As far as I can determine (and I’ve asked him), no school superintendent has told Mayor Greg Ballard how to fix the streets or fight crime. Things are a long way from satisfactory in both those areas; but who are a bunch of educators to tell infrastructure experts and police brass how to do their jobs?
Back at you. Who is this mayor, and who are his predecessors, to tell people trained and steeped in pedagogy that they’re doing a lousy job and need city hall to take over?
I jumped at the opportunity to pose that question during Ballard’s recent visit with The Star’s Editorial Board because I see a yawning fundamental gap in the education “reform” movement being ramrodded by politicians without education backgrounds.
That is, they know they don’t like the costs and results of public education, but they don’t really know what the right price might be and they can’t identify what it is that schools are doing wrong.
The schools under his jurisdiction aren’t so shabby, Ballard noted. There are 11 public school districts in Marion County, and their overall graduation rate is 80 percent.
Ah, but Indianapolis Public Schools? That system he’ll cut into with as many of his charter schools as he can.
Why? IPS, he said, isn’t being run “properly.”
What did he mean? I asked. Which methodologies would he recommend to these professionals to improve their work? What exactly is the basis for his negative performance review?
“They don’t graduate their students.”
Here was another opportunity. I asked him to look at it in reverse.
Students don’t graduate.
Not in adequate numbers, anyway. Many succeed in IPS, but many do not. They drop out. They move around. They get in trouble with the law. They get pregnant. They go to work to support their families. They start school behind and can’t envision catching up.
Lots of these casualties — as the mayor himself asserted — are trapped in a “multi-generational cycle” in which “Parents have no idea how to help their kids.”
IPS has done much with the stated aim of helping those kids, including 40 years of magnet schools — “choice,” if you will. The efforts can be critiqued, to be sure, and fault can be identified; but that would take homework.
Instead, Ballard chimes in with former mayors crooning the old chestnut about how IPS impedes their revitalization of the city. And he endorses the state GOP education agenda, which calls for cuts in IPS funding along with various blunt instruments of test tyranny, teacher disempowerment and privatization. Professionalism is addressed mainly in the breach, particularly with the push for more charters and for vouchers for private schools. Reformers, you see, are cavalier about credentials as well as job security.
I don’t mean to pick on the mayor or give the education “establishment” a pass. I see him as representative of a bipartisan legion of leaders who crave a work force of supermen and want to believe the schools could churn them out with a few well-placed kicks.