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This very important post was written for this blog by Jim Scheurich on behalf of himself, Gayle Cosby, and Nathanial Williams, who are identified in the text. They are experienced in the school politics of Indianapolis, a city whose school system is being systematically dismantled and privatized. They have been active in the fight against what they call the DPE (Destroy Public Education) model in their city. Their experience and insights are extremely informative, especially their recognition that the DPE movement is not limited to Indianapolis; it has gone national. Indianapolis is only one of its targets. The business community, civic leaders, political leaders, DFER, the Mind Trust, and Stand for Children have joined together to Destroy Public Education. As they attack democratic institutions, they falsely claim that “it is all about the kids” and they claim they are advancing civil rights. Instead, it is about money and power and gentrification. As the paper points out, it used to be possible to run for the IPS school board with less than $5,000. Since the DPE crowd arrived, it costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to try for a seat on the local school board. Consequently, the DPE crowd has bought control of IPS.
Think National, Fight Local:
Fighting a National Neoliberal “Destroy Public Education” Model at the Local Level
Jim Scheurich, Gayle Cosby, and Nathanial Williams
Indianapolis, Indiana, Community & University Activists
The three of us have been collaboratively fighting the national neoliberal “Destroy Public Education” (DPE) model in Indianapolis, Indiana, for several years (we dislike calling it a “reform” model given the generally positive connotations of that word that obscure the truth about these efforts).
Gayle was an Indianapolis Public School (IPS) school board member from 2012-2016. She was initially funded to win her board seat by the local DPE initiative in 2012, but she soon realized what they were up to and turned into a vocal critic, publically speaking and organizing against them. Also, she is now an Urban Education Studies (UES) second year doctoral student at Indiana University – Indianapolis (IUPUI). Nathanial “Nate” Williams is a long time Indianapolis activist, starting as a Black Student Union activist in his undergraduate years at the same university. He graduated with his doctorate from the same UES doctoral program in 2015 and became a professor at Knox College in Illinois, though still maintaining his activism in Indianapolis as much as possible. I, Jim Scheurich, am a professor who came to Indianapolis in 2012 to coordinate the UES program after having been an educational leadership professor at Texas A&M for eight years and at the University of Texas at Austin for twelve years.
The three of us began meeting to share data and information a couple of years ago. It became clear that the local DPE’s deceptive messaging needed to be publically critiqued. The two “non-profit” organizations doing most of the DPE work in our community are the Mind Trust, which works to incubate and fund new charter school ideas and to facilitate partnerships with the Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS), and Stand for Children, a national organization headquartered in Oregon and working to dupe parents into loving the “choice” model or, as we call it, the DPE model in 11 states. In order to share this critique with the community, we began doing public forums and using social media.
However, what we want to focus on here is the national “model” that is being applied in Indianapolis. While Nate and Gayle began to “see” this early on, our understanding of it has only gotten stronger. We now believe there are a range of tactics or elements implemented across all the cities where the DPE model is being applied. We are not saying there is one set of tactics or elements (organizations, policy, rhetoric, etc) that is being applied everywhere, overseen in some tightly controlled way by one “headquarters” entity. While such a dominant, controlling entity may exist, we do not know about it. Probably the closest to such an organization is the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE), located at the University of Washington, as they list 39 cities (though we believe there are more following mainly the same “model”) and their characteristics (http://www.crpe.org/research/portfolio/tools/snapshot) (you have to click on “View Network Overview” to see all 39.)
The point to remember with all of the “model” tactics or elements is that they all converge on destroying traditional public education and privatizing and profitizing public education, and they often do so in a way that local people do not fully comprehend because of the slick marketing and messaging. Indeed, their public relations efforts are usually good to excellent, which commonly includes the appropriation of civil rights and community-oriented language.
Here, then, is our initial list of the “model” tactics or elements with some brief discussion on each, particularly in reference to Indianapolis. But one effort we really need is for activist researchers, community or university based, to send us your data from as many cities as possible. We need local community and university researchers to collaborate in developing the data from each individual city, and then we will synthesize all that data to further define and verify our contention that there is a national model, however decentralized in application. We will return to this point after our list.
1. Increasing integration of traditional public schools and charter schools, but with a favoring of charter schools. Here in Indianapolis, there is a step by step effort to enhance charters and dismantle the traditional district. Charters often get cozy deals from the school district that benefit them with dollars, busing, support, and students, while traditional schools serving the same student populations are squeezed financially and closed. Also, there has been the development of measures to have charters created by the district, which, in Indianapolis, are called “innovation” schools (we will cover this further below).
2. Usually a single funding conduit to which national and local wealthy, white individuals and organizations can contribute for the local DPE initiatives. This is especially useful for huge increases in the funding provided for school board elections. This conduit usually has a 501c4 to hide the sources and expenditures of the funds. Stand for Children plays that role here, as well as in Nashville, where they got a hand slap for violating local election laws (http://www.tennessean.com/story/news/education/2016/09/28/stand-children-charter-candidates-face-massive-fines/91239098/). In addition, Stand for Children is meeting some resistance in Denver and Chicago school board elections. Also, according to grassroots and university activists, the Skillman Foundation is playing a similar role in Detroit.
3. Local and national wealthy, white, conservative collaboration. Collaboration between local white, wealthy conservative power elite and national white, wealthy conservative (sometimes rightwing) power elite. Here in Indianapolis, this includes Chamber of Commerce, Board of Realtors, and Lilly. Nationally, it often includes Gates, Dell, the Koch brothers, the DeVos family, the Bradley Foundation, the Friedman Foundation, the Heritage Foundation, and the Walton family, or billionaire oligarchs as some would suggest.
4. Huge infusion of new dollars into school board elections. A huge increase in dollars is devoted to getting DPE-supported candidates elected to the school board, most of which flows through the single funding conduit discussed above. This increase in funding is phenomenal in Indianapolis. Before DPE became operational in Indianapolis, a local citizen could win a school board election with ~$5,000. Starting in 2012, Stand for Children was spending literally hundreds of thousands per candidate for each election and has spent over $1.5 million for all their candidates over the past three elections. As a result, Stand for Children has funded the campaigns of six of the seven current IPS board members, and it shows in their voting records.
5. Development of a network of local organizations or affiliates that all collaborate closely on the same local agenda. In Indianapolis, these include Stand for Children, Democrats for Education Reform (a cover for so-called members of the Democratic Party to support DPE; in 8 cities), Teach for America, Teach Plus, local charter schools, the Indianapolis Mayor’s office, the Chamber of Commerce, etc. The network will create some new organizations for a specific purpose, and then that organization, having served its purpose, will disappear. For example, Democrats for Education Reform operated in Indiana until the first wave of DPE candidates were elected in 2012. It then mysteriously ceased to exist, after contributing thousands of dollars to candidates. While the Mind Trust does have a diagram of its partners on its website, most local people do not know that a whole range of organizations are closely collaborating on the same agenda.
6. Teach for America (and all other instant-teacher-certification programs) and Teach Plus are integral parts of the DPE “model” agenda almost everywhere, whether they bear the same organizational name or work under a different name. These types of organizations provide new (typically short term), low salary teachers, especially for charters and especially to bust teacher unions and undermine university-based teacher preparation programs. Teach Plus is an organization that began in Boston and was incubated by the Indianapolis-based Mind Trust. It works by taking new teachers and paying them a stipend to research educational issues (of the pro-DPE variety) and teaching them to lobby at the statehouse for those issues. Together, they have funding support from the same funding sources as DPE initiatives nationally.
7. Innovations Schools. So-called “Innovation” schools are being set up across the country. For us here in Indianapolis, this is a way to set up charters within the school district. The school board signs a contract with an organization to run a charter within the district. That organization then has its own board, which has oversight over all aspects of the school. The Indianapolis School Board no longer has any control over the school, except for being able to get out of the contract if performance requirements are not met. In addition, that school can pay any charter management organization or its own organization whatever it wants. Thus, this within the district charter school is no longer under the control of the district and is now a source of profit for the “non-profit” organization, typically seen in the form of over-inflated CEO salaries at the top of the charter organization. Provocatively, the state legislation that made this possible comes from ALEC (the right wing American Legislative Exchange Council that has led the takeover of state government by the right wing with funding from the Koch Brothers and other billionaire oligarchs). ALEC calls this “The Innovation Schools and School Districts Act.” (https://www.alec.org/model-policy/the-innovation-schools-and-school-districts-act/). This is a good example of an initiative that looks local, but was actually created nationally.
8. Unified enrollment. This is a CRPE term (https://www.crpe.org/research/unified-enrollment). What it basically means is an online system through which parents can choose among both charters and district traditional schools. This sounds parent and student oriented, but it further cements charters and traditional schools into one so-called “choice” system, allows for manipulation of the racial and class make up of schools to serve gentrification, and often devolves into parents bidding for seats in the “best” schools. (We could offer more critique of this system, but no space for that here.) In Indianapolis, we do not have a fully developed one, but we are on our way with Enroll Indy. We believe this idea originated in New Orleans’ all charter district, where it is called EnrollNOLA. Los Angeles is considering it, but fighting over whether to include or exclude charter schools (http://www.latimes.com/local/education/la-essential-education-updates-southern-unified-enrollment-1494347803-htmlstory.html). Other cities that have or are considering this are Baltimore, Camden, Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, Detroit, Hartford, Memphis, New York City, Neward, Oakland, Philadelphia, Portland, Rochester, San Antonio, and Washington, DC—a regular roll call of DPE cities (http://iipsc.org/projects/).
9. Support for gentrification. Though many of the organizations involved in DPE vehemently state that one of their primary aims is integrated schools and equitable opportunities for all students, this is simply not the case. Indianapolis (and many other cities) are in various stages of gentrification of the inner city core. Population migration combined with school choice and, in some cases, unified enrollment (though not fully implemented here yet) has resulted in significant and intended racial isolation of white students in the district. Locally this is evidenced by the Indianapolis Mayor’s Office Neighborhoods of Educational Opportunity (or, NEO) plan, which is an educational reform (DPE) plan developed in hopes of raising the tax base in the inner city of Indianapolis (see: http://oei.indy.gov/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/NEO-Executive-Summary-04-22-13-draft.pdf). In the case of IPS, this gentrification, a la school choice, has left us with “highly desirable” magnet schools where a majority of the students are white. This conflation of “white” and “high performing” or “highly desirable” has led to further segregation of our public school students.
10. Business as best model for schooling. In Indianapolis, the Mind Trust and Stand for Children persistently claim that a business model is the best model for how to do schooling. However, particularly over the past decade or two, we now have extensive research in the U.S. and across the world as to the characteristics of schools that serve all children well, but there is no education research we know of that supports a business model as the best model for high quality schooling that serves all students well.
In your city, you may have some of the same elements of the DPE and some different than the ones in Indianapolis. Our point is that there is a kind of national menu of elements and tactics that local DPE initiatives are utilizing, and local folks do not usually know this. Indeed, our experience is that most local folks do not even know that the same kinds of neoliberal DPE efforts are being used in other cities.
Accordingly, we think it is critical that local people understand the national nature of what is occurring. We also think it is critical that those of us paying attention to the national level are communicating about this national menu of elements. Locally, one of the messages we are trying to communicate is that what we are fighting is a national “model,” not a locally derived one, as is typically communicated to the local community. This is especially important because our local DPE effort, led by the Mind Trust-Stand for Children Network, deceptively tries to portray itself as a local community effort dedicated to the local community.
To further our efforts to fight this anti-democratic, anti-community local-national effort to privatize and profitize public schools, we are asking other local communities to check this menu list of tactics and elements we have offered. Let us know which ones we have named that you have and which ones you have that we have not listed. If folks will do this, we can build a national data base that can be shared. Just send us the numbers for the ones you have, like you might have in your city #’s 1, 2, 4, 6, and 10, and then tell us a little about ones you have that we do not have listed here. Please send all such communications to Jim Scheurich at [email protected]