Monday, December 19, 2011

Mayoral Control Of IPS Is Not The Solution

The Indianapolis business community and Mayor Greg Ballard, not surprisingly, are embracing a proposal by the Mind Trust at the beginning of this year's legislative session to hand control of the failing Indianapolis Public School System to Mayor Ballard and the Indianapolis City-County Council. The Mind Trust, which is controlled by former Mayor Bart Peterson and one of his long-time political cronies dating from his days working as Evan Bayh's chief of staff before becoming mayor, David Harris, would give the mayor three appointees to a new five-member board, while a fourth member would be appointed by the City-County Council. The Mind Trust plan says it will allow about $188 million currently spent by the top-heavy IPS administration transferred to classroom spending. Notice that the driving principle here is that spending more per student leads to better schools, a demonstrably untrue claim that has been proven over and over again over the past several decades of our declining public school systems.

There is nothing novel about the Mind Trust proposal to hand control of a major city's public school system to the mayor. It has been done in Chicago, Boston and other major cities with less than successful results. Like Indianapolis, Chicago has also closed many neighborhood schools in its school system and opened up dozens of new charter schools in their place. Children who attend the charter schools tend to have parents who are more actively involved in the education of their children, and the children who attend them are better performing students on average than the students who are attending the traditional public schools. The gulf between the performance of minority and non-minority students has also continued to widen. Even the results for Indianapolis' charter schools have been very mixed at best. The charter schools approved by the mayor's office always tend to be populated with big poltical supporters of the mayor.

We are told that an IPS under the control of the mayor will be more accountable to the public. That has not happened in other major cities like Chicago by a long shot. Moreover, name me one high profile mayoral-controlled entity in Indianapolis that is accountable to the public. The Capital Improvement Board, as a leading example, could care less what the public thinks about anything it does or how it spends taxpayers' monies. The appointees are always people beholden to the establishment interests it serves. Not one independent-thinking person has been appointed to that board during the more than 20 years I've lived in this city. The public is repeatedly rebuffed and ignored by the political appointees of the CIB, the Public Works Board, the Library Board, the Metropolitan Development Commission and every other board controlled by the appointees of the mayor and the council. When these boards make decisions the public doesn't like, the mayor and the council  hide behind the fact that those entities operate independently from their control.

If we really wanted to improve IPS, we would end teacher tenure to make it easier to get rid of bad, non-performing teachers, and we would break the school system up into much smaller community school systems with board members elected from those neighborhood schools. If we've learned anything over the past few decades, it should be the fact that bigger schools do not make better schools. Don't turn the schools into another political instrument that will be used to reward the mayor's campaign contributors. Indianapolis is as corrupt as Chicago when it comes to using the government largesse to reward the people stuffing the most money in the politicians' pockets. The idea that Mayor Ballard or any other mayor will run the schools better and more efficiently than they've run the CIB or any other municipal instrumentality is laughable. Ballard wanted control of IMPD. Look how badly it's been run under his short leadership. Why should we think he would run the school system better than he's run the police department?


CircleCityScribe said...

Mind Trust has a great thought. "Reform" is the job that New Yorker Frank Straub, PhD, is here have Frank Straub, PhD, (NY intellectual, who knows how to instill the Liberal way) become the IPS Superintendent!

Marycatherine Barton said...

I very much agree with the title of this report, AI, and the reasons you give; as well as your written suggestions on how to improve IPS.