It’s been five months since The Mind Trust introduced its proposal to reform the Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS). Among those pushing for education reform in IPS, the report has been greeted as the greatest thing since sliced bread.
But for the majority of persons who live within the IPS district and to many in the overall African-American community, The Mind Trust’s report has been greeted with indifference at best and not giving a damn at worst.
Those trying to reform public education in Indianapolis are making the same mistake that other interest groups continue to make. They talk amongst themselves and fail to reach out and directly communicate with our African-American community.
A few weeks ago I moderated a panel at the Central Library with Mind Trust head David Harris, along with someone involved in New Orleans’ school reform efforts. The event exposed the major weakness in The Mind Trust and school reformers strategy.
The crowd of about 200 to 250 was overwhelmingly white. The Blacks who were there were mostly skeptical of The Mind Trust’s proposal.
Before the forum, one of the sponsors, Democrats for Education Reform held a reception. As I looked at those attending, I could count the Blacks there on one hand and a few fingers of my second hand. Not representative of a group with “Democrats” in their name.
Those pushing IPS educational reform are over concentrated in the Meridian Kessler/Downtown/Old Northside/upscale Near Eastside/Irvington/Fall Creek Place enclaves. The true epitome of the wine and cheese set, these folks think they speak for all taxpayers and parents who live in IPS.
They don’t. They aren’t even close to being representative of the district.
It doesn’t help that the educational reformers don’t have a clue who really comprises the IPS district.
The population of the IPS district isn’t a white, middle class enclave. IPS is a majority-minority area; 53.9 percent of the area’s total population are non-whites or Hispanics.
Median Household Income in the district is 25.2 percent less than for Marion County as a whole. Unemployment in the district (19.6 percent) is more than twice the unemployment in the entire city/county (9 percent).
Families with children comprise just a quarter of all IPS households. Single parent families are 27.7 percent of all households, but nearly a majority of households (45.8 percent) in IPS are non-family ones.
Some 44.7 percent of all families with children live below the poverty level. One-in-four households lives below poverty. Some 22 percent of adults over 25 never graduated high school.
Until the education reform crowd begins to understand the actual characteristics of the district’s population and begins to identify and bond with IPS’ voting population and IPS parents, any real reform of IPS is doomed.
Reform can’t be rammed down the IPS community’s neck. The Mind Trust’s idea of mayoral control of IPS would’ve been dicey if Melina Kennedy was mayor. It’s extremely problematic with Mayor Greg Ballard: given the perceptions among many living within IPS that he bluntly doesn’t care about our community.
In my view, reformers don’t understand what type of reform would most connect with those living in IPS.
IPS does need to reduce the size and power of its Central Office. But you can’t empower individual school buildings without providing real training to IPS’ staff in human relations and interaction.
There is a serious lack of parental involvement and engagement in all school districts; including IPS. But you never hear school reformers coming up with new ideas of improving and increasing parental engagement.
Classroom discipline is a major problem within IPS and of people’s perception of IPS. But even if IPS tightened down discipline, the district has an incoherent system of alternative education and schools. Troublemakers know that and try to do things to get kicked out of school.
Making every school a “charter” without addressing discipline and esteem issues; without creating a coherent plan to address, once and for all, truancy is a meaningless exercise.
When The Mind Trust and IPS reformers start to understand and connect with those who really live in IPS, then I’ll know they’re really serious about school reform.
What I’m hearing
in the streets
Something radical happened in the Indianapolis area within the past year. The rapid growth of Indianapolis’ suburban counties suddenly slowed.
In the past several decades, Hamilton County has outpaced the growth of the area’s metro counties, including the largest – Marion.
Not this time. The Census Bureau reported last week that between the 2010 Census and last July, Marion County nearly equaled Hamilton County’s growth – 8,241 (Hamilton) vs. 7,903 (Marion).
The new population estimates would presage a decade’s growth for Marion County of 9 percent; nearly double the rate of the last decade. Hamilton County’s growth would be 30 percent, some 40 percent less than that county’s decade growth rate.
It’s too early to tell if the Great Recession has stunted suburban growth while boosting Indy city/county growth. But if true, that’s a major shift that will have all sorts of repercussions and ramifications.
* * * * *
Gov. Mitch Daniels’ administration has a problem with computers. The administration is suing computer giant IBM over FSSA messes. Now “computer errors” have resulted in budget disasters now totaling a half billion bucks.
First, a few months ago, $300 million that should’ve been accounted for in the state’s bank account wasn’t. “Computer programming error.”
Last week we learned that local governments were shortchanged $206 million by – “computer programming error.”
No one lost their jobs for the $300 million mistake. This time at least three top officials of the Department of Revenue will.
After the first fiscal screw-up Democratic legislative leaders demanded an independent audit. Gov. Daniels and Republican leaders said no.
Now, House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate Leader David Long quickly demanded an independent “bipartisan” audit. Democratic leaders said “told you so.”
Democratic governor candidate John Gregg held up the book Accounting for Dummies to highlight the Daniels’ crew’s incompetence in fiscal matters.
Republican governor candidate Rep. Mike Pence refused to comment for over a day. “Couldn’t be reached,” his aides said.
Bad look for someone whose only claim to be governor is he’s Republican and can run things.
Gov. Daniels didn’t say much as he’s visiting Israel and the Holy Land. I hope as he visits the holiest places in Christianity and Judaism, our governor will ask God for wisdom, guidance and better computer programming.
See ‘ya next week.
You can email comments to Amos Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.