Archives for category: Indiana

Mark Giaquinta here explains the hoax of vouchers in Indiana. He served as president of the Fort Wayne school board. It was my privilege to visit some of that city’s excellent public schools when I lectured there a couple of years ago.

Vouchers were sold under the pretext of “helping poor kids escape from failing public schools.” So said the sponsors of the legislation.

In fact, the vouchers are now available for students who never attended public schools. They are a direct subsidy of religious schools.

One church, as Phyllis Bush pointed out in a guest post for Anthony Cody, is using the voucher windfall to repair its steeple.

Is this what the people of Indiana want? Or is it ALEC at work again, undermining a democratic institution?

Mark writes:


The voucher program in Indiana was defended as a method that would allow poor Hoosier children to escape from failing schools. Of course, many of us knew that was nothing more than a slogan. There never was a voucher requirement that to become eligible, the student leave a poor performing school or apply to a higher performing school (putting aside the problem of defining either). In addition, the income requirements extended well into middle class. Finally, the program was expanded to those who never attended public schools, thus eliminating once and for all the “help those poor kids escape” illusion.

The vast majority of voucher money is now spent by those desirous of a religious education; a facet of the educational experience with which public schools cannot compete. The recent release of the Voucher Study details the number of students receiving taxpayer assistance and the names of the various Catholic, Lutheran, Islamic and non-denominational schools they attend. There are approximately 2800 voucher students within the FWCS boundaries. (FN1) FWCS estimates it lost about 500 students to vouchers; therefore more than 80% of the recipients were already parochial school students.

More alarming, the common school fund has not grown to accommodate the policy decision to fund both public and private schools. The result is fewer dollars for all public schools as the common school fund is diverted to ….. church steeples! Yes, you read that correctly. In a recent address to parish members, Rev. Jake Runyon , Pastor of St. Jude Parish, spoke at length on the importance of parishioners applying for the tax funded choice scholarships. His remarks were recorded and are available on the parish web site. Pastor Runyon made it clear that increasing the number of voucher students will, “ease the financial burden on the parish.” He then went on to explain to parishioners that expanding the tax supported scholarships will make it less difficult, “for me to do some certain thing on the Church side of things like fix the steeple, paint the roof and maybe grow the ministries we can do, you know, on the Church side of things.” (at 13:00 to 14:00).

I love my Catholic faith and I am proud of my Catholic education, paid for by my dad. I even introduced a Resolution to the FWCS Board a few years back congratulating our Catholic colleagues for Catholic Schools week. My grandfather, Thomas Kelly, stood in for Bishop Noll and broke the ground for Central Catholic High School (with Superintendant Abbot turning dirt beside him). I am, nonetheless, dismayed and disappointed at this acknowledgement that the common school fund has become part of a shell game to support religious activities. It is my hope that community leaders will speak out forcefully to legislators and bring this sorry chapter of constitutional contempt to an end. I fully understand the consequences of speaking out on this issue but I have no desire to serve on the school board and witness its demise as the result of policies which I believe would shock the consciences of the delegates to our Constitutional Conventions of 1816 and 1850.

Thanks for your consideration.

Mark E. GiaQuinta

FN 1: I have not distinguished between a voucher and a “Choice Scholarship” because both direct public dollars from the common school fund to religious education and because the tax funded scholarship program creates voucher eligibility in subsequent years. It is disappointing that so very few taxpayers and “tax watchdogs” understand how the Scholarships work. A taxpayer creates a scholarship of at least $1,000 for her student at a particular school and receives a tax credit (50%) which is taken from the common school fund. The private school can pay the balance of the tuition because the scholarship is a gateway to a voucher in subsequent years.

Mark E. GiaQuinta, Esq.
444 East Main Street
Fort Wayne, Indiana 46802
Telephone: (260) 426-0444
Facsimile: (260) 422-0274
Legal Assistant: Carrie Thomas, (260) 399-1528,

The Indiana State Teachers Association reports on a bill to privatize more public schools in Indianapolis. Privatization is not new. It is the theme song of the Obama administration in collaboration with libertarian think tanks and far-right governors.

What is new here is that the legislature is passing this plan with no evidence that it will benefit children or improve education. No, wait, there IS. Evidence. The evidence shows that all such turnovers have failed. This is faith-based policy.

The House Education Committee passed HB 1321 (Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis) 9-4 along party lines.

The bill gives the IPS School Board power to enter into contracts with “special management teams” (i.e. outside vendors) to create “innovation schools,” formerly called under the bill “portfolio schools.” These terms are simply euphemisms for takeover schools.

HB 1321 is being pushed and supported by the IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee and IPS school board, Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, Stand for Children, and the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce.

It is being promoted as an opportunity for collaboration between the school board and charter schools in exchange for “flexibility” with IPS schools earning a grade of D or F. However, the chief bit of flexibility the bill focuses in on is the elimination of teacher rights and input. The superintendent talked about best practices and teacher buy-in, yet his bill models neither.

The main talking points against this bill are:

The IPS School Board was elected and the IPS Superintendent was hired to operate the schools in their school district—not pay middlemen to do their work.

The performance record of these outside private companies taking over schools in this state has been a failure—all 5 schools that have been taken over (now in their 3rd year of operation) remain “F” schools (4 in IPS, 1 in Gary). Taxpayers have paid millions of dollars so far to these companies with no discernible return.

Blaming teachers and their unions is a cop-out and indefensible: in 2011, the General Assembly narrowed bargaining and discussion topics and timelines and created new teacher evaluation and due process laws heavily favoring school employers. It is clear that the intent is to make these teachers “at will” employees.

HB 1321 is an insult to teachers working in some of the most challenging schools in the state and “giving away” students and teachers in these schools is shameful.

Phyllis Bush of the Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education sent word that it is -16 degrees in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

But the legislature never rests, she says:

“At 1:30 the Senate Education Committee will be discussing taking away the Statewide testing requirements for voucher schools. Anything for keeping the playing field level….just in case you are a glutton for punishment, here is the live stream link:″

Ever busy, the legislature also expects to pass a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, which is already illegal.

If you saw a person drowning, would you throw him a life preserver or would you tell him to swim harder? Or perhaps withdraw the lifeline that he was clinging to?

If you saw a visually impaired person trying to cross a busy street, would you help her or would you tell her she is on her own? Or, to make things worse, take away her cane?

This Indiana teacher responded to another reader to explain how Indiana is punishing schools where the scores are low by withdrawing funding that the school needs to help the children:

The state of Indiana has decided that if a school is struggling to bring test scores up, they LOSE money that might otherwise help provide the resources that low-SES schools lack. When school funding is cut because of scores, the first issue to suffer is the budget for materials. The second – pay for teachers and teachers’ positions. This makes it harder to attract and retain the best teachers, and that contributes to the problem you address.

So the state uses funding to punish schools who need the most help. It’s the proverbial vicious cycle! And this is why many suspect and vocally claim that school reformers are deliberately widening the gap between the haves and have-nots.

Republicans in Indiana still can’t get over the fact that the voters elected Glenda Ritz as state commissioner of education in 2012 and tossed out their idol, Tony Bennett, who outspent Ritz 10-1.

Ritz won more votes than Governor Mike Pence.

Ever since the election, Pence has tried to take away the powers of the office of state commissioner of education and transfer them to the state board of education, which he controls.

Here is the latest maneuver.

If you live in Indiana, please take action to stop this blatant power grab!

Tell your representatives to respect the democratic process.

Here is an immediate call to action for this weekend:

The House Education Committee will hear HB1320 at their 8:30 meeting on Monday morning. It creates a statewide student record repository which puts student records and data in the hands of the state board of education. The State Board is staffed by the Center for Education & Career Innovation (CECI), Gov. Pence’s new layer of bureaucracy designed to bypass Glenda Ritz and the Department of Education. According to the fiscal note, security issues and the sensitivity of the data could potentially require the State Board to establish a new stand alone computer system to implement the requirements of this bill. Initial estimates of such a computer system are approximately $3.7 million. Funds for the record repository would have to be appropriated by the legislature in the next budget. Student data is currently in held in the Department of Education and is the key to where federal grants and other funds flow. If this bill passes, it could change that flow to CECI instead of Glenda Ritz’s department.

Let the members of the committee know you see HB1320 as a power grab to bypass the elected Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz and ask them to oppose it.

The members are:
Rep. Robert Behning, Chairman  (email:
Rep. Rhonda Rhoads, Vice Chr. (email: )
Rep, Vernon Smith, Ranking Minority Member (email: )
Rep. Lloyd Arnold (email: )

Rep. Kreg Battles (
Rep. Woody Burton,( )
Rep. Ed Clere (
Rep Dale DeVon ( )
Rep. Sue Errington ( )
Rep. Todd Huston ( )
Rep. Jim Lucas ( )
Rep. Jeffrey Thompson ( )
Rep  Shelli VanDenburgh (

The House Switchboard # is 1-800-382-9842 but is not staffed over the weekend and doesn’t take messages. You may be able to call first thing on Monday morning and leave messages for all of these folks.
Please write to all of your friends and let them know about this bill.  We need to network. 

This post was written by Charles J. Morris, Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Denison University, who lives in Indianapolis.

Does the ISTEP Measure School Quality and Teacher Effectiveness?

Charles J. Morris1

While there appears to be general agreement that teachers can make a big difference in the lives of students, there is little evidence that performance on standardized tests provides a valid assessment of teacher effectiveness. Nonetheless, at the national, state, and local levels, we are seeing increasing use of test scores to evaluate both schools and teachers, to award merit pay, and even sanction low performing schools and corporations.

This growing trend toward using test scores to evaluate schools and teachers fails to recognize the evidence that factors beyond the control of schools account for most of the variation we see in test scores among school districts throughout a given state. Matthew Di Carlo of the Shanker Institute sums it up this way: “…roughly 60 percent of achievement outcomes is explained by student and family background characteristics…schooling factors explain roughly 20 percent, most of this (10-15 percent) being teacher effects.”2 (The remaining variation is unexplained and considered error variance.) What this basically means is that schools and teachers are being judged to a substantial degree on the basis of factors over which they have little control.

Is the above conclusion also true for the ISTEP, Indiana’s test for measuring student performance and evaluating school quality and teacher effectiveness? The purpose of this short piece is to briefly summarize some evidence which indicates that the same conclusion holds for the ISTEP: Out-of-school factors, namely the socioeconomic profile (SES) of a school district, explain most of the variation we see in test performance from one district to the next.

Consider, for example, the following chart which shows the percent of students who passed both the ELA (English/Language Arts) and Math portions of the 2013 ISTEP as a function of the percentage of students in the corporation (Indiana’s districts) who qualify for free- or reduced-price lunches (FRPL, a commonly used measure of SES):


These data are based on the 56 corporations that have at least 5000 students in the district. As can be seen, there is a very strong correlation between the two variables: The higher the percentage of kids who qualify for FRPL, the lower the passing percentage. Another way of putting it is, if we know the socioeconomic profile of a corporation we can make a very good prediction of where that corporation stands compared to other corporations on the ISTEP. This should not be a surprise to those familiar with the research literature. The same relationship has been found for the various standardized tests used throughout the country.

The above results are based on the performance of all students in each corporation. The following charts show the results separately for 3rd and 8th graders:


Again, we see the same pattern for both grade levels, basically unchanged after 5 years of schooling in a high-scoring or low-scoring corporation. The SES influence is quite strong independently of the schools and teachers in a particular corporation. In fact, if anything, the SES impact appears to become slightly stronger as students progress from the 3rd to 8th grade.

So what are we to make of this obvious association between ISTEP scores of SES? The seemingly inescapable conclusion is that corporations and teachers deserve neither praise nor criticism for how their student compare to other corporations and teachers. Clearly, the socioeconomic profile (SES) of the corporation plays a decisive role. So I ask a simple question: Does anyone seriously believe that if Carmel and Gary (a high and low-performing corporation, respectively) exchanged teachers, the ISTEP scores would suddenly reverse themselves? I don’t think so.

The challenge thus becomes how to respond to the fact that poorer kids are not performing well in our schools. Is there less parental involvement in these communities? Are expectations lower? Do these parents need additional help in becoming more effective mentors? Are after-school tutoring programs a possible solution? What about summer programs? Or pre-school programs? Perhaps all of the above, along with addressing the well-documented and devastating effects that poverty has on the health and well-being of poor children long before they even enter school3.

But one thing seems clear: Judging school and teacher quality on the basis of test scores offers little in the way of a solution. We need to look beyond our schools and teachers if we are going to better prepare all kids for the world they will face in the days ahead.

1Charles J. Morris is an Emeritus Professor of Psychology from Denison University. He resides in Indianapolis.

2Matthew Di Carlo, Shanker Institute (see

3Diane Ravitch, Reign of Error (New York: Knopf, 2013, pp. 91-98).

Adam Wren at Indianapolis Monthly writes a compelling account of the search for the emails that embarrassed star “reformer” Tony Bennett and caused him to resign as Commissioner of Education in Florida.

As you may recall, Bennett was upset by Democratic educator Glenda Ritz in the fall elections in 2012, although he spent ten times as much as she.

Bennett was a superstar in the rightwing privatization movement and was quickly hired as state commissioner in Florida. But last summer, a treasure trove of emails were reported by AP investigative reporter Tom LoBianco, showing that Daniels had manipulated the A-F grading system to protect a charter school founded by one of his biggest campaign contributors. As a result of his largesse, the school received an A (the latest state report lowered its grade to an F).

But how did LoBianco get the emails?

That is the meat of this article.

What is fascinating, to me at least, is that the Bennett crowd cries foul because the emails were discovered, not because of what was said in them. They blame the Ritz team for leaking the emails, even though there is a law in Indiana that all official correspondence should be released on request. They think that once the damning emails were deleted, no one should have been able to find them. It’s not fair! they say.


Charter Schools USA took over some low-performing schools in Indiana, and its three schools are still low-performing.

The state paid out $30 million to five so-called “turnarounds,” but none has turned around.

The chief academic officer for Charter Schools USA, which operates Emma Donnan, Manual and Howe, says turnaround is not “a quick fix.”

“What is encouraging about our results as we’ve been tracking them,” Sherry Hage wrote in a statement, “is that while we may have received an ‘F,’ our schools are most definitely not failing any longer.

Ex-State Commissioner Tony Bennett’s wife works for Charter Schools USA.

The corporation donated to Bennett’s failed re-election campaign.




You remember Tony Bennett? Not the famous singer but the guy who was State Commissioner of education in Florida. The guy who led the effort to privatize public education in Indiana and led the charge for charter schools, vouchers, for-profit charters, virtual charters, high-stakes testing, the A-F grading system, and the elimination of collective bargaining rights for teachers. Remember that he was honored by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute as the leading “reformer” (translated, privatizers) of all state chiefs. He was also chair of Jeb Bush’s “Chiefs for Change,” composed of state superintendents who share Jeb’s antipathy to public education.

Now, you may recall, that Bennett ran for re-election and was trounced by Democrat Glenda Ritz. Despite Bennett’s more than 5-1 funding advantage over Ritz, she won more votes than the new Republican governor, Mike Pence.

Here is a recap: After his stunning defeat, Bennett was promptly hired as state superintendent in Florida, where Jeb Bush created the template for the privatization movement. Meanwhile, back in Indiana, newly elected Governor Pence has done whatever he could to strip power and authority away from Glenda Ritz’s office and turn it over to a parallel agency that he created or to the Legislature, controlled by his allies.

As for Bennett, he didn’t last long in Florida. In August 2013, he resigned after a journalist for AP revealed that Bennett and his team had changed the A-F grading system to avoid giving a C grade to a charter school founded by a major contributor. Bennett contested the journalist’s interpretation, but his resignation suggested tat he wasn’t prepared to fight to refute the allegations.

The Bennett story was one of the biggest of the year.

There is only one other important detail that has not been explored, at least not on this blog: Who put up nearly $2 million to re-elect Tony Bennett in Indiana? Was it supplied by grateful parents in Indiana? No.

Mostly, it was big out-of-state donors who fund the privatization movement across the nation, in state and even local races.

His single biggest contributor was Alice Walton of the Walmart family of Arkansas. She gave $200,000, nearly 11% of Bennett’s total. Alice Walton has generously funded privatization campaigns in Georgia, Washington state, and elsewhere.

His second largest contribution of $175,000 came from Dean V. White, an Indiana corporate leader who is a major on or to Indiana Republicans.

Christel Dehaan gave Bennett $90,000. It was her charter school that was at the center of the grade–fixing scandal. Dehaan gave a total of $283,000 to the Indiana Republican Party this year.

Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst contributed $64,000.

There were also contributions to Tony Bennett by Eli Broad of Los Angeles, who pretends to be a liberal Democrat; the voucher-loving, far-right American Federation of Children, led by the DeVos family; Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York City, who prefers to project an image as a liberal independent; Roger Hertog, equity investor in New York and former chair of NYC’s conservative Manhattan Institute; Dan Loeb, hedge fund manager in New York City.

Florida blogger Bob Sikes reported: “Rhee’s contribution to Bennett’s Indiana campaign places her among his top contributors. Among his contributors from Florida were three members of Florida’s board of education, Jeb Bush, Patricia Levesque and charter school giants Charter Schools USA and Academica.” Patricia Levesque is Jeb Bush’s top policy advisor.

Remember that Tony Bennett, after being beaten by Glenda Ritz in an election last fall, was hired to be Commissioner of Education in Florida? Remember that he resigned his position in Florida after the Associated Press released emails showing that Bennett had changed the grading system to lift the grade of a charter school founded by a big campaign contributor (both to his campaign and to the state GOP).

Indiana grades just came out. Christel House Academy, Bennett’s favorite charter, dropped from the A that he manufactured, to an F.

Lots of excuses from the charter school.

The dog ate its homework.


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