Thursday, June 25, 2015


by Doug Martin at Hoosier School Heist TV
When word broke recently that Indiana Republican state representative Bill Fine’s daughter–a Mitch Daniels-pick and Mike Pence-reinstated state board of ed. member–may become the new co-chair of the state board to share powers with supt. of public instruction Glenda Ritz, many were outraged.  Bill Fine had, in fact, “backed the bill to create the position of vice chairwoman” to the state board of education, and his daughter seldom agrees with Ritz.
As I expose in my book Hoosier School Heist, the whole so-called school reform movement in Indiana (and elsewhere) is a billionaire’s playground to buy legislators to privatize public schools.   And crony capitalism and conflicts of interest are the rule and NOT the exception.
And Bill Fine has money from those involved in the takeover of Indiana public education.
In October 2012, Fine received $5,000 from the Hoosiers for Economic Growth PAC detailed in Hoosier School Heist (see page 5 in this PDF).  For years, this PAC has been backed by Walmart, Amway, hedge fund managers, and several wealthy Indiana businesspeople, among others in and out of Indiana.
Since the PAC changed its name to Hoosiers for Quality Education recently, it has given over $400,000 to Indiana Republican candidates and committees since 2014.  One of these is the Indiana House Republican Campaign Committee, Fine’s chief funder.
Out of the $275,000 the Walmart-Amway front-group American Federation for Children handed the Hoosiers for Quality Education PAC in 2014, $50,000 came on October 10 and $100,000 in September (seepage 4).
On October 22, 2014, the Hoosiers for Quality Education PAC gave the Indiana House Republican Campaign Committee $25,000 and another$25,000 on October 24, 2014.
The Indiana House Republican Campaign Committee handed Fine $7,100on October 24, 2014 and $13,500 on October 17, 2014.
Yes, it is obvious, Bill Fine is doing his best to do what the extremely wealthy want so that he can open up that campaign chest and sing.
Doug Martin is the author of Hoosier School Heist : How Corporations and Theocrats Stole Democracy From Public Education, a book being read in over 130 cities and towns and 78 Indiana counties, 23 states, and the District of Columbia.  A regular guest on national and Indiana radio talk shows such as Justin Oakley’s Just Let Me Teach and Amos Brown’s Afternoons with Amos, Dr. Martin’s research has been or will soon be featured in the Washington Post Answer Sheet , ABC’sNightline, and the Associated Press

Friday, June 5, 2015

Is a contested primary a problem in a democracy?

I'm intrigued by the widely held notion that a contested primary is a bad thing. Yet this is what we hear from many - particularly supporters of  John Gregg's candidacy, in race the for Indiana Governor.

I would suggest the opposite.  I can't imagine another scenario more likely to reinvigorate the Indiana Democratic Party.

With Scott Pelath opting out of the race, primary voters will have three very decent people representing arguably three distinct points of view.

In Gregg, we have a conservative, business friendly downstater.  In Karen Tallien, we have a NW Indiana progressive.  And in Glenda Ritz, we have a moderate Republican turned moderate Democrat with particular expertise in arguably the most significant responsibility the state has.

All three candidates have their ardent supporters, and I expect a very civil campaign season.  In the end, it should not be hard for supporters of the two who that don't make it to support the one that does.

I think we saw what happened the last time around - when the nominee was essentially anointed: The Dems had a lackluster candidate and a fairly disengaged electorate.  The result was a loss.

Contrast that with a highly engaged electorate in the Superintendent of Public Instruction race - which was a huge upset win.

Like in that race, the Republicans will field a highly damaged incumbent this time around.  And it's hard to see a better strategy for the Democrats than to pick the best of three good people to face him.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

A young girl, gone..

Many years ago when Mary Tyler Moore was asked how she was able to deal with the painful losses in her life, she turned to the questioner and said simply,  "No one goes through life without pain."  I'm an older guy at this point, and I've certainly dealt with loss.  But the news I got today was really devastating.

We heard through a friend that a sixth grade girl took her own life recently.  She was someone who attended the same middle school as our daughters, and was in the same class as our daughters in 4th grade.

She was a beautiful girl:  Full of life, smart, engaging.  But she must not have known that.  Or?... We'll never know, of course.

I suppose my sorrow is deepened a bit more as I am a CASA who tries to help kids through some really tough times.  I realize that not being connected with her any more, I can't blame myself for what happened. Still, there isn't much I wouldn't have given up for the chance for one conversation with her.  I really liked her.  I think a lot of people did.

We lost a promising person.  There a couple things we can do, though.  First, the family needs help with burial expenses.  If you are so inclined, please use
this go fund me link.

But more broadly, try to make sure every young person you encounter knows that they matter. Cultivate the habit.  You can make a difference.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

I'm disappointed in State Impact Indiana

State Impact Indiana is heard weekly on our local NPR station WVPE.  Their weekly report on education issues is normally quite informative, but this week was really disappointing.

In a piece entitled "Building Funds:  How Charter Schools Benefit From the Newest Budget" we heard a segment that might have even made the folks from ALEC blush.  It was a complete puff piece for charter school denizens.

The legislative action which appears to have inspired this segment (as reported by SII):

The new Charter and Innovation Network School grant program gives charter schools $500 extra per student in state funding  – but only if they’re considered “high-performing,” earning an A, B, or C on the state’s school grading scale. Schools that earn a D or F can qualify only if they can prove to the State Board of Education that they are performing as well as or better than the nearest non-charter public school.

I sort of get that if charter schools were willing to take on the most challenging students, the extra boost could be well placed.  Students with learning challenges and those from unstable homes require much more than, say our daughter, to succeed in their studies.  But the pattern is pretty clear that many of these institutions, once the head count has been achieved, are quite adept at determining that these kids are "unsuitable" - which leaves them to traditional public schools who can essentially turn no one away.  The charter will have already received the funding for these children, but it will be left to the traditional public school to educate him/her.

The statement also assumes that the state issued grades have some credibility.  Many folks would disagree.

Another glaring feature of this SII story is the absence of dissenting voices.  This as close as Rachel Morello gets:
Not everyone likes charter schools, or believes that they should be handed public funds, but others say the move could serve as a pretty big incentive to not only to draw more charter schools into Indiana, but to keep the schools that are already here – and their traditional counterparts – performing at a high level.
 Perhaps one of the most common arguments against extra funding for charter schools is that they don’t always perform better than the traditional schools they claim to supplement.

Rachel uses a passive aggressive approach to dismiss any contrarian view, and even offers us a straw man in the latter quote above.

I'll take this opportunity to clear up her misunderstanding.  It is obviously true that charter schools don't always perform better than the traditional schools they intend to supplant.  It is true by the evidence that in the aggregate they perform slightly less well than traditional public schools using the rubric of high stakes testing - which most charter school denizens seem to think of as sacred.

Additionally, most non-profit charters contract with for-profit service companies for building leasing and operations (oddly enough often with ties to the non-profit principals).  So a significant amout of charter schools are intended as cash cows for investors,  These are facts.  But in the piece:
“Say they came from an F district and they were progressing forward, they could be eligible for this grant also,” explains Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, the House budget author. “That’s the idea of charters – to use a different way, a different teaching method, have a different structure so that kids can excel in a different environment.”

Elsewhere, there is the claim that this funding doesn't diminish traditional public school funding. Come on, we're all grownups here.

It turns out that there aren't so many profound ideas no one has thought of before.  We know what works.  Small class sizes and exposure to creative arts of some kind.  For the most part, charters have been enamored with the "no excuses" model.  And teaching to the test.  Perhaps the subject of this article has something else in mind.

But should we we rise in support that she get a 5 million dollar loan financed by us to launch her dream?  Perhaps her idea is good, but one person can't run anything like what she has in mind, and we have no idea who she has (if anyone) to make her dream operational.

Here is some of the reality of charter schools, and their champions.   It should make us more cautious.

Monday, October 20, 2014

It should be Stan Wruble for the "Riley" District

In terms of the quality of school board candidates in the Second District of South Bend, it is very nearly an embarrassment of riches.

Carolyn Peterson is a retired teacher and former President of our local National Education Association chapter.  She has been a tireless advocate for quality public education.

Oletha Jones is the local Education Chair for our NAACP chapter.  Ms. Jones has been a valuable asset to our community in that she tasks us to focus on issues which are not often discussed and not easy to solve.

Stan Wruble was appointed by the Board to complete the term of the late John Stancati.

Stan grew up on the south side of South Bend, attending SBCSC schools before graduating from the "old" Riley in 1990. His daughter is a First Grader in the South Bend School Corporation. Though he had other opportunities, he chose to settle here.

 As a citizen, Stan feels it's important to give back to the community. In addition to the time consuming duties of school board trustee, he offers his expertise in the law to benefit others - serving as a Public Defender for folks who can't afford the services of paid counsel, and as Adjunct Professor at Notre Dame's Law School (of which he is a graduate).

I’ve had the privilege of getting to know Stan a bit over the last few months.  He seeks and values input from the community.  He’s wisely suspicious of the quick fix schemes touted by the so-called education reformers.  He knows that where we want to go will take time and great effort.

Stan has shown good judgment and a tireless work ethic as a Board member.  For me, Stan is the man.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The not so smart streets idea

Don Wheeler

Pretty much everyone agrees that downtown South Bend would benefit from significant changes in traffic handling.  The streets are wider than necessary and many don't connect well.  Crossing them is challenging for pedestrians and the street scape is pretty uninviting for retailers and restaurateurs.

So groups have been pushing a plan they not so modestly call "Smart Streets".  "Smart" is a term marketers often use when they don't want people to think too hard about something.  It also tends to connote something new, and technologically advanced.  In actuality, the program hearkens back to the good old days.

The vision of the proposal has great merit.  Making the downtown more aesthetically pleasing and pedestrian and bicyclist friendly is an excellent goal.  Increasing citizen access to the river front is an excellent goal.  But though the proposal claims to resolve some significant challenges, in reality it does not address them in any meaningful way.

Below is the presentation the City has on their website.  The first forty-five minutes is essentially a sales pitch, with pictures of changed cities - many of which aren't particularly comparable to South Bend.  It's only at that point South Bend comes into the picture.  Unfortunately for viewers, shortly into the South Bend section of the presentation the slides no longer appear in the video.  This requires the viewer to use his/her best visualization techniques in an attempt to follow the presenter.

Essentially the idea is to change William, Lafayette, Main and Michigan/St. Joseph streets (two of which are now four lanes one way) to two-way streets with one traffic lane each direction and a center turn lane.  Sound crazy?  It is.

For most of the drivers who find themselves on the two main arteries, the downtown is an obstacle.  They are either north of it and want to be south, or vice-versa.  Typically, municipalities create some sort of bypass for this sort of traffic.  This makes it easier for commuters to commute, and for those wishing to do business or recreate downtown to do so in a more pleasant and relaxed manner - since much of the traffic has been relocated.  This plan offers nothing like that.  And the Bypass we have is several miles to the west, and can't serve this purpose.

The presenter pays lip service to this contradiction, but offers only magical thinking in response.  He claims placing a roundabout just south of the Leeper Park (Michigan Street) Bridge will result in an even distribution of traffic on each of the four new two-way two lane streets.  And unless I missed it, he doesn't address what happens with the traffic coming from the south at all.

As we know, traffic from the north often backs up ahead of the bridge currently.  This, even though it soon empties into four lanes.  Imagine the fun when it instead encounters a roundabout, then an assortment of single traffic lanes.

Then there's the street parking.  The concept is for angle parking on each side.

Small town America features many two lane streets with angle parking.  I've been in many of them.  You know what happens when someone wants to leave a parking place?  The traffic has to stop until the person backs out, then drives away.

In the end, it seems clear that vehicles will be bottled up downtown for much longer, emitting higher levels of exhaust, and causing a lot of frustration for a lot of people.  That doesn't seem so pedestrian/bicyclist friendly to me.  That wouldn't seem to advance the interests of commerce  Maybe we should try for a Smarter Streets proposal.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Time to cast off the testing demons and do what's right

One thing most citizens agree on is that no cost, high quality K - 12 education should be available for all children.  The benefits seem quite clear for both the individuals, and our society as a whole.  The trick is - how to you determine that a child is receiving a quality education?

Many of us would echo the famous Justice Stewart observation regarding obscenity:  “I know it when I see it”; but we live in the era of Big Data, so test scores have become a surrogate.  The belief accepted: high test scores indicate a high quality education.   

At first glance, one can see some merit to the concept.  After all, in High School and College students take a final exam at the end of a semester for each class taken.  Excluding those folks who have general test-taking issues, the results of these tests tend to give us a pretty good idea of how well a student has mastered the material.  If we believe this type of test has validity, it is because they are written and scored by the people who presented the material in the first place.

Even these tests have a drawback.  Many people think tests do their best work by informing teachers about the areas in which their student needs extra assistance.  But at this point the class is over.  There is no opportunity for feedback, no option for remediation by the teacher.

Indiana administers the ISTEP test from Third Grade onward – as mandated by federal education policy.  The design and administration is outsourced.  The tests are scored by temporary workers.  There is no connection to the classroom experience for the students.  But the results have become life and death matters for both schools and teacher’s jobs.  Due to these kind of stakes, we’ve seen cheating scandals in Washington DC, Atlanta, and elsewhere.

In the early years, only math and language skills are tested, later science is added to the mix.  It’s no surprise then, that curricula are often narrowed to focus on these areas – especially in schools with a high proportion of students from challenged backgrounds.

This has a perverse effect.  Research is clear that course enrichment: music, drama, visual art, physical education, and the like, help keep children engaged and motivated in school.  And these are the kind of students most in need of any support we can manage.  But the powers that be seem to think that narrowing the curriculum is the way to achieve optimal test scores.

So we have devised our strategies around the surrogate goal, rather than the original one.  That creates a dilemma:  There’s no guarantee that what works for one will work for the other.

In South Bend, Indiana, where we live, there are neighborhood schools and so-called magnet schools.  The “magnets” draw from the entire district by offering specialized foci.

About a year ago we sampled the menu, as our daughter was ready to move on to intermediate school.  We then saw pretty clearly the results of under funding and test mania in our public school system.

The two finalists were LaSalle Intermediate Academy and our local school, Jackson.  To enter LIA, one must pass an entrance test and succeed in a lottery.  LIA offers a much wider course selection than the alternatives (though somewhat short of my own public middle school experience).  Still, we wanted to take a careful look at Jackson, as well.

We were highly impressed by Principal Schaller, and school building itself is a duplicate of LaSalle - they were built contemporaneously.  But they are very different in terms of what it is offered inside.

Thanks to the gradual de-funding of public education, our neighborhood school no longer offers any industrial arts, home economics, or drama.  The visual arts and science facilities are dubious in quality - and foreign language (Spanish only) is a three semester proposition (grades 7 - 8).  Phys Ed is only sporadically offered.  And the only after school things available are athletic programs.

If that weren't discouraging enough, we were told all children are tested in math and English every three weeks.  The time allocated is forty-five minutes (one would assume per subject) with the class results posted on the cafeteria wall.  So, there is little in the way of enrichment, and lots of lost instructional time – all in service to the budget cutters and the testing fiends.

It is true that test scores have nudged up a bit at the school.  But that’s true almost everywhere.  And surprising as it may seem, we don’t send our daughter to school to secure a high score on once per year tests which are meaningless to her and us.  No, we send her to secure a high quality education – which she will get due to the enrichment programs and increased instructional time at LIA.  And no doubt, better test scores.

So in the end we had no choice because we had a choice.  Unfortunately for most families, they have no choice because they have no choice.

An organization’s budget is clear statement of values.  The State of Indiana needs to quit looking for scapegoats and sending public instruction funds to commercial vendors.  It should instead, reinvest in its children at levels to get the job done properly.  In other words, it should align its strategies towards the original goal, rather than the surrogate.