Saturday, January 19, 2013

If You're Not Outraged, You're Not Paying Attention

I hope you are outraged.

When Glenda Ritz won the election last November, the joy in schools and across communities, among teachers, parents, and grandparents who wrote letters, made phone calls and stood at polls was pervasive.  The shock and awe of the politicians, corporate leaders, reformers (or "deformers" as we like to call them), the governor, and Bennett himself... was deeply satisfying to those of us who wanted this victory with all of our beings.  It was compared to David and Goliath.  Bennett had outspent Ritz 5 to 1.  It was a statistically shocking defeat.  It showed that sometimes elections can't be bought.  Sometimes the people's will prevails and democracy works.

The tone among my teacher friends before the election was one of oppression.  They listened to me go off about Bennett with mostly silence, sometimes smiling knowingly (as if I didn't know the HALF of what was happening in these classrooms as a result of Bennett's reforms) and sometimes looking nervous, as if they might be found out for their dissent.  It was like living in a tyrannical state with fear and stress as a second skin.

During Tony Bennett's term, funding was slashed for our public schools.  Money left the public schools' pot and went over to private schools and home schools through vouchers and tax credits.  Teachers lost their collective voice, their bargaining power to advocate for the conditions of the classroom in which children learn.  Standardized tests were used to label children, teachers and schools; indeed, whole communities were labeled, as "failures" and the pressure was rising.  Teachers were portrayed as union thugs and defenders of a status quo which was harmful to children.  Fear of failure was epidemic.    And then Glenda Ritz was elected.

Someone recently posted on Facebook that the new D.O.E. website was up and running. The theme across its face is : "Imagining the possibilities.Making them happen."  The comments from people of how great it was to see this, how cheerful its face is now, how anyone can set up an appointment online to meet with Ritz, reminded me of the overthrow of Baby Doc in the early 90s in Haiti.  Baby Doc was a horrible dictator. When Jean Bertrand Aristide came to power, the very first democratically elected president of Haiti, he opened the doors to the president's house and invited all the people to come to an open house, to celebrate a budding democracy and a representative for the people and by the people.  It might be a dramatic analogy, but I really feel it and I don't think I am alone.  Today is our people's open house.  Today Glenda Ritz will host an inauguration in the Statehouse with a reception/open house at the D.O.E. to follow.  Today we celebrate an expert teacher who will be a voice for all Indiana teachers and children.


Tyrants don't go away quietly.  The political machine that supports and backs them in this case remains in our statehouse.  Representative Behning, a great champion of Tony Bennett and his agenda (which, incidentally is ALEC's agenda, a blatant desire to privatize public education), has a number of house bills in line which would effectively silence the voice of Glenda Ritz and take away her power to affect change.

House Bill 1251 (Huston?):   Removes the requirement that at least four members of the state board of education be actively employed in schools in Indiana and hold a teaching license.  Also removes the requirement that no more than 6 members of the board be of the same political party.

No educational experience necessary to make enormous decisions regarding the issues facing education? Seriously? This is how we respect all educators and validate that they are incapable of running schools? And let's go ahead and have a supermajority or monopoly of one party on the board as well? No diplomacy, no back and forth? No representation for all?

House Bill 1309 (Behning):  Requires the state board to elect a vice-chairman who would have the power to:   (1) preside over meetings in the absence of the state superintendent ... and
       (2) call meetings, set and amend agendas, arrange for witnesses, and carry out other administrative     functions related to the state board.  BUT THAT'S NOT ALL:
This bill also makes the change that, instead of the governor and state superintendent being co-chairs of the Educational Roundtable as they are now,  the Commissioner for Higher Education (yes, appointed by the governor) would be made a third co-chair of the Roundtable AND  then the bill would allow for a majority of co-chairs to "carry out administrative functions related to the meetings".

Nothing like creating your own majority, marginalizing and silencing dissenting points of view, to enact your will and abuse power.  Sound like a tyranny to you?

House Bill 1342 (Behning):  Removes oversight of the school voucher program from the superintendent's office.  Instead, it creates a new department, the "Office of Accountability and Innovation", which would operate OUTSIDE OF THE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION and would do two things:
(1) "establish and maintain a longitudinal data system that contains record level educational and workforce data from all levels of education and the state's workforce."  And: (2) administer the choice scholarship program..  This goes on to require data, data, data from the D.O.E. to prove, I am assuming, educational success to this new office of "Accountability".  IF there is one trigger word to upset and frustrate parents and teachers, it has to be "accountability" tied with "data."  From the "deformers" viewpoint, accountability only means testing, testing, and more testing.  Tie everything to a test.  And if there is ONE thing that parents and teachers understand, it is that our children are not test scores.  They are not numbers and they are not data.

Glenda Ritz's victory was a victory for our children.  She clearly spoke to the many concerns of voters across our state and gave us hope for the future; a future where children will be learning in caring, developmentally appropriate environments, taught by teachers who are respected and given the freedom to teach.  Hopes for a state where help is on the way to schools who are struggling, instead of public humiliation, labeling, and takeovers.  But it is not a given.

Write to your legislators.  Call them.  Tell all of your friends and family to do the same.  Write letters to the editor.  The power grabs outlined above are outrageous.  Use your outrage to act.  Democracy, as I've blogged before, is not a spectator sport.

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