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Indiana's phony grassroots reform

The New York Times uses an Indiana anecdote to introduce its Sunday report on Bill Gates' under-the-radar influence in so-called education reform. In this example, a group of earnest young Indiana educators testified before lawmakers and submitted an op-ed to the Indianapolis Star, successfully advocating for laws to reduce teacher union influence.

But the teachers who persuaded Democratic lawmaker Mary Ann Sullivan to support the Daniels/Bennett agenda, according to the Times, were recruits in Teach Plus, a non-profit group heavily bankrolled by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Teach Plus has been gaining steady ground in Indiana. Its executive director is former ISTA UniServ director Casey Patterson, who is a member of the first class of Marian University's Turnaround Leaders Academy. Marian's president is State Board of Ed member Daniel Elsener, and the university employed the wife of state schools chief Tony Bennett until criticism of the obvious conflicts of interest grew too strong. Marian University won a $500,000 contract from the Indiana DOE to run the turnaround academy, in spite of competition from a much better-qualified Indiana University program.

Teach Plus also is supported by the Mind Trust, an Indianapolis nonprofit founded by former Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson and David Harris, first director of the mayor's charter school office. Its staff includes Ann Shane, wife of state ed board member David Shane and an insider in the Daniels administration. Former Today Show host Jane Pauley, an Indianapolis native, is a Mind Trust supporter.

Barbara Miner's exhaustive look at the money behind the "Waiting for Superman" documentary is the best effort I've seen at untangling the odd alliances attacking public education today. "Follow the money" is truly the best way to get to the bottom of it all.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at