Wednesday, January 22, 2020

A fox in the hen house?

“It could bring more students back to Washington, give students more opportunity and we could end up with some financial benefit,” Cummings said. “Should the board choose not to do this, take $7,000 per student and that 125 will go to (Purdue Polytechnic). We will lose those students.”

These are the words of the South Bend Community School Corporation Superintendent Todd Cummings in support of an "Innovation School" collaboration with Purdue Polytechnic High School, recently approved for a charter in South Bend.

This is the same man that actively courted PPHS to come here, and offered the only public comment on record in support of charter authorization. Once that was accomplished, he pivoted to a "Now they're here - we better make the best of it" narrative.  This would be the best of it, according to him. 

(Or: Nice little school Corporation you have there.  It'd be a shame if something should happen to it.)

It would seem as though the guy we hired to bolster and protect public education in South Bend actively sought to infiltrate it.  As though privatizing was his agenda in the first place.

And think about who is behind this whole scheme of "a nationwide network of charter high schools providing a conduit of students to the Purdue Polytechnic University program" (per their charter application).  Mitch Daniels.  The guy who sold the Toll Road, leaving us with inadequate revenue to maintain our state roads and bridges.  The guy who assured us the Iraq war would be paid for via income tax cuts.

Neither of these gents inspire much trust at this point.


PPHS will struggle to attract students.  It offers an inferior program.  The have had trouble attracting students in Indianapolis - a city much larger than South Bend.  If we "hook up", we could be on the hook for the excessive cost per student that results from this.

Just say no.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

A poor fit for South Bend



I thought the community might want to know a bit about what’s coming

PPHS indicates its need for being is to help a “target student population” of “underrepresented minority students” - particularly west side residents, with a STEM type program.  It goes on to say that this group is fed on to Washington High School and implies that Washington is in some way defective.

In South Bend, any High School student can choose to attend any of the four High Schools with provided transportation. Riley has a robust STEM program already, and Washington’s most recent state grade was a C -  average.  

I do know from my time as a CASA and having lived here 28 years, students in this group often suffer from deficits in reading and writing skills.  Without rectifying those issues, any learning will be difficult.  The application offered no awareness of this problem, let alone any strategy to address it.

The part of their approach they spend the most time explaining sounds pretty similar to Project Based learning programs which failed at the short-lived New Tech High School here.  It is now the focus of a magnet program at Jackson Middle School, where perhaps it will do better. The other 50% of students’ grades come from “online learning” and testing via Edmentum.  

Online K-12 education has a dubious record generally.  And the problem with trying to research Edmentum on a Google search is that they wrote almost everything that appears in the results. Not particularly helpful. And if this program is aimed at a group with struggling readers, what is the likely efficacy of online self-education for a student with poor reading/comprehension skills? That isn’t explained.

Perplexingly, the program they offer also requires students to make a lifetime career decision in the 10th grade, with scheduled reaffirmations. How many people do you know who felt capable of making that decision at age 15?  And of that group, for how many did that actually work out?

Reviewing the course list, one discovers very narrow offerings. No arts instruction of any kind.  No dance, theatre, visual arts, vocal music, instrumental music – in fact, I could find nothing inviting individual creativity at all.

Public education aspires to help our children grow into informed, productive, and at least reasonably comfortable citizens. Arts education is critical for this. Programs such as PPHS’ are designed to produce workers for a specific industry, and nothing more. Additionally, they reveal that their long term objective is to create a nation-wide network of “Charter Schools that will serve as an academic feeder system to Purdue University”.

So what is the track record of this program? The reality is that it has less than three years of experience in Indianapolis, no graduates, and only one testing experience involving a very small number of students. It has had a difficult time with its enrollment goals in a city much bigger than South Bend. At this point, it can best be described as an experimental program.

Knowing all this, it was a stunner to discover that our public school corporation Superintendent helped this privately managed program to take root here and that he has been in negotiation for months with them for an alliance with SBCSC. That would work great for PPHS.  It would give them better access for recruiting, but those students would likely already be SBCSC students.  If the goals aren’t met, the program might add expense, rather than revenue. In any case, it would tend to give the program a sense of legitimacy it has not up to now been able to earn on its own.

I’ll confess to some discomfort with placing our children in the position of guinea pigs.  The experiment is already under way in Indianapolis.  I think that we should allow enough time to evaluate the results before endorsing an alliance.  It’s hard to make good decisions without good data.





Friday, December 13, 2019

Public Comments re: the proposed Purdue Polytechnic High School of South Bend IN


South Bend Community School Corporation Purdue Polytechnic High School

What follows is a complete accounting of comments for the record regarding the establishment of this charter school.   The hearing comments were poorly transcribed and are difficult to follow - except for Linda Wolfson's.  Ms Wolfson cleverly supplied them a written copy of her remarks.

After the meeting comments, comments by email and letter follow.

Hearing held – South Bend November 21, 2019
Type Purdue Polytechnic High School – South Bend
  
Hearing Comments 1 in support, 3 in opposition. 3 minute limit



Laurie McGowan • I am opposed to this application for many reasons. They have an unproven model, no graduates from their Indianapolis school, the situation of the South Bend district, and the proposed referendum upcoming. This seems like adding a risky venture. We are currently scrambling to get our schools the way they are. The model in the application (authentic learning, cognitive concepts) I’m fairly certain is already being applied in our schools. We already have 20 CTE programs in SBCSC. This school could be duplicating or possibly draining resources. I reviewed the application and something that troubles me is the use of marketing speak. The one that gets me is 21st Century skills. We are already 20 years in, this target student population has not existed in any other century. I want more detail and more data. I think this concept is great to talk about, a few years from now when we have data, particularly from the schools already operating in Indy.

Todd Cummings, Superintendent South Bend Community School Corporation • As South Bend Superintendent, on behalf of the SBCSC Board, I am thrilled to report we are progressing toward a partnership with Purdue Polytechnic. We are hoping this is one of the first Purdue Polytechnic High Schools to enter into a partnership with.

Don Wheeler • I reviewed the application online and had some concerns. The application didn’t show a real understanding of the area stating that all west side students feed into Washington, and that Washington is a deficit. Washington is at a C average and students have choices to pick from. The project based learning programs sound promising, but Riley High School already offers those. Half of the grade is spent online testing, that seems like a lot of computer time. I noticed their curriculum is being handled by Edmentum. If you Google the, the only things that come up are items that they have published. The application written can best be described as an experimental program, the applicant’s current school has less than three years if data and a small number of students. There is no way to predicate success here. As a parent of a high school student I feel discomfort about this application. It’s already underway in Indianapolis, but without data it is hard to make a good decision.

Linda Wolfson • My name is Linda Wolfson. Thank you for the opportunity to comment about the possible impact of the proposed Purdue Polytechnic High School South Bend. 

The views I will share have been developed by important life experiences. I am the mother of children who were educated within the South Bend Community School Corporation. I am a retired high school teacher. I taught within the South Bend Community School Corporation. 

Teaching was a second career for me. After completing a B.A. in Biology, I was employed for more than 20 years in medical research laboratories, first at the University of Pittsburgh and then at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C. 

After the birth of my youngest child, I completed a Teacher Certification Program at Bowie State College in Maryland. Subsequently, we relocated to South Bend and I joined the Science faculty at John Adams High School. 

Because of my experiences in research laboratories, my Principal at Adams asked me to play a leading role in developing a Tech Prep program at Adams. Tech Prep was a federally funded, inter-disciplinary program designed for students who were underachieving in traditional classes. I used project-based learning and incorporated exciting field trips to work sites applying biological concepts and methods. Those were my most successful years of teaching. 

I believe that my employment experiences, especially my involvement with the Tech Prep program, give me an important perspective with which to evaluate the program of Purdue Polytechnic High School. 

When I learned about the possible Purdue Polytechnic High School, I was excited by its possibilities. I thought I might be able to support it, despite the fact that it is a charter school and I am a solid advocate for supporting and improving the SBCSC. I read the application carefully, looking for the answers to two key questions. How will it impact our school corporation and will it offer our students opportunities that we can't provide? 

Our school corporation lost 700 students last year to charter schools in South Bend, to surrounding school districts, and to private schools benefiting from Indiana's voucher program. That had a significant effect upon the amount of money that the Corporation received from the State of Indiana. How could the loss of up to 100 students to a new charter be good for our Corporation? It would not and therefore I cannot support this application. 

To be fair, the options provided by policies of the Indiana State Legislature are not the only reason that parents choose other than traditional public-school options for their children. For many years, education activists in South Bend area identified problems that need to be addressed in our local schools. Some problems have been or are being corrected. I believe that others can and will be. 

My second question, as I reviewed the application, was whether Purdue Polytechnic would provide opportunities for our students that we can't afford to pass up. I don't think so. We currently have a medical magnet at Washington H.S., an engineering magnet at Riley High School, more than 20 CTE (Community and Technical) programs that have the option of earning dual credits at either Ivy Tech or Vincennes University, or earning industry certifications in a technical and STEM-related fields. 

The application for Purdue Polytechnic promises that it would serve as an "academic feeder system for Purdue University." The expectation expressed is that "Out of our initial class of 150 freshman students, we expect that over two-thirds of them will meet the criteria to be admitted to Purdue University." The application states that "students who meet the minimum targets of the SAT or ACT will receive direct admittance to the Purdue Polytechnic Institute in West Lafayette. Others will be admitted to one of 9 other campuses, one of which is located in South Bend. 

I believe in high expectations. However, I cannot trust expectations without any supporting evidence. There are currently two Purdue Polytechnic High Schools in Indianapolis. One is very new and, according to news reports, is having difficulty recruiting students. The high school located in the center of the City has not yet had time to graduate its first class. We don't yet know if they have successfully met their promise to serve as an academic feeder system for Purdue. 

I don't believe in making what could be empty promises, especially to our children. For these reasons, I encourage you to deny the charter application for a Purdue Polytechnic High School in South Bend.  

Email comments 0 in support, 7 in opposition

Julia Hyde • South Bend high schools are losing enrollment, they have seat space in their high schools for at least 2000 students. Adding another high school to SB is a waste of money and resources. Also, PU Polytechnic in Indianapolis has not met their projections for enrollment. What’s the proof SB would be different?

Laurie McGowan • Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the proposed PPHS in South Bend. I attended the 11/21 public meeting in South Bend. The 3- minute comment rule was not announced anywhere in advance and some who had prepared remarks were silenced by strict adherence to this rule, even though there were few in attendance and the meeting was quite short. 

For the sake of open and transparent communication, I would like to suggest that ICSB consider and adopt the following standards for future charter proposals (from the IPS Community Coalition's Recommendations for Innovation Application and Approval Process): Applications due at least 18 months prior to school year school will start as charter. There must be at least 6 months of community meetings with a minimum of 8 meetings before charter application can be approved by the district board. At least 90 days prior to 1st board presentation, all applications must be available in full for review on the district board website. 

I am opposed to the proposed PPHS charter in South Bend at this time for the following reasons: 

1. SBCSC students already have access to over 20 CTE programs that include team and applied workplace learning. There is no analysis that identifies a specific need for this program. It is a marketing effort in order to recruit minority and low-income students into the Purdue Polytechnic Institute. 

2. Neither of the existing Purdue Polytechnic High Schools in Indianapolis has produced a graduating class. There is not sufficient evidence that this model is effective or efficient. SBCSC is already coping with fiscal shortfalls. It is imprudent to add an unproven model to a system that is already stretched thin by budget constraints. 

3. “Like many cities, an unacceptably small number of South Bend’s students of color and students navigating poverty have the opportunity to succeed in today’s workforce or pursue higher education. Despite their skills and potential, many of these students attended high schools that currently do not provide programs that support their success.” This kind of rhetoric is not the substance one would expect to see in an application. PPHS wishes to justify its entry here based on a faulty premise that SB high schools “do not provide programs that support their success”. PPHS in South Bend is at this time unneeded and unwanted. “PPHS South Bend will adopt a blending of secondary and post-secondary education with an infusion of industry leadership and participation. PPHS South Bend will utilize a rigorous STEM design-based curriculum delivered in career-focused learning environment.” This is capricious marketing-speak. 

4. The program overview is intriguing but peer-reviewed studies that accurately describe and document successful outcomes from the proposed model would be in order before taking action. 

5. The narrative implies that there is no project-based learning going on in SBCSC. Several of the CTE programs employ this type of learning so the claim is inaccurate. Further, both project-based- and problem-based-learning are commonly taught instructional methods in today’s Schools of Education. Some teachers are regularly applying these methods, though not in formal or publicized programs. 

6. PPHS in Indianapolis has had difficulty in meeting enrollment goals. (https://www.wfyi.org/news/articles/purduepolytechnic-high-school-north-posts-low-enrollment-data-asks-community-partners-for-help) This gives the appearance that expansion into South Bend is an attempt to make up for the deficit in Indianapolis. Unfortunate remarks by Mitch Daniels recently went viral in the Twitterverse. Aside from the perceived racism, they further lead one to believe that PPHS is a well-funded marketing effort to recruit Pell Grant students to some Purdue programs. Commitment to the well-being of the students and their successful educational outcomes is not evident. Further, Daniels is already pivoting toward adult workforce education in his remarks. As a South Bend community member, I am concerned that PPHS is just another short-term revenue stream that would benefit stealth investors more than it would enhance the educational experience of any potential South Bend students. The local business supporters of the application were few and very limited in representation of local industry. The application infers that there will be agreements with additional Purdue schools but these are not yet concrete. Similarly, there are no definite agreements with local industry for on-site learning and/or internships. Indiana took a large hit (over $40 million) due to the failure of the Indiana Virtual Academy. This, combined with other recent charter school failures, indicates a greater need for stewardship of our scarce educational resources. It is difficult to imagine that anyone with fiduciary or other stewardship responsibility for public funds would agree to this charter in its current unsubstantiated state. Certainly the stakeholders in South Bend are not interested in offering their students’ valuable secondary educational years for an unproven experiment. 

7. The PPHS proposal ignores the NAACP’s moratorium on charter school expansion. 

Thank you in advance for your careful consideration of these issues.

Don Wheeler • I am a 28 year resident of South Bend and the father of a Junior at John Adams High School. I served as a Court Appointed Special Advocate for children for about seven years. I have also volunteered as a mentor in the South Bend Community School Corporation. As my daughter approached school age I began to look deeply into public education and attendant issues nationwide. I am also quite familiar with the operations of our local schools and have written quite a bit about that. I am currently a member of the Finance Committee of the recently formed west side Empowerment Zone. 

South Bend had the first Indiana Charter School – Veritas Academy. It and the later Xavier Academy both were ultimately unsuccessful. There is one K-12 Charter company in operation currently – seemingly ignored in the application you are considering. 

The applicant indicates its need for being is to help a “target student population” of “underrepresented minority students” - particularly west side residents. It goes on to say that this group is fed on to Washington High School and implies (without detail) that Washington is in some way defective. In South Bend, any High School student can choose to attend any of the four High Schools with provided transportation. And as the applicant acknowledges, Washington’s most recent state grade was a C. Average. 

I do know from my time as a CASA and having lived here 28 years, students in this group often suffer from deficits in reading and writing skills. Without rectifying those issues, any learning will be difficult. The application offers no awareness of this problem, let alone any strategy to address it. 

The part of their approach they spend the most time explaining sounds pretty similar to Project Based learning programs which failed at the short-lived New Tech High School here. It is now the focus of a magnet program at Jackson Middle School, where perhaps it will do better. That component also includes working in a local business. While I don’t dispute that these internships (as they refer to them) would have value, they would also seem likely to be a handful to manage – given the necessarily small staff of a school of 100 students per grade level. Recruiting worthy businesses and monitoring these situations for each student would seem to require a significant investment in time. 

The other 50% of students’ grades come from online testing via Edmentum. The implication is that students will spend half of their time “e-learning”. Online K12 education has a dubious record generally. And the problem with researching Edmentum on a Google search is that they wrote almost everything that appears in the results. Most of that is about how much money they raise or make. Not helpful. And if this program is aimed at a group with struggling readers, what is the likely efficacy of online self-education for a student with poor reading/comprehension skills? That isn’t explained. 

Perplexingly, the program they offer also requires students to make a lifetime career decision in the 10th grade, with scheduled reaffirmations. How many people do you know who felt capable of making that decision at age 15? And of that group, for how many did that actually work out? 

Reviewing the course list, one discovers very narrow offerings. No team sports. No arts instruction of any kind. No dance, theater, visual arts, vocal music, instrumental music – in fact, nothing inviting individual creativity at all. Public education aspires to help our children grow into informed, productive, and at least reasonably comfortable citizens. 

Programs such as these are designed to produce workers for a specific industry, and nothing more. In fact, they reveal that their long term objective is to create a nation-wide network of “Charter Schools that will serve as an academic feeder system to Purdue University” 

But even if you think all that is OK, the application is written as though the applicant has decades of experience, fabulous test scores to tout, hundreds of graduates, and alums with high paying, rewarding careers. The reality is that it has had less than three years of experience, no graduates, and only one testing experience involving a very small number of students. It has had difficulty with the same enrollment goals in a much bigger city than South Bend. A

t this point, it can best be described as an experimental program. I’ll confess to some discomfort with placing our children in the position of guinea pigs in this experiment. The experiment is already under way in Indianapolis. I think that we should allow enough time to evaluate the results before endorsing an expansion. It’s hard to make good decisions without good data.

Cathy Fuentes – Rohwer • I have deep concerns about expanding Purdue Poly to South Bend when they clearly have not fulfilled their enrollment or promise in Indy. The responsible thing to do would be to see that the school in Indy has fulfilled its promises first before further expansion. We also really should consider what opening another school via a charter--and thus spreading even thinner the limited resources for South Bend public schools--- would do to those public schools that are already struggling. Please vote 'no' on Purdue Poly. Thanks for your consideration.

Kristin McMurtrey • Please consider a full stop on approving more school applications at a time when Indiana is not able to fully fund the schools it has. Thank you.

Dakota Hudelson • I ask that you vote against allowing Purdue Poly to South Bend. It hasn’t fulfilled its enrollment promise in Indianapolis. Furthermore, the expansion of charter schools into any community destabilizes the local public schools, and the impact can be substantial. 

Deborah Myerson • I also have deep concerns about expanding Purdue Poly to South Bend. They clearly have not fulfilled their enrollment or promise in Indy. The responsible thing to to do would be to see that the school in Indy has fulfilled its promises first before further expansion. We also really should consider how opening another school via a charter in South Bend--and thus spreading even thinner the limited resources for South Bend public schools- --would impact those public schools that are already struggling. Please vote 'no' on Purdue Poly.

Letters 1 in opposition 

Dalila Huerta • I am writing to you today to express my disapproval of the proposed Purdue Polytechnic High School South Bend (PPHS South Bend). I am appalled that our local district superintendent, Dr. Todd Cummings, is in full support of this charter school, and urge you to consider why you should NOT approve the PPHS South Bend’s presence in our community. 

To begin, I question the application’s insistence that there exists a need for a STEM-based charter school in our community (p. 2), particularly to recruit our West side students. Perhaps the charter applicants are unaware and/or have failed to conduct appropriate community research, but the South Bend Community School Corporation already offers Project Lead the Way (PLTW), Career and Technical Education (CTE), and Medical and Engineering Magnet programs throughout its district. 

While the Southeast neighborhood Riley High School is the dedicated STEM-focused school, ALL students from our district are eligible to apply. Therefore, West side students already have access to a high-quality STEM program, making PPHS South Bend a redundant effort. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, I reject the application’s claim that PPHS South Bend will be well equipped to provide an adequate education for its target population of “underrepresented minority students” as it never lists ANY evidence of cultural competency training in its proposal. 

The Evidence of Capacity for the School Governance (p. 8) lists experience in the areas of school leadership and administration governance; curriculum, instruction, and assessment; financial business HR; performance management; parent and community engagement; facilities management; and legal compliance only––no mention of cultural competency, educational equity, or implicit bias training present. 

The listed qualifications for the future school principal (p. 10) likewise neglect to include cultural competency training as a basic requirement. Furthermore, while the application mentions that “[p]rior to charter authorization, the school leader will work closely with community organizations” (pp. 42–43), no such evidence of collaboration is found in the application outside of recruiting efforts. 

How will this school be equipped to oversee culturally responsive education for our students given this lacking set of skills and priorities and nonexistent community connections? Additionally, mentions of being a “restorative” school (p. 40) are undermined by the pitiful list of professional development opportunities offered before and AFTER the school opens. 

Any worthwhile education professional would be insulted by the meager one-time training in Restorative Practices, Trauma-Informed care, and Mental Health First Aid that the proposed schedule offers (pp. 52–53). These are not things you can learn in a single workshop or even a full day, but the careless treatment of crucial educational competencies belies the fact that these leaders are not and will not be well equipped to equitably meet the needs of our students. 

Educational equity is NOT attained by simply modeling “diversity” and “respect,” or only through “positive interactions,” or merely understanding cultural differences as the application implies on pages 28–29––a fact made glaringly obvious by the authors’ misappropriated use of the culturally and religiously significant term “Dojo” throughout the application. Is this the type of school our community should trust? Where are the extensive trainings on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), implicit bias, anti-racism, and cultural competency? 

As a Restorative Justice Circle keeper and trainer, cultural educator, and parent, I am horrified that anyone would be asked to entrust their child to the care and “mentoring” of educators who have not received adequate training, or to leaders who deem these skills and competencies to be unimportant and unnecessary. 

The fact the PPHS South Bend students would earn admittance to Purdue University only furthers my concern and amplifies the harmful environment to which we would subject our students. Recruiting students for the sake of “diversity” does not lead to equitable outcomes, but only exposes our students to further racial violence and stress. 

I do not wish for our South Bend students to be treated as “rare creatures” in this charter school or in the future at Purdue University, and I sincerely hope that you use your power to ensure that our students are not mistreated at the hands of ill-equipped educators and leaders. These highlighted issues are certainly issues that can be addressed and even perhaps rectified with dedicated time and effort, but I would never trust an organization who does not prioritize the cultural wellbeing of its students and community from the beginning to be able to carry out the immense work of educational equity. 

Please do not allow PPHS South Bend to cause further harm to our students and please oppose the opening of a new ill-equipped charter school in our community.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Let's see how it does, first

This was my public comment to the Indiana Charter School authorization board in regard to the application of a proposed Purdue Polytechnic High School, South Bend.


I am a 28 year resident of South Bend and the father of a Junior at John Adams High School. I served as a Court Appointed Special Advocate for children for about seven years.  I have also volunteered as a mentor in the South Bend Community School Corporation.


As my daughter approached school age I began to look deeply into public education and attendant issues nationwide.  I am also quite familiar with the operations of our local schools and have written quite a bit about that.
I am currently a member of the Finance Committee of the recently formed west side Empowerment Zone.


South Bend had the first Indiana Charter School – Veritas Academy.  It and the later Xavier Academy both were ultimately unsuccessful.  There is one K-12 Charter company in operation currently. Oddly its Career Academy High School is omitted from the applicant's listing of area schools.


The applicant indicates its need for being is to help a “target student population” of “underrepresented minority students” - particularly west side residents.  It goes on to say that this group is fed on to Washington High School and implies (without detail) that Washington is in some way defective.

In South Bend, any High School student can choose to attend any of the four High Schools with provided transportation.  And as the applicant acknowledges, Washington’s most recent state grade was a C.  Average.

I do know from my time as a CASA and having lived here 28 years, students in this group often suffer from deficits in reading and writing skills.  Without rectifying those issues, any learning will be difficult.  The application offers no awareness of this problem, let alone any strategy to address it.

The part of their approach they spend the most time explaining sounds pretty similar to Project Based learning programs which failed at the short-lived New Tech High School here.  It is now the focus of a magnet program at Jackson Middle School, where perhaps it will do better.  That component also includes working in a local business. 

The other 50% of students’ grades come from online testing via Edmentum. The implication is that students will spend half of their time “e-learning”.

While I don’t dispute that these internships (as they refer to them) would have value, they would also seem likely to be a handful to manage – given the necessarily small staff of a school of 100 students per grade level.  Recruiting worthy businesses and monitoring these situations for each student would seem to require a significant investment in time.

In regard to the second component, online K-12 education has a dubious record generally.  And the problem with researching Edmentum on a Google search is that they wrote almost everything that appears in the results. Most of that is about how much money they raise or make. Not helpful.

And if this program is aimed at a group with struggling readers, what is the likely efficacy of online self-education for a student with poor reading/comprehension skills? That isn’t explained.

Perplexingly, the program they offer also requires students to make a lifetime career decision in the 10th grade, with scheduled reaffirmations. How many people do you know who felt capable of making that decision at age 15?  And of that group, for how many did that actually work out?

Reviewing the course list, one discovers very narrow offerings.  No team sports.  No arts instruction of any kind.  No dance, theater, visual arts, vocal music, instrumental music – in fact, nothing inviting individual creativity at all.  Research is very clear that these non-STEM components of education are critically import to a student's educational experience.

Public education aspires to help our children grow into informed, productive, and at least reasonably comfortable citizens. Programs such as Purdue Polytechnic's are designed to produce workers for a specific industry, and nothing more. In fact, they reveal that their long term objective is to create a nation-wide network of “Charter Schools that will serve as an academic feeder system to Purdue University”

But even if you think all that is OK, the application is written as though the applicant has decades of experience, fabulous test scores to tout, hundreds of graduates, and alums with high paying, rewarding careers.  The reality is that it has had less than three years of experience, no graduates, and only one testing experience involving a very small number of students. It has had difficultly with the same enrollment goals in Indianapolis - a much bigger city than South Bend. At this point, it can best be described as an experimental program.

I’ll confess to some discomfort with placing our children in the position of guinea pigs in this experiment.  The experiment is already under way in Indianapolis.  I think that we should allow enough time to evaluate the results before endorsing an expansion.  It’s hard to make good decisions without good data.

Don Wheeler
South Bend



Monday, December 18, 2017

Indiana DCS Director resigns, or, Forget the nice things I said about Eric Holcomb

 "I feel I am unable to protect children because of the position taken by your staff to cut funding and services to children in the midst of the opioid crisis," Mary Beth Bonaventura wrote in a Dec. 12 letter to Gov. Eric Holcomb. "I choose to resign, rather than be complicit in decreasing the safety, permanency and well-being of children who have nowhere else to turn."

This from our Director of the Indiana Department of Child Services – the last line of defense for our most vulnerable citizens.  And so that there is no misunderstanding about how serious this situation is, she warned that a continuation of its policies will "all but ensure children will die." 

Some may think she overstates, but I am not one who does.  I was a Court Appointed Special Advocate for Children (CASA) for almost seven years.  My tenure spanned the tail end of James Payne’s administration and the early years of Ms. Bonaventura’s. Payne’s tenure can be characterized by impossible workloads for caseworkers and the pride in which he took in failing to spend all the resources given his dramatically underfunded department. And, as The Indianapolis Star reported, Payne waged a behind-the-scenes fight to discredit and derail his agency's recommendations in a case involving his own family. Nine months later, DCS pushed to end the neglect case and permanently reunite the children with their mother. Payne resigned when this became public.

The appointment of Bonaventura provided both a breath of fresh air and a shot of adrenaline to a cash-strapped and mightily discouraged department.  With a professional child advocate at the helm, morale picked up and the legislature was convinced to both allocate more resources and impose maximum caseload limits.  It all seemed so promising to those of us who worked with these families.

Alas, it was a mirage. The caseload statute was politely ignored.  Workload dropped slightly for a while, but then many questionable “cost saving measures” were implemented – in the end, the department didn’t have the funds to comply with the statute. 

To my chagrin, it seems things took a turn for the (even) worse in the Holcomb administration.  Holcomb appointed Eric Miller as her department chief of staff in Bonaventura’s words because “he was an asset during the campaign”. Miller has no professional background in the field – he appears by his LinkedIn profile to be a GOP favored bureaucrat.

The Indianapolis Star noted in its report: “Using the position and authority given by Holcomb's office, Bonaventura argued, Miller has engineered his own hires, bullied subordinates, created a hostile work environment, exposed the agency to lawsuits, overridden her decisions, been 'brazenly insubordinate" and made cost-cutting decisions without her knowledge. She said her attempts to "rein him in" haven't been supported.

Meanwhile, the ranks of Children In Need of Services (CHINS) swell and swell.

It’s hard not to see a parallel of what the talented Glenda Ritz was forced to deal with in the Department of Education.  Highly qualified, highly motivated, professional women were undermined; thus, prevented from doing their jobs successfully. And both seemed to have been gaslighted.

When I was an Advocate, there were over 1000 children in need of services in St. Joseph County alone. Extrapolating from state statistics I would guess there must be at least 1200 at this point.  These are infants to late teen-aged kids who have suffered abuse or neglect – ranging in small ways to horrific. It is not OK to wash our hands of this, or write these kids off. They require our full attention, our best efforts.

Many can be successfully reunited with their family.  But this requires professional services.  We need DCS caseworkers to monitor conditions.  We need counselors who can build relationship skills for both the children and adults involved.  We need CASAs who can help connect kids and families with available resources, make sure that if individual education plans (IEPs) are warranted – they are implemented, and that the child’s best interests are represented in Probate Court proceedings. 

For older kids, smooth transition to higher education or work life is critical. There are some fine programs in existence, but people are needed to familiarize clients with what is available, line up transitional housing, and follow up on their progress.

And we need the best person available to be in charge of all this.





Monday, January 16, 2017

In 2007 John Edwards delivered a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the historic Riverside Church in New York City.





Monday, May 2, 2016

Not In Our Back Yard!

Remarks as prepared for the Indiana Charter School Board hearing later today in South Bend, Indiana

A major drawback for citizens is that much of what goes on in the realm of charter schools is hidden from view.  But the little I have been able to learn about TeamCFA is not encouraging.

In 2006 TeamCFA opened the Challenge Foundation Academy in Indianapolis.  At its first audit the State Board of Accounts discovered significant problems:  School lunch reports were late and none of the applications were verified – this cost the Indianapolis school district real money.  Purchases lacked documentation and employees were paid improperly.

For unknown reasons TeamCFA withdrew its affiliation with this school in 2014.   

TeamCFA took over leadership of two Indianapolis schools in 2011 after then-Mayor Greg Ballard’s office declined to renew their charters.  Four years later Ball State University decided to close them.

Last year Team CFA opened the Indianapolis Academy of Excellence – which attracted only 85 students in grades K-4. Fifteen were old enough to take ISTEP. None of them passed it.

TeamCFA hews to the dubious “No Excuses” mantra in its schools.  The use of the word “academy” (which appears in all their schools’ names) implies a college prep school.  But as Joanne W. Golann, an education researcher at Princeton, wrote of this approach recently in a school she studied closely: 

“I found that in trying to prepare students for college, the school failed to teach students the skills and behaviors to help them succeed in college. In a tightly regulated environment, students learned to monitor themselves, hold back their opinions, and defer to authority. Colleges expect students to take charge of their learning and to advocate for themselves.   
In a new era of accountability, schools are creating *worker-learners* to (appear to) close the achievement gap. Schools are emphasizing obedience because they need to create order to raise test scores . . . “

Chalkbeat Indiana has found that “When it comes to charter schools in Indianapolis, test scores suggest the locally managed schools outdo those that are part of national networks.”   South Bend has several such charter schools already in operation.  These are unlike TeamCFA who has encountered problems with citizens in Phoenix and North Carolina who feel that corporate charter schools are undemocratic.

Research has consistently shown that on average charters perform no better than traditional public schools.   As regards the ICSB guiding principles, TeamCFA would seem to be lacking in excellence in leadership, innovative approaches, and particularly in transparent accountability.  And some of the Challenge Foundation leaders, particularly their founder John D Bryan, make no secret of their desire to privatize public education in the United States.

At a minimum it would be prudent to see if progress is made in their new Indianapolis school before they take on a new city.  I ask that you deny their application.




What do you think it symbolizes?