Saul Steinberg's iconic New Yorker cover comes to mind when I read of state policies handed down from Indianapolis. The views of too many Indy leaders resemble Steinberg's depiction of New Yorkers' view of the world.
It would be nice to dismiss the Indianapolis-driven policies as harmless, but 30 years of observing Indiana government has made it clear to me that the Circle City is the proverbial tail wagging the dog. Indiana's harmful property tax caps are the best example of a one-size-fits-all fix to a problem contained almost entirely to Marion County, but there are many more. In education, the criticism of lavish school buildings isn't based in statewide reality; it's the Indianapolis view of the city's suburban schools.
Consequently, all Hoosiers should take note of a new report recommending a redesign of Indianapolis Public Schools. Steve Hinnefeld does a nice job of explaining it at his School Matters blog.
The Indiana Department of Education pitched in about $500,000 for the $700,000 report, which should anger any parent, educator or student feeling the effects of K-12 budget cuts. The school board at New Harmony Town and Township Schools in southwestern Indiana made the tough decision this month to consolidate with another district. School officials expected to receive just $956,000 in state support next year. That's to cover all student instructional costs, not the cost of a study.
I haven't examined the 160-page Mind Trust report (yep, that's $4,375 a page) in great detail, but Hinnefeld's impression mirrors my own: "(T)he Mind Trust paid $700,000 to have its plan produced by Public Impact, a North Carolina consulting firm," he writes. "That seems like a hefty price for a product that appears to involve no original research, and with its executive summary packed with reformist jargon about bold visions, reinventing education, empowering parents, great leaders, great teachers, ad nauseum."
But it is a great-looking report. What else would you expect from a consulting firm production staff with experience on the J. Crew catalog?
Hinnefeld is right. The report mostly seems to be a compilation of existing studies and IPS financial figures. It sets out the groundwork for replacing the current district structure with a set of "opportunity schools." As is typical of current reform proposals, there's no evidence backing the success of such a large-scale plan, but the "opportunity" for education entrepreneurs certainly is guaranteed.
"The Mind Trust proposal for Indianapolis is shocking," writes education historian Diane Ravitch in an email. "It will lead to privatization of public education, turning over public dollars to private management, across the city. … What a coup for the privatizers."
The Mind Trust was founded by the former Democratic mayor of Indianapolis, Bart Peterson, and the first director of his charter school office. But the board now includes key advisers to Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, whose aims might not be the same as the founders' even if they find agreement on how to address IPS issues.
It's not hard to imagine legislation that begins by changing the rules for Indianapolis schools. An amendment or legislation in a subsequent session pushes the plan statewide and, once again, all of Indiana is subjected to an Indianapolis fix.
Now would be the right time for Indiana taxpayers to question the half-million in public dollars spent on The Mind Trust report. Did it help a single student?