Sunday, November 30, 2014

My Excellent Traditional Public School District vs. A Proposed New Charter

I'm one lucky teacher. I work in an excellent public school district, Merrillville Community School District, in Lake County, Indiana, located on the outskirts of the greater Chicagoland area.

Why do I say I'm so lucky? Merrillville has some OUTSTANDING things happening for our large, very diverse school district. In many ways, we are the flagship traditional public school district in northwest Indiana. Why do we say this in Pirate Country? From the website:

We are the recipient of several State and National awards:

* Merrillville High School: International Center for Leadership in Education Model School, Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color (COSBOC) Model School, and US News and World Reports Bronze Medalist

* Fieler Elementary and Pierce Middle Schools: PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports) Indiana pilot and Model Schools

* Salk Elementary: 2013 US Department of Education Blue Ribbon School, Title 1 Distinguished School, and COSBOC model school

* Merrillville High School is the only diverse high school [read: majority African American/Latino high school] of its size in Indiana which has been graded an "A" continuously for the last three years.

Furthermore, Merrillville High School is home to 2013's High School Principal of the Year in Indiana (the Horace Mann Award) Michael Krutz.

We could go on on and. Our high school's graduation rate of 93% is very good, especially for a district in which more than 50% of its students are on free or reduced lunch(1). We are well ahead of other districts in our area on statewide testing scores on both the ISTEP, (elementary/middle school level) and ECA tests(2). And those Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color (COSBOC) Awards are absolutely nothing to sneeze at; COSBOC is a very eminent organization.

We are big, multi-ethnic, traditional public school district that is doing some wonderful things for a group of kids who REALLY NEED a great education. Again, more than 50% of students, putting aside ethnicity entirely, are on free or reduced lunch. A large percentage of our kids were born in Gary, or at one point went to Gary schools, as Gary is just north 53rd Street. We are a REAL SUCCESS STORY for a large, diverse, traditional public education, here in Merrillville.

None of that seems to matter much to the educational quote "reformers" unquote who are backing the prospective and cleverly-acronymed Northwest Indiana Science and Engineering (NISE) Charter School, which hopes to open in Merrillville in the Fall of 2016, and build toward 6-12 grade classes totalling 700 students by 2020. These backers are mostly a group of COLLEGE-LEVEL educators, backed by Ball State University, in Muncie, Indiana, which is located across the state of Indiana, about 200 miles from the good people of Merrillville/Gary. According to their own highly reasonable-sounding proposal, the NISE-guys just want to bring renewed focus upon Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) to the good folks of northwest Indiana. As anyone in the education field will tell you, "STEM" is a pretty big buzz-acronym in educational circles these days. To be sure, no one is going to argue AGAINST trying to develop more Scientists, Technorati, Engineers, and Mathematicians.

The NISE-guys, backed by Ball State, will then hire out the fine minds at American Quality Schools Corporation, to run the school. If you want to see what neo-liberal, corporatized education looks like, you can follow the link above.

In case you're not familiar with the jist of how these things run, it's as follows. In Indiana, like most states, state funding is doled out on a per-pupil basis, and different districts get varying amounts from the state of Indiana, to run their programs. In Merrillville's large district, this amounts to roughly $5,500 per student. When they open a new charter, "cuz choice," the money for the students enrolling there follows the students, to their new charter. You can do the math with regards to $5,500 per 700 students, it works out to $3.85 million a YEAR. The traditional public school loses funding, "cuz competition," although I'd challenge you to find any other so-called "competition" where you cut off the fingers of the old champion, so that the new kid on the block can compete.

The preponderance of evidence is that charter schools, en masse, are doing no better, Capital-W Whatsoever, at educating our nation's youth, in this country. What they are EXCELLENT at doing though, is siphoning off dollars from traditional public schools, paying teachers less, demanding less accountability, and lining the pockets of a corporate-style CEO's of highly-profitable neo-liberal "non-profits." Traditional public schools are far from perfect, but in Merrillville, we have an extremely good thing going. Students going elsewhere represent a SIGNIFICANT threat to our continued excellence. And guess what, in spite of the NISE-guys laughable claim that they will take those students who "fall through the cracks," and specifically MCSC's expulsions, charters typically have much lower thresholds for removal of problem students, and that's academically, AND behaviorally. The traditional school district, of course, HAS to take everyone - that's democracy in education, folks.

In this particular case, there is cause for major concerns with regards to Ball State's ABILITY to even run a decent charter school. In January of 2013, not two years ago, Ball State suddenly pulled the charters of seven schools, in one day. And fully 20 of its 43 statewide charters were notified that their status was in question at one point in that same winter.

As for Merrillville's performance doing STEM-education, specifically . . . we AGAIN have an excellent record. In fact, Merrillville Community School Corporation will share a major STEM grant with other Northwest Indiana Schools.

It is INSULTING, when our traditional public school are doing so very well in Merrillville, to be told "we can do it better," by a group of people whose entire educational experience isn't even at the K-12 level, for the most part. There is zero reason to think the NISE-guys are going to do STEM-education any better than Merrillville's outstanding traditional school district, which has an long and excellent record of doing the same.

SO WHAT CAN WE DO?

Good news folks, today is the FINAL DAY for public comment on the proposed new charter school! You can take a little time and let them know your concerns by emailing ramarra AT bsu DOT edu. Here's my letter to the Executive Director of the Office of Charter Schools, if you'd like to let 'em know TODAY!

Dear Mr. Marra:

As a long time public educator in Merrillville, I'm writing to express my firm opposition to the Northwest Indiana Science and Engineering Charter School.

With all due respect, I have major concerns with regards to Ball State's ABILITY to even run a good charter school. In January of 2013, not two years ago, your office suddenly pulled the charters of seven schools, in one day. And as you surely know, 20 of Ball State's 43 statewide charters were notified that their status was in question at one point in that same winter.

Merrillville's outstanding traditional public school district is one of the marquee public school districts in northwest Indiana. It is the recipient of several State and National awards:

* Merrillville High School: International Center for Leadership in Education Model School, Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color (COSBOC) Model School, and US News and World Reports Bronze Medalist

* Fieler Elementary and Pierce Middle Schools: PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports) Indiana pilot and Model Schools

* Salk Elementary: 2013 US Department of Education Blue Ribbon School, Title 1 Distinguished School, and COSBOC model school. These Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color (COSBOC) Awards are absolutely nothing to scoff at; COSBOC is a very eminent organization.

* Merrillville High School is the only diverse high school of its size in Indiana which has been graded an "A" continuously for the last three years.

* Merrillville High School is home to 2013's High School Principal of the Year in Indiana (the Horace Mann Award), Michael Krutz.

* Merrillville High School's graduation rate of 93% is very good, especially for a district in which more than 50% of its students are on free or reduced lunch.

* Merrillville is well ahead of other districts in our area on statewide testing scores on both the ISTEP, (elementary/middle school level) and ECA tests.

* As for Merrillville's performance doing STEM-education, specifically . . . we AGAIN have an excellent record. In fact, Merrillville Community School Corporation will share a major STEM grant with other Northwest Indiana Schools.

It is INSULTING, when our traditional public school are doing so very well in Merrillville, to be told "we can do it better," by a group of people whose entire educational experience isn't even at the K-12 level, for the most part. There is zero reason to think the NISE folks are going to do STEM-education any better than Merrillville's outstanding traditional school district, which has an long and excellent record of doing the same.

Please do the right thing, and let Merrillville outstanding traditional public school system work its excellent programs, unhampered by funding cuts emerging from an unproven charter school.

Sincerely,

___________

_______________

Keep it civil, but let the folks at Ball State know that this is a place where we don't need an unproven new charter school!

Thank you for continuing the struggle.

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