Indiana toddles toward pre-k, passes pilot


A city-county councilman and a grassroots educational reform

group are promoting a plan they say can correct a power imbalance within Indianapolis

Public Schools that causes unnecessary adversity between families and schools.

A report released Aug. 15, "Local

School Councils: Can Democracy Save IPS?"

suggests hyper-localized control

of schools can "more consistently raise test scores, and promote remedies

to 'social toxins' such as poverty, alienation, unemployment, violence,

inadequate housing and health care" better than plans offered in other

reform strategies.


José Evans

, who represents Indy's 1st District, joined report authors John

Harris Loflin of the Black & Latino Policy Institute and Alex Sage of the

Education-Community Action Team in their assertion that Local School Councils

(LSCs), a concept they credited with revitalizing Chicago Public Schools, could

provide similar benefits to Indianapolis.

"With The Mind Trust plan out and the IPS plan, there

needs to be more options that actually work for inner-city schools and schools

that are failing," Evans said.

"Through this plan we came out with, it looks like a

great opportunity for Indianapolis to improve its educational system. It worked

in Chicago, so why can't it work in Indianapolis?"

Chicago's councils include six parents, two community

representatives (elected by peers), the principal (whom the council hires), two

teachers (whom the principal hires, also elected by their peers to the council),

one non-teaching staff member, and (for high schools) one student. Slight

modifications are made for magnet schools.

Development of the councils has not been without growing

pains or challenges. After enacting the framework that first made the reforms

in Chicago possible in 1988, the Illinois legislature tweaked the law in 1995

to, as the report's authors note, enable increased oversight and external

accountability of the councils.

The report casts the councils as providing a

"mechanism through which the school remains accountable ... where

stakeholders may discuss their concerns on a regular basis, instead of simply

'speaking with their feet' once a year," the report said, referencing the theory

that consumer dissatisfaction will condemn unsustainable schools because parents

won't send their children back to them.

"We need more community involvement in our schools, not

less," said Deputy

Mayor of Education Jason Kloth

, noting that he still needed to do an

in-depth reading of the new report.

"The purpose of the ongoing community conversations [see

side bar] is to better understand what that role might be. We're pleased to see

Councilor Evans, the Black & Latino Policy Institute and the

Education-Community Action Team putting forth their ideas for the future of our


Without offering an explicit endorsement of the proposal, John

Althardt, a spokesman for IPS, acknowledged the importance of an engaged


"Our focus is to ensure all Indianapolis Public Schools"

children have access to all the resources our schools, teachers, parents and

community can provide so each student reaches their full potential," Althardt

wrote in an emailed response to a request for comment.

"Children are our priority and we know the value of

having teachers, parents and a community that supports our children beyond all

other issues."

The LSC proposal offers an alternative to the idea presented

by local nonprofit The

Mind Trust

, set forth in its Opportunity Schools report issued last

December. The Mind Trust plan suggests transferring authority for IPS from an

elected school board to mayoral control, saying that could help fix what it

called a broken system.

By contrast, advocates of LSCs say the councils result in

more democracy, not less. This point dovetails with another of the report's

central assertions: That enabling greater student, parent and community voice

within the system will result in the development a more educated and engaged


Systems that emphasize "top-down bureaucratic

management, the silencing of student voices, a focus on compliance and control

of behavior over critical thought and creativity" result in the lack of

civic engagement among other social ills, the authors said.

"These days, education reformers focus almost exclusively on

college and career readiness," author Loflin said in an announcement of the

report's release.

"Of course, both are important, but in the rush to "fuel the

economy," we have lost sight of public education's higher civic

responsibilities ... We need public schools to fuel our democracy."

Building from the assertion that "(g)overnment schools

exist to create a concerned, enlightened, and active public who practice

self-rule," the authors conclude that LSCs can "serve as an example

to the world of just how U.S. citizens practice their democracy, and how much they

believe in self-determination and America's possibilities for equality,

justice, and liberty."

They contrast their approach to reform to philosophies that

stoke competition among schools, referencing a quote from journalist David

Moberg, who wrote: "While competition improves efficiency in a business

model, nowhere in human history has competition led to equity."


full report is available at


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