Indiana Education Reform: Why All the Dysfunction?

MUNCIE, INDIANA (news) – We’ve experienced lots of excitement in Muncie with our bus referendum and school consolidation issues. At the state level, Indiana education reform is offering plenty of headlines, but only a few of us know why. For those of you living in the county who think you’re immune to all the challenges, don’t get too comfortable.

I posted on our Facebook page about parents and teachers erupting in Chicago and New York over Common Core testing to raise standards for students. We’ve talked with people all around the state who are very knowledgeable about what is taking place in education reform, yet I’ve not read any of it in the newspapers.

We read published notes of what happened at this meeting or that conference, or worse yet, the newspaper publishes letters written by politicians in op-ed pieces. We read about the dysfunction because it sells newspapers. Our StarPress has professors or “education professionals” who write about education, but do not disclose their conflicts of interest.

We’ve listened to them all, and it’s confusing. It was clear to us during the local educational issues on consolidation and bus referendums, there is much more going on which is reinforced when we see our Governor and School Superintendent clashing against each other.

What is really going on?

How can we make good decisions if we’re not properly informed?

In the case of our local bus referendum, it’s obvious we cannot. The local Tea Party told citizens the money was there for buses, and so many residents voted against the property tax increase, only to find out afterward, they got duped. We sat and listened last night as both the Chief Financial Officer and Superintendent reiterated very slowly, “We don’t have the money to fund bus transportation for the school year of 2014-2015.”

Since the bus referendum failed, the school is at the mercy of the state – will they grant the waiver requesting to suspend bus service after this year, or will the state force them to find the money?

We hear education is broken and requires fixing. Did we hear why it is broken? We hear test results are down this year – changes need to be made. Why are scores down?

Former Gov. Mitch Daniels started down one path of education reform and test scores seem to be improving, but why? Are charter schools starting to skew those scores? Are private schools cherry picking students who perform above average while sending mediocre performers back to underfunded public schools?

While the test scores might be improving, we are hearing from parents and teachers who are yelling at administrators to stop or slow down with all the standardized tests. We’ve heard countless complaints from industry and college professors who see students who have been molded into test takers, but lack critical thinking skills. Our students are taught to memorize material so they can answer correctly on a test, but cannot solve elementary problems.

So many variables and agendas, it’s hard for voters to be properly informed. If you factor in all the media coverage which has its own bias, it only makes it worse. We can’t trust them either since we have already discovered that Gannett, who operates the IndyStar and StarPress, has been sharing mostly the conservative side of the story.

Here is the problem in a nutshell – we have multiple ideas, concept and motives for education reform. Let’s take a look at a few of them:

  • Student-centered – they want a teacher who cares and treats them with respect and dignity.
  • Teacher-centered –  they want to be treated with respect and allowed to do what they were trained to do in school. They want to build a bond with their student so teaching and learning can take place.
  • School-centered – the school administrators and boards are responsible to both the community and state for overall school performance in fulfilling their mission and being fiscally responsible.
  • Corporate-centered – the book publishers and testing companies are motivated by profit or selling books/curriculum and providing the means to test student performance and measure teacher effectiveness.
  • Policy-centered – this is the one that gets tricky because it involves ideology or belief systems. From our perspective, there are two primary belief structures:
    • Corporate/Charter – these are your corporate reformers backed by monied interests who believe teacher unions are responsible for poor performance by students. These are innovators creating solutions to educate students with lower costs. The publishers provide books and curriculum; the technology companies sell computers to the students; the testing companies compile their progress; the data companies compile student demographics for further analysis. This group is focused on profit making schemes and consists of both republicans and democrats.
    • Student/Public – this group believes student have underperformed because there is too much focus on testing and point out issues related to the students as human beings i.e. poverty and all issues related to lower socioeconomic status which have been plentiful over the past several decades. They believe if you solve these issues, then student performance will increase.

We’ll expand further on these perspectives since we are just scratching the surface about the subject. As we gather more information from those who are more informed about the subject, we’ll make revisions. We read and hear plenty from all sides, although much of the motives underlying the corporate-centered perspective of Gov. Mike Pence is unclear because it lacks transparency. He says he’s focusing on the students, but his actions and policy decisions reveal he is aligned with the corporate-centered group.

While it’s true that the governor sets policy for the state, Gov. Pence is completely disregarding the most recent election where Tony Bennett, who was clearly an advocate for the corporate takeover of public schools, was defeated by a landslide indicating that Hoosiers support Glenda Ritz who advocates for public education with an emphasis on the student-teacher relationship.

This issue is so critical, Muncie Voice is going to set up a menu category to maintain articles on education reform. As we mentioned in yesterday’s article, there has been an ultra-conservative movement taking place in the country whose main goal is to eradicate unions of all kinds. As we stated earlier, complicating matters is the corporate owned “press” has virtually endorsed the lack of transparency by just allowing it to happen by not exposing the monied interests and their motives for reforming education in this country.

Hoosiers need to wake up now before our public school system gets turned over to the same conceptual profiteers who ran up the costs of healthcare to the point we cannot afford to invest in our country. Don’t let them do the same thing to public education.

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Todd Smekens

Journalist, consultant, publisher, and servant-leader with a passion for truth-seeking. Enjoy motorcycling, meditation, and spending quality time with my daughter and rescue hound. Spiritually-centered first and foremost. Lived in multiple states within the USA and frequent traveler to the mountains.

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