Entering the Minefield

The Mind Trust is one of those “do good” organizations that virtually everyone supports. It has spent its relatively brief organizational life doing work that is essentially uncontroversial–studying what sorts of methods work in the classroom, offering Fellowships to good teachers, and reminding the public generally about the importance of education to everything from economic development to quality of life.

Now–as Chef Emeril might say–they are “stepping it up a notch.”

A news release issued this morning introduces a dramatic proposal to restructure and improve Indianapolis Public Schools. In the words of the release, it “describes how by shrinking the central administration of IPS and giving schools more autonomy we could: 

  • send about $200 million more a year to schools without raising taxes,
  • provide high-quality universal pre-kindergarten to all four-year-olds,
  • invest $10 million each year to recruit great teachers and principals and incubate great new schools,
  • empower teachers to innovate in the classroom and reward them for strong results,
  • ensure there is a great school in every IPS neighborhood, and
  • provide parents with dramatically more quality school choices.

It is the boldest urban reform plan in the United States. 

In developing this plan, The Mind Trust engaged local and national experts to analyze high-performing urban public schools across the country and distill the key conditions for their success- autonomy, accountability, and parental choice. Crafted after 18 months of research and design, The Mind Trust’s plan presents a new vision for how IPS and other urban districts could be restructured to create these conditions for all public schools.”

The plan is available online, and deserves a careful reading. There may be provisions that raise red flags–certainly, there will be ample debate and discussion, especially about proposals to turn control over to the Mayor and Council, who have shown little interest in education to date and who have many other responsibilities to discharge. (On the other hand, to suggest–as Matt Tully did this morning–that such a change somehow divests control from the voters is silly; citizens vote in far greater numbers for Mayor and Council than they do for School Board, and I’d be willing to wager a tidy sum that more people can name their Councilor than can identify their School Board representative.)                                                                                                          
There is wide agreement that IPS is failing. Whether this is the plan that will fix it is an open question. But any plan that begins by admitting the obvious–that the current bloated administration is a problem rather than a solution–deserves consideration and support.