Indianapolis: What the Public Schools Learned from the Charter Schools

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Indianapolis: What the Public Schools Learned from the Charter Schools

"The epicenter of the privatization movement is Indianapolis, where an organization called The Mind Trust has led the effort to destroy public education," Ravitch writes. (Photo: Neon Tommy/flickr/cc)

Indiana has been taken over by the forces of corporate school reform, under a succession of Republican governors devoted to school choice: Mitch Daniels, Mike Pence, now Eric Holcomb. The public schools got a brief respite when educator Glenda Ritz was elected State Commissioner in 2012, but Pence spent four years attacking her Office and taking away its powers. Indiana has the gamut of privatization reforms: charter schools, vouchers, cybercharters.

The epicenter of the privatization movement is Indianapolis, where an organization called The Mind Trust has led the effort to destroy public education.

A teacher in Indiana recently left a comment about what she encountered when she returned to teaching in the public schools: lessons learned from charters.

She writes:

“I believe this “hypernormalization” can be traced back to the use of TFA [Teach For America] teachers in our public school system. I had to come out of retirement to go back to the classroom for economic reasons and found an Art teacher position in the Indianapolis Public Schools [IPS]. I joined a staff of over 50 teachers in a K-6 school with mostly young teachers (less than 10 years experience), TFA teachers, administrators with NO teaching experience and no teacher’s license, and a building with a high needs student population that was in complete chaos. The principal and assistant principal were only concerned only with “creating classroom culture,” or making sure that all the students walked in straight lines with a bubble in their mouth, hands clasped behind their backs. Data collection and testing was the driving force behind everything and it was of utmost importance to point out to any staff member their “numbers” to make sure the customers (parents) would be happy. With all of the emphasis on the outcome and none on actual learning, the building was reduced to violent fights and constant behavior disruption as evidence by the 12 staff members that were dedicated to behavior remediation. When I made comments or brought up ideas about changing the way behavior was addressed, or looking into more emphasis on learning and less on data collection I was regarded as a horrible relic from the past that had no idea how to teach in today’s public schools. I was force fed TFA propaganda, pummeled with articles about data from pro-TFA researchers, and forced to watch videos on the TFA Youtube channel to bring my thinking into the same place as the inexperienced teachers and administrators that demonstrated they knew nothing about how public schools work. As a teacher of over 30 years, with all kinds of recognition and accolades for excellence, I am regarded as an out of step relic who can’t possibly know what I am doing.

“TFA is like a virus that has infected the teaching profession and is slowly killing education. The sad part is that TFA’s philosophy is solidly grounded in the IPS school system, and I don’t see it changing with our GOP led state legislature imposing their micro management of IPS and other large urban school systems in Indiana; and I see the same thing happening in Florida, Ohio and many of the other super-reformy states.

A free and independent press is essential to the health of a functioning democracy

“If any of us have any hope of stopping the normalization of what isn’t normal for learning, then we need to identify the sources such as TFA and end their participation in public education.”

Diane Ravitch

Diane Ravitch

Diane Ravitch is a historian of education at New York University. Her most recent book is Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools.  Her previous books and articles about American education include: The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform, (Simon & Schuster, 2000); The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn (Knopf, 2003); The English Reader: What Every Literate Person Needs to Know (Oxford, 2006), which she edited with her son Michael Ravitch. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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