1.  There are far more bad parents than bad teachers.

2. If your school is successful, it is primarily because it is a reflection of a successful community, quality parenting, and dedicated teachers.

3. If your school is failing, it is primarily because it is a reflection of a failing community, poor parenting, and dedicated teachers who strive everyday to make up for deficiencies of a failing community and poor parenting.

4. While critics waste time whining about teachers’ unions, for-profit corporations are shaping curriculum, testing, and schools far more than unions ever did.

5. Choosing to send your children to private schools should not in any way release you from your societal and moral obligation to pay taxes to support public schools for those who cannot afford private schools. Previous generations understood this.

6. Private and religious schools should remain absolutely independent of state and federal government intrusion…except when they accept vouchers.

7. Those who constantly criticize public schools for “indoctrinating” students have either rarely been in a classroom or are guilty of indoctrinating their own children. Or both.

8. If you are shocked that your child is suddenly failing a class, you aren’t paying enough attention to your child.

9. Teachers don’t get summers “off.” Ever.

10. Teachers don’t get weekends “off.” Ever.

11. Standardized testing is a waste of time.

12. Common formative assessment (n): an educational opportunity for children designed to ensure educators can prove to even the most illiterate person that we’re doing what we say we’re doing. Syn: waste of time. Sentence: I spent four hours grading my common formative assessments and entering the data into a spread sheet, and it revealed exactly what I already knew!

13. Voucher (n): a government-supported handout, primarily for private and/or religious schools, disguised as a tax break for people to distract them from the fact that our state government is failing in its constitutional duty to ensure a quality, public school system for all. Syn: handout. Sentence: My voucher helps ensure that I can exercise my already-existing freedom to send my child to any school I’d like without having to fully pay for it.

14. Merit pay (n): 1. a tiny or invisible token of appreciation from legislators to educators in hopes we won’t see what they’re really up to. 2. dumbest educational reform idea ever, and in Indiana, that’s saying a lot. Syn: a tiny or invisible bribe. Sentence: We’ll reward highly effective teachers with $400 of merit pay, which will prompt them to work even harder and make them feel really good about themselves.

15. If education is its own reward, then weighted grades should eliminated.

16. If Indiana citizens should receive tax credits in the form of vouchers for poorly-performing public schools, then teachers should receive tax credits for poorly-performing students and parents.

17. If anyone can now become a teacher or superintendent in Indiana with minimum of educational training, then I should be permitted to perform major surgery with a minimum of medical training.

18. Most online classes are a joke. Really.

19. Those who criticize educators and schools the most have an ulterior motive…and it’s not the well-being of our nation’s children.

20. If any of the above ideas offend you, you’re probably part of the problem.

Feel free to add your own educational “truths” in the Comments section.

I now feel much better. Until next time…

How should teachers be rewarded?

by Jim Lang

How should teachers be rewarded?

That was the question posed to me by my state senator, Ron Grooms, this morning. It’s a serious question with no easy answers.

We’ve all heard phrases like “merit pay” and “performance-based compensation” thrown around by those advocating education reform in Indiana and in other states. We’re also aware of what much of the research shows: that performance incentives like merit pay have little impact on students’ academic achievements. One look at the results of the 2010 National Center for Performance Incentives study from Vanderbilt University proves this.

I have always believed that those who support merit pay fundamentally misunderstand teachers. Quite simply, money doesn’t motivate most of us. If it did, we’d be using our considerable skills to make a lot more money in another profession. Most teachers I know will not be motivated to grade more papers, develop more exceptional lesson plans, or provide that extra time to a struggling student simply because of the promise of a financial reward. And I certainly do not think financial rewards should be provided based on our students’ test scores.

Still, Ron’s question remains, and I think it’s a perfect opportunity to get a discussion going while perhaps providing him some feedback.

So, to my teacher friends, fellow educators, parents, students, and anyone else who’s reading and who cares to comment, here are some questions to think about:

  • What are your suggestions for rewarding exceptional teachers?
  • How should this be measured and/or determined by local school corporations?
  • What should our state legislators consider in determining how to reward good teachers?

Feel free to respond to any or all of the above questions in the comments section. If you feel comfortable doing so, let us know a little about your teaching experience and/or interest in Indiana education as well.

This should make for an interesting dialogue.