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Jamie B.

Hmmmm... Let's see. Outrage? It isn't a strong enough term for the side-stepping which Dr. White and the schoolboard are now doing. While I heartily second all of your observations about the current state of IPS, Rob, I'd like to add that these decisions appear even more ludicrous when you look at the fiscal motivations of the district.

Let's start with small schools. Granted Dr. White did not initiate the small schools movement in IPS, Dr. Pritchett did just before leaving IPS. However, it became clear fairly early on that the move to small schools amounted to not much more than a wild cast for more money. My school underwent extensive brainstorming and planning only to be told in the end by the newly hired Dr. White that we wouldn't be transitioned into small schools after all. The next year, they also did away with teaming at the middle school level - a concept very much akin to small schools - because "it's too expensive." Colleagues who have been transferred to other buildings with small schools have continually had the same complaint you point out here. They were never really implemented as intended by the grant. In short, IPS just wanted the money, and student achievement? Well, it would have been a nice bonus.

The magnet situation is another ploy for additional funding. IPS once had a number of magnet schools (which were eradicated with the introduction of small schools mind you). Whether any of the currently proposed magnets are being funded by grants is unknown to me, but I do know they have strong "community partners." In short, I believe Dr. White is hoping these partners through various resources will subsidize the magnet program in IPS - something which the district might not have to worry about if it wasn't inconviencing families and bussing students from one side of the city to another in what is, as you point out, a gross public display of tracking.

Blaming the parents? I'm surprised only because teachers didn't get blamed first. Many of the moves IPS has made of late have been made not only without its families' support but in direct opposition to their wishes. Some families have been bumped to a new school every year for the past several as the district continues to redraw boundary lines in an attempt to keep a step ahead of what appears to be an inevitable take-over. Many families opposed the dress code which was supposed to solve the district's behavior management and discipline problems but on many days and in many ways only lead to greater animosity between students and adults, including parents and teachers. IPS parents may not hold college degrees, but they know what they want for their kids and they know when someone is trying to pull a fast one on them. But Dr. White's moves get him national attention, and he was up for another grandiose award - Superintendent of the Year for some organization or another - so the support he needs is coming from other places and people, people who don't have to live with the immediate results of his decisions. Unwilling to give up the funding and other resources which such programs usually bring but also unwilling to implement them correctly and with the input of the community IPS has no where else to place the blame except on the parents who have continued to demonstrate their lack of support for the new intiatives. Unless of course, Dr. White and the schoolboard would take it upon themselves, but we all know the likelihood of that happening.

Rob H.

Here's a link to some of the research on small-schools that points to its effectivenes:
what IPS is referring to, I don't know.

Kelly D.

Amen and ditto (and I'm the parent of a IPS magnet school child). Too many of the IPS initiatives have been done with haste and little planning, only to be dropped without enough time to measure true effectiveness. And a superintendent telling parents they should be selecting magnet high schools because the district's neighborhood schools are failing?!?! Does this mean he and the district have given up completely on these schools and their students?

Sharon J

Where else is there to turn but a policy of spin? During the reign of Dr. White, we have seen a constant parade of recycled administrators (if you are unsuccessful in one position, then, let’s try you in a higher position), expensive curricular programs that are a “guaranteed” quick fix, a host of initiatives that promise great things, eg, magnet schools, and a perpetual bullying of teachers to magically transform failure into high achievement. My warped perspective comes from years of seeing the glimmer of promise in small schools snuffed out at every turn by IPS administration. In addition to this, I continue to see and hear the “real story” of what is transpiring in the highly touted IPS magnet schools. There are many wonderful teachers in IPS who try to provide authentic, engaging instruction to students despite a scripted curriculum provided by the administration. There are many others, however, who read these scripts every day, ignore the students who sleep or those who just don’t bother to attend this travesty of education anymore. In a showcase magnet school, worksheets and lectures are the norm. Anyone who is serious about teaching and learning knows that this is not how learning takes place. Parents, who have the misfortune to sit through a few of these classes, would certainly not opt to send their child to this wasteland of opportunity. Most parents are not experts on curriculum and instruction. They trust the administrators and teachers in IPS to know what they are doing and how to do it. Sadly, the articles appearing in today’s Star, indicate that this trust is misplaced. Dr. White and his team appear to be more focused on publicity and shifting blame for lack of results than on committing the district to the long road to recovery. High quality teachers who know their content and how to create authentic, engaging standards-based instruction, who are committed to establishing positive relationships with students and who are provided the autonomy, support and time to do this, are the answer. When magnet schools don’t provide the answer, what next?

John H

I too was a bit surprised when White cited that small schools don't work. And this, was indeed as has been mentioned here, a heaping spoonful of spin. Gates said their research showed this initiative was not generally successful. And though some schools saw great progress, many others didn't. Why was this, you ask? Gates seems to think that maybe some districts were more interested in getting his money than making real change.

"Many of the small schools that we invested in did not improve students’ achievement in any significant way. These tended to be the schools that did not take radical steps to change the culture, such as allowing the principal to pick the team of teachers or change the curriculum. We had less success trying to change an existing school than helping to create a new school.

"Even so, many schools had higher attendance and graduation rates than their peers. While we were pleased with these improvements, we are trying to raise college-ready graduation rates, and in most cases, we fell short."

Susan Adams

Thanks, Rob, for your outrage. To say that I am grieved about the perceived results of small schools is an understatement. I went into the planning years with eyes and heart wide open, in spite of the many warnings from colleagues that I was wasting my time. I still believe that my school was making real headway in spite of the fact that we were never granted any kind of autonomy (by definition an essential component of small schools) or the ability to do what we believed was right for our students. Instead whole new layers of administration were added, new "leadership" jobs were created and some of the most destructive and incompetent folks were not released but promoted.

When "results" were not instantaneous, schools were reconfigured, instructional coaches were fired (the least expensive role in the entire equation) and small schools were swallowed up by others. As one administrator warned me years ago, I have come to see all of this shifting as a shell game. If the district continues to move teachers and kids around, it is impossible to look at testing data broadly to see anything. You can just imagine them shrugging, smiling, shuffling their feet, saying "Shucks, we can't see nothing from this data-we don't even have these kids anymore!" The level of frustration and despair I see this year is unprecedented and I honestly do not know how much longer this can continue.

As for the magnets, I have been a magnet parent for many years and am about to graduate my last 2 seniors from 2 different IPS magnet programs. They are not all created and operated equally. In some cases I was unable to detect any magnet influence or presence in the elementary schools we were involved with. The themes and rigor are more apparent in the high schools. My son has had a great experience in the Math/Sci magnet at Tech, but the magnet has created a palpable schism between magnet and non-magnet students, with the non-magnet students seeing themselves as inferior and less intelligent than the magnet kids. As for my daughter, her experience in the humanities and music magnet has been completely dependent on the individual teachers she has had for various classes, some being excellent and others leaving much to be desired. And now, this arts program is being revamped and Dr. White is complaining that parents have not flocked to enroll their students in a program that has in no way publicly described or committed itself to a group of parents who well know that what we are told is never what our students will experience. When parents fail to audition and apply for a program that still is not created, where teachers had not yet been hired, and where parents have no idea what will be expected of and from their students, AND they fail to comply by a random date set in December, it is a clear demonstration of the lack of love and care for their students, and not due to a system of buearocratic paperwork that only meets the needs of the folks who work in the Magnet Office. Simply stunning, isn't it? Everyone, absolutely everyone is to blame, except Dr. White and his top executives. What message do we receive? It is this: kids are dumb, parents are clueless and uninvolved, teachers are incompetent and uncaring, and these poor, $120,000+ a year administrators are merely martyrs doing their level best for an ungrateful and unresponsive community.


The problem is that these magnet schools very often are in name only magnet programs. It is my understanding that Broad Ripple High School recently let go the Center for Arts and Humanities director because they are getting rid of the position. The responsibility of that position will now fall to the principal of BRHS. How can you honestly expect parents to choose your magnet school when the program is not adequately funded or staffed?

While I don't want to question the quality of work the teachers are doing at BRHS, I do question the support given by Dr. White and the school board. If BRHS is truly the arts magnet school of IPS, should not it be a beacon of artistic excellence? Compare BRHS to schools like Warren Central, Pike, North Central, Carmel, all with excellent performing arts programs. Is BRHS on par with or exceed the quality of those programs? If it isn't, then can you really call it a magnet fine arts program?


I, too read this article and being a transplant and not having secondary experience, these comments belong in the editorial page of the Star (if you are not afraid of losing your job). We have been silent for too long and those who create these bold statements are not worried about others because they do not believe others will stand up and refute them. It is time, people, to stand up and refute the information published that people read and take at face value; as well as the not so subtle message once again, that IPS parents don't care!!!

J. T.

Here is an idea. Instead of trying to convince parents to ship their children to a better school that promotes academics and achievement, why not create a system of neighborhood public schools that work. We are not required to have a school system of have's and have not's or good and bad schools. It sounds like Dr. White and his friends on the School Board do not want to do the hard work of making all IPS schools examples of outstanding public education.


Thanks to you, Dr. Helfenbein, for giving this forum to articulate the small school movement in IPS. The scenario taking place within IPS is a microcosm of the brain drain the state is facing economically with our university graduates. Our students are learning at a very early age to leave their communities for the "better" life. The community of IPS needs to become proactive in teaching the very values we hope to instill in post-graduates entering the workforce. Why shouldn't they leave the state? They left their own communitiy to attend magnet schools because we didn't provide organizational structures that offered "magnet" quality instruction in each and every community.

John Harris Loflin

Two Marion County school systems
Separate and unequal
Based on class not race

The recent flood of news from the Star and the Recorder about our public schools has left us puzzled. Conflicting events, ideas, and statements abound concerning: how ISTEP scores are interpreted; need we support charter schools or back a call to freeze new charters; how and why various factors, including changing county demographics (and charters), have contributed to the exodus of students from IPS; Star editors and the Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning (CELL) commentaries praising small schools while ignoring the closing of all IPS small schools at 3 of 5 high schools; and, how IPS continues to seek public support, while at the same time the public complains they are left out of IPS decisions.

In the midst of our concern for these perplexities, is the fear of the possibility of two educational systems. What could happen in Marion County due to the nature and politics of magnets, charters, township and private schools, and due to the history and politics of IPS, is the creation of parallel school systems--separate and unequal--not based on race, but on socio-economic status.

The growth of charters, the opening of more magnets and special programs, the growth/success of township schools, and the proven quality of private schools—parochial and academic—leave IPS families and students with what’s left. With a 20 year graduation rate average of less than 50 percent (or even less), what remains may be inadequate.

It is common historical knowledge that over the last 125 years particular schools attract the better qualified/experienced teachers and the more academically inclined families and well behaved students—leaving, by default, the less qualified staff and less academic and more disruptive student to “the rest” of IPS.

Charters, magnets, special programs, countered by the closing of over half of IPS small schools and the sub-system of 20-plus alternatives to warehouse school refusers and enforce the new duality have the potential of creating and maintaining a parallel system of 2nd class schools taking IPS back to before 1954. The possibility of a public school created underclass reflects what could become a more refined type of segregation: tracking for the 21st century.

To illustrate our concerns, look where IPS placed its gifted and talented magnet. IPS closed schools in June of 2007. One was IPS 28 on English Ave. One was IPS 59 at Kessler Blvd and College. Although it is common knowledge that the gifted/talented come from all layers of society, it is also known these programs end up with a majority of students from professional families. Placing the magnet at 28 would send a strong message to families/students, the city, and the nation that IPS seeks to discredit and abandon this history. But, there was no way IPS would put this type of program in a working-class neighborhood on the near south side. This was done to please the county’s middle class at the political expense of those labeled "economically disadvantaged."

To conclude, there is no way the quality of education among charters, magnets, special programs (let alone township and non-public schools) and the remainder of IPS schools and its system of alternatives will be the same. We want equal educational opportunity for all children; we do not want two school systems. This possibility, especially in IPS, must be reviewed and monitored.

John Harrisl Loflin
Black & Latino Policy Institute

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