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Sunday, February 25, 2024

‘White flight’ reason education reformers pushing change in Indy

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This current school year, 142,416 children are enrolled in Indianapolis’ public schools, including charters. Near equal numbers are African-American (54,172) and white non-Hispanics (54,426). (Hispanics number 21,945).

The evenness of the racial demographics in Indy’s public schools highlights the absurdity of the latest scheme by Indy’s mostly white education reform leaders.

For the past several months, Mayor Greg Ballard’s office has used “white flight” from Indianapolis to justify greater involvement by the mayor’s office in Indianapolis education initiatives.

The mayor’s education mavens have concocted a scheme called Neighborhoods of Educational Opportunity (NEO) which would take Indianapolis’ overall 142,000-plus public and charter school “seats” and try to rearrange them to increase the number of “high quality” seats by 30,000.

The use of buzz words like “high quality seats” is NEO’s centerpiece. And it’s why Indy’s a finalist in a multi-million dollar contest sponsored by billionaire Michael Bloomberg called the Mayors Challenge.

Twenty cities are finalists, but Indy’s the only one with a project dealing with education.

Unfortunately, instead of coming clean with our community about what the NEO plan was all about, the Ballard administration tried to keep it secret.

In a PowerPoint presentation they claimed their scheme is endorsed by the NAACP, UNCF and the Urban League. But these groups have said nothing to our Black community about the NEO plan and how it would benefit Black kids in all parts of Indianapolis.

Instead, the mayor’s office quietly showed the plan to “select people.” Several copies of the plan were leaked to me by individuals concerned that NEO is a direct frontal assault designed to charter-ize IPS. The Mind Trust scheme in disguise.

After my Feb. 14 Recorder column alluded to the NEO plan, Deputy Mayor for Education Jason Kloth tried to explain, off the record, about the NEO plan.

The conversation would’ve stayed private, except the Huffington Post released a video about Indy’s NEO plan. At that point, the lid was off and I tweeted about the plan. In retaliation, the mayor’s office gave the details of the plan to the Star and Indianapolis Business Journal and excluded the Recorder.

The NEO plan is designed to encourage all 11 school districts in Indianapolis and charters to step up their game and add “quality school” seats. But the plan contains inaccurate, miscalculations and faculty conclusions of current Census data.

Worse, the NEO plan reeks of a paternalistic attitude that Indy must reform its schools because too many white families with children and money have left town.

Indianapolis is a minority-majority youth city. According to the 2010 Census, 46.8 percent of school aged kids aged 5-17 in Indianapolis/Marion County are white non-Hispanics. Somewhere between 15,000 to 20,000 of them attend private schools.

It would take thousands of white families with children moving back into Indianapolis to make this city a white-majority city among Indianapolis youth.

It’s not happened in any other major American city and it ain’t gonna happen here regardless of the wishful thinking of Mayor Ballard and the myopic white dominated educational reform lobby!

I remain amazed at the refusal of the mayor, Deputy Mayor Kloth and the educational reformers to continue to engage our Black community on the education reform issues we really care about.

What good is increasing the number of “quality school seats” while doing nothing about increasing the number of quality minority teachers teaching the students in those seats?

Where’s a plan of investing dollars for innovative ideas on improving parental engagement and involvement; particularly for parents with low educational esteem?

Education reformers always cite test scores and graduation rates as excuses why Indy’s schools are underperforming. But could it be the real reason for the “white flight” Ballard and education reformers now fret about is not our public schools, but the growing number of Black and brown students in those schools?

When will the NEO plan address that reality?

What I’m hearing

in the streets

In the last few weeks, I’ve been hearing rumblings that our new, reform-minded IPS School Board is as leaderless and dysfunctional as perhaps any board in the past couple of decades.

An example is in praising the IPS Board’s decision to pick retired Warren Township Superintendent Dr. Peggy Hinckley as interim superintendent, Board Vice President Annie Roof told the Indianapolis Star, “She (Hinckley) was in a neighboring district which really mirrors our population closely.”

Really VP Roof? I don’t know where you got your data, but here’s the facts. In enrollment, Warren is 47.7 percent Black, 32.9 percent white, 10.6 percent Hispanic, 7.5 percent multiracial. IPS is 53.5 percent Black, 22.6 percent white, 18.5 percent Hispanic, 4.8 percent multiracial. Some 82.5 percent of IPS students get free/reduced lunch, compared to 66.5 percent in Warren.

Median Household Income in Warren is $41,766; IPS $30,882. In Warren 28.6 percent of school aged kids live in poverty; in IPS 48.4 percent do.

If an IPS Board member like Annie Roof doesn’t understand the differences between her district and others; how will she evaluate candidates for permanent IPS superintendent? Unless she (and other board members) are set on hiring someone with no experience running a school system in a racially diverse, heavy child poverty district like IPS?

* * * * *

In the 1980s and ‘90s, Jane Harrington was one of the most fearless and fearsome TV reporters in Indianapolis. And she happened to be African-American.

A North Carolina native and Fisk University graduate, Harrington came to Indy in 1980 from WXII-TV in Greensboro, N.C., where she’d made her mark both in TV public affairs and investigative reporting.

A consummate journalist and imposing presence on TV, Harrington covered the Mike Tyson trial, getting the only TV interview with Desiree Washington. Harrington also covered stories about children like Ryan White. Her reporting helped get Zachary’s Law passed with which mandates sex offenders register.

And she strongly supported the Indianapolis Association of Black Journalists. She left television in the late ‘90s, but kept in touch, offering advice and counsel to young reporters.

Harrington died Feb. 15 at age 62. My deepest sympathies to her devoted husband David Smith, daughter Beverly, other family and friends.

In a time when much of journalism is fun and fluff, Jane Harrington-Smith left a legacy of hard hitting, quality journalism that touched and changed lives. See ‘ya next week.

You can email comments to Amos Brown at acbrown@aol.com.

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