Wednesday, May 18

Small Wonder

Indianapolis Public Schools, the governing body which oddly enough does not oversee the public schools in Indianapolis, but rather that subset which aren't located in wealthy suburbs, is implementing the Small Learning Community (or SLC to the jargon-besotted world of education) experience in all five of its high schools beginning this fall. This particular solution to the Crisis In Education comes courtesy the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the outgoing IPS superintendent, who has been in on the two years of planning since the $11.3 million grant was announced but won't be there for its implementation, since he announced his retirement last year, right before he started looking for another superintendent's job.

In addition to realigning the existing high schools the grant will create ten new small high schools, presumably more of the charter schools so beloved of Mayor Bart Peterson, whose zeal for improving efficiency and saving tax dollars by eliminating township government and unifying separate city/county functions did not include risking the wrath of suburbanites by proposing to merge the seven separate school districts. The program, and the grant money, are being administered by something called the Center for Excellence in Leadership of Learning (CELL, naturally) at the University of Indianapolis.

The idea, in the public high schools, is to divide each into small "communities" of no more than 400, each with its own focus on "post-secondary options"--college, technical training, fast food--designed to improve achievement of minority students and help those who may fall through the cracks in a large high school environment. The program promises smaller class sizes, more direct adult contact, improved graduation rates and a "sharing of current research and extensive, ongoing professional development" from the folks at CELL.

Great. You'll excuse me for not saluting.

Sure, I'm Gloomy Gus, Nick the Naysayer, Pessimistic Pete. I also know a thing or two about what is actually going on.

IPS was one of the big losers in the Strip Money From Education and Blame It On the Deficit sweepstakes conducted by our new emperor governor, Mitch Daniels (campaign motto: "If I can wreck the federal budget in just one fiscal year, think of what I can do for you!"). IPS is losing $18 million in the next two years. It's losing teachers. It will have a shortfall for special programs for poor, minority, and non-English-speaking students which the government mandates. But somehow dividing schools into quarters will produce smaller classes.

Well, you say, it comes from that $11.3 million grant. You'd say that, but you'd be wrong. None of that money directly benefits students. It doesn't even directly benefit the schools. It's for educational junkets, workshops, and research. The kids are just guinea pigs in all this.

Planning, in the form of your typical meetings, handouts, and administrative directives has been going on all year. Whether the taxpayers are being reinbursed by CELL for all these man hours is unclear. My guess is no; schools have to apply to CELL for funds. I can tell you that at my wife's school the major accomplishment so far, aside from a nice trip to Vegas for a couple of administrators, has been an all-out dogfight over which "family" will get what set of rooms. "Professional development" indeed.

Maybe this will work. Emphasis on the maybe. The Dyspepsic's Hotline says it's 3-1 the thing is quietly junked in three years, after most of the money gets handed out to charters, which take even more money from the neediest students. So the Bible says, and it still is news...

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