Before we get started I have to say something in the interest of full disclosure. I do some consulting work with the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. Now with that said, I have been a big fan of charters and school choice long before I had any idea who Milton Friedman was.
Now with that said, the Mind Trust this week announced $1 million grants for two organizations to start up charter schools in Indianapolis. This type of move tends to raise the ire of IPS and its enablers. They complain, or bitch and moan, about charter schools taking their students. I would argue that if IPS had its act together, charters would not have been necessary in the first place. However, when I say things like this, it always comes up, "Abdul, how would you run IPS?" So I decided to scribble down a few thoughts on how I would run the state's largest school district. The only caveat is that I have the same power as Dr. White. Let's begin, shall we...
1. Anything IPS is doing that has nothing to do with the direct education of children is getting outsourced or consolidated with another school district: cafeteria, janitorial, human resources, payroll, professional development, property care, etc. The money we save goes back into classroom instruction. I'm also going to unload any surplus property.
2. I'm going to fire half to two-thirds of the central office, including human resources. They won't be needed because power will be returned to the individual schools and principals would have control over hiring. And with the savings we put the resources back into the classroom. And every IPS employee is going to get a substitute teacher's license. That way if a teacher is out, they get to step up and every employee will have to spend one day a month in a classroom, even me.
3. Unless there is some reason why they can't, all my high school students are getting IndyGo year-round bus passes. They can catch the bus to school and then also use it to get to work in the summer.
4. Kiss the overall district budget good-bye. I am eliminating it and giving each principal a budget for his/her school and virtual autonomy on how to run it. We'll spell out some general guidelines (I'll use an independent board for purchasing and other related matters) and expectations, but after that, it's their baby. And they better get results. Everyone will be held accountable.
5. As far as teachers go, I'm putting together a kitchen cabinet with a member from every school to tell me what I NEED to know, not want to know. And they will be involved in developing our evaluation models for student and teacher performance. Their selection will be based on effectiveness and history of implementing classroom reform.
6. I'm also going to create several charter schools from existing schools. And if you want your child to attend, you have to sign an agreement that you will make at least four (hour) visits to the school per year and participate in four activities. And if I can pull it off, I'm going to turn Northwest into a charter boarding school, where kids can be in a learning environment 24 hours a day. If the parents won't do their job, then we will.
7. I'm going to the state and ask for virtually every waiver I can get, particularly for those students with special needs that justifiably impede their ability to take standardized tests.
8. I'm going to partner with every church and institution of higher learning in the county to create an after-school mentoring and tutoring program.
9. Every seven years I am going to require teachers take a year-long paid sabbatical to recharge and refresh their skills.
10. I'm going to apologize to the citizens of Indianapolis for not doing this sooner.
Granted the devil would be in the details, but I truly believe the answers to our problems with schools can be found in empowering staff, returning power to individual schools and not hiding behind excuses. My goal would be to offer parents and kids the most awesome education they could get that every charter and private school would go out of business because everybody would be beating a path to my school doors. Had someone done this a long time ago, IPS wouldn't be as in bad a shape as the current superintendent's wardrobe.