Who Is In Charge

Duncan cites Indiana’s “deep dysfunction” in interview

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and National Institute for Early Education Research Co-Director Steven Barnett talk about early childhood education in Washington, D.C., in 2012. (Mikhail Zinshteyn/Education Writers Association)

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sounds worried about what’s going on with education in Indiana.

“Indiana has some very, very deep dysfunction right now,” Duncan said Thursday, “some fundamental challenges that I hope for the sake of kids that they can work through.”

Duncan made the statement in response to a question about whether Indiana’s No Child Left Behind waiver could be placed in jeopardy by rising opposition to Common Core academic standards.

In an interview with reporters in Washington, Duncan was critical of Indiana when asked about whether the state would continue to be released from some of the sanctions of the federal No Child Left Behind law. Indiana was one of several states granted a waiver partly on condition that it adopt Common Core academic standards. But lawmakers now appear poised to void Common Core and require new standards. Duncan said he would decide on continued waivers for Indiana and other states that drop the Common Core on a “case by case” basis.

“There are some pretty deep issues there in Indiana I hope they can work through and I hope they can work through together,” Duncan said. “That kind of dysfunction is not good for moving education forward. When adults fight, kids lose.”

Indiana is one of several states that asked Duncan for an NCLB waiver, seeking to be judged on a broader set of criteria than the law’s narrow focus on rapidly increasing standardized test scores. The state’s agreement with the federal government granted release from sanctions. NCLB could have forced radical changes, including firing principals and teachers, at many schools across the state in return for instituting “college and career ready” standards, among other things. Indiana proposed following the Common Core to meet that requirement.

But on Wednesday, the Senate Education Committee advanced a bill that would dump the Common Core, replacing it with new standards in July.

A recording of Duncan’s comments, posted online by Education Week, show he did not get everything correct when speaking about Indiana. More than once he incorrectly said he thought Gov. Mike Pence and state Superintendent Glenda Ritz were suing each other. Ritz has clashed with Pence and the Indiana State Board of Education over who controls the state’s education policy.

The only lawsuit was filed by Ritz against the state board in October. Ritz’s suit alleged board members violated state transparency laws by meeting in secret when they crafted a letter to legislators over email. The suit was dismissed because Ritz failed to get consent from Attorney General Greg Zoeller before filing it.

But Duncan was right that there have been deep disagreements over education in the Hoosier state. In contrast to Indiana, he mentioned Tennessee and Hawaii — states he said demonstrate strong alignment between the governor and state superintendent, even when they are from different parties.

Neither Pence or Ritz responded to request for comment.


Raise your voice

Memphis, what do you want in your next school superintendent?

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat

Tennessee’s largest school district needs a permanent leader. What kind of superintendent do you think Shelby County Schools should be looking for?

Now is the chance to raise your voice. The school board is in the thick of finalizing a national search and is taking bids from search firms. Board members say they want a leader to replace former superintendent Dorsey Hopson in place within 18 months. They have also said they want community input in the process, though board members haven’t specified what that will look like. In the interim, career Memphis educator Joris Ray is at the helm.

Let us know what you think is most important in the next superintendent.  Select responses will be published.

Asking the candidates

How to win over Northwest Side voters: Chicago aldermen candidates hone in on high school plans

PHOTO: Cassie Walker Burke / Chalkbeat Chicago
An audience member holds up a green sign showing support at a forum for Northwest side aldermanic candidates. The forum was sponsored by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

The residents filing into the auditorium of Sharon Christa McAuliffe Elementary School Friday wanted to know a few key things from the eager aldermanic candidates who were trying to win their vote.

People wanted to know which candidates would build up their shrinking open-enrollment high schools and attract more students to them.

They also wanted specifics on how the aldermen, if elected, would coax developers to build affordable housing units big enough for families, since in neighborhoods such as Logan Square and Hermosa, single young adults have moved in, rents have gone up, and some families have been pushed out.

As a result, some school enrollments have dropped.

Organized by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Friday’s event brought together candidates from six of the city’s most competitive aldermanic races. Thirteen candidates filled the stage, including some incumbents, such as Aldermen Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st  Ward), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward), and Milly Santiago (31st Ward).

They faced tough questions — drafted by community members and drawn at random from a hat — about bolstering high school enrollment, recruiting more small businesses, and paving the way for more affordable housing.

When the audience members agreed with their positions, they waved green cards, with pictures of meaty tacos. When they heard something they didn’t like, they held up red cards, with pictures of fake tacos.

Red cards weren’t raised much. But the green cards filled the air when candidates shared ideas for increasing the pull of area open-enrollment high schools by expanding dual-language programs and the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Related: Can a program designed for British diplomats fix Chicago schools? 

“We want our schools to be dual language so people of color can keep their roots alive and keep their connections with their families,” said Rossana Rodriguez, a mother of a Chicago Public Schools’ preschooler and one of challengers to incumbent Deb Mell in the city’s 33rd Ward.  

Mell didn’t appear at the forum, but another candidate vying for that seat did: Katie Sieracki, who helps run a small business. Sieracki said she’d improve schools by building a stronger feeder system between the area’s elementary schools, which are mostly K-8, and the high schools.

“We need to build bridges between our local elementary schools and our high schools, getting buy-in from new parents in kindergarten to third grade, when parents are most engaged in their children’s education,” she said.

Sieracki said she’d also work to design an apprenticeship program that connects area high schools with small businesses.

Green cards also filled the air when candidates pledged to reroute tax dollars that are typically used for developer incentives for school improvement instead.

At the end of the forum, organizers asked the 13 candidates to pledge to vote against new tax increment financing plans unless that money went to schools. All 13 candidates verbally agreed.

Aldermen have limited authority over schools, but each of Chicago’s 50 ward representatives receives a $1.32 million annual slush fund that be used for ward improvements, such as playgrounds, and also can be directed to education needs. And “aldermanic privilege,” a longtime concept in Chicago, lets representatives give the thumbs up or down to developments like new charters or affordable housing units, which can affect school enrollment.

Related: 7 questions to ask your aldermanic candidates about schools

Aldermen can use their position to forge partnerships with organizations and companies that can provide extra support and investment to local schools.

A January poll showed that education was among the top three concerns of voters in Chicago’s municipal election. Several candidates for mayor have recently tried to position themselves as the best candidate for schools in TV ads.