In the Classroom

Ritz's view: 'Freedom to teach' bill a 'Trojan horse' for charter school concept

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Gov. Mike Pence and Republican lawmakers argue that Indiana teachers need more “freedom to teach,” and are pushing a bill that would create special schools, school districts or zones of schools to try new teaching strategies.

“For a long time education has been from the top down,” bill author Rep. Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, said. “Under freedom to teach, the model would be more bottom up.”

But Superintendent Glenda Ritz’s lobbyist and representatives of teachers unions told the House Education Committee today that the flexibility offered in House Bill 1009, dubbed the “freedom to teach” bill, already is allowed, and they fear the bill is a “Trojan horse” to diminish unions or allow more outside companies or organizations to manage public schools.

“It’s a snappy name for a bill that is kind of sketchy,” said John Barnes, lobbying for Ritz and the Indiana Department of Education. “In school districts all over the state, they have the ability to move forward and try to be innovative. Legislation isn’t required to do it.”

House Bill 1009 allows any two teachers or a principal, superintendent or a combination to apply for grants to create schools, district or zones of schools with with extra freedoms others don’t have to try out plans designed to raise student test scores and pay higher salaries to effective teachers. Pence listed this as one of his legislative priorities in a speech in December.

An amendment to the bill introduced today added a large second element: a section that encourages schools to follow a teacher mentoring model similar to one in use this year by Indianapolis Public Schools. The district is following a program that promotes what calls an “opportunity culture” with Teach Plus, an organization that aims to get teachers involved in education policy making and North Carolina-based Public Impact.

Mindy Schlegel, a former Indiana Department of Education official under Ritz’s predecessor Tony Bennett who now works at Public Impact, said amendment could help school districts create more excellent teachers, build career paths for them and provide better pay.

IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee agreed.

“”We believe through these roles and opportunities will elevate the profession,” he said.

Republicans and Democrats favored the idea that school districts should be allowed to experiment with giving teachers leadership roles. Under Public Impact’s model, teachers get paid extra for mentoring others and for teaching larger classes.

Even Vernon Smith, D-Gary, a skeptic of the bill and of school choice-style reforms generally, said he liked the idea of exploring redesigned teacher roles that could allow them to earn more money. Smith is an education professor at Indiana University Northwest.

“I think this kind of bill is onto something, but we may need to study it further,” he said. “I believe in what you are trying to do.”

But on the broader question of freeing schools or school districts from regulation to encourage innovation, union leaders portrayed the idea as essentially allowing whole school districts to act like charter schools to avoid regulations and union rules.

Although the bill was amended today to soften an anti-union provision — a prohibition on union bargaining for schools that operate more independently under the bill was dropped — the bill would still require unions to organize teachers in those schools separately from the union serving the rest of the school district.

Barnes also raised the concern that bill could allow more schools to operate under contracts with outside operators and generally would be less accountable to local voters as they would have separate authority from school boards.

“There seems to be a real overreach here in terms of local control,” Barnes said.

But Behning said teachers are always asking for more freedom.

“Educators have long said we want the ability to teach: ‘Get everything out of the way and let us do our best,’” Behning said.

The committee expects to vote on the bill on Thursday.

Other bills the committee considered were:

  • Accelerated degree programs, House Bill 1231. The bill would provide grants to colleges that established accelerated degree programs. It passed 11-0 and likely will be heard by the full House next week.
  • Higher education financial assistance, House Bill 1333. The bill makes changes to eligibility for National Guard scholarship extensions. It passed 11-0 and likely will be heard by the full House next week.

Teacher's tale

Video: This Detroit teacher explains how she uses her classroom to ‘start a real loud revolution’

Silver Danielle Moore, a teacher at the Detroit Leadership Academy, tells her story at the Tale the Teacher storytelling event on October 6, 2018.

Silver Danielle Moore doesn’t just see teaching as way to pass along information to students. She views teaching as a way to bring about change.

“The work of us as educators is to start a real loud revolution,” Moore told the audience this month at a teacher storytelling event co-sponsored by Chalkbeat. “The revolution will not happen without resistance, and social justice classrooms are the instruments of that resistance.”

Moore, a teacher at the Detroit Leadership Academy charter school, was one of four Detroit educators who told their stories on stage at the Tale the Teacher event held at the Lyft Lounge at MusicTown Detroit on October 6.

The event, organized by Western International High School counselor Joy Mohammed, raised about $120 that Mohammed said she used to buy a laptop for a student who needed it to participate on the school’s yearbook staff.

Over the next few weeks, Chalkbeat will be posting videos of the stories told at the event.

Moore, a self-proclaimed “black hip-hop Jesus feminist” opened her story with a memory of leaving a teacher training session four years ago to travel to Ferguson, Missouri, to be part of Labor Day weekend protests after Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old African-American man, was fatally shot by a police officer.

“There was so much grief but also so much fight in that place,” she recalled. “I will never forget the moment I stood at the place that Mike Brown was killed. I will never forget the look in his mother’s face.”

She recalled bringing that experience back to Detroit and to her classroom.

“Imagine, after that weekend, returning back to the classroom on September 2nd,” she said. “I fought that weekend for Mike Brown … but I also did it for the 66 kids I would have that school year and every child I have had since then.”

Watch Moore’s full story here:

Video by Colin Maloney

More in Detroit story booth

In the Classroom

How Memphis students came face to face with the painful history in their school’s backyard

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat
Students at Memphis Grizzlies Preparatory Charter School examine a historical marker meant to share a more complete story of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general, slave trader, and early leader of the Ku Klux Klan.

A few yards across from the parking lot of an all-boys Memphis school lies a small, tree-lined courtyard, where a class of eighth-graders studies a large historical marker.

The new marker tells them that children were sold as slaves in this spot. An older, nearby marker had failed to tell the whole story — Nathan Bedford Forrest, the subject of the marker, made Memphis a hub of the slave trade near that busy downtown corner.

The boys at Memphis Grizzlies Preparatory Charter School, who are nearly all black, earlier learned about the painful legacy while watching an episode of “America Divided,” a documentary series featuring celebrities exploring inequality across the nation. The episode featured the Memphis campaign that eventually removed a nearby statue of Forrest, a Confederate general, slave trader, and early leader of the Ku Klux Klan.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat
Memphis Grizzlies Preparatory Charter School students visit county commissioners Tami Sawyer and Van Turner (back row), who were key in the city’s campaign to remove Confederate statues.

Being so close to such upsetting history that only recently has bubbled to the surface of public display was a lot for eighth-grader Joseph Jones to take in.

“I can’t believe that this history is right outside our school,” he said. “I think I barely know what happened in Memphis. So many things that I don’t know, that I need to know, and that I want to know, happened in this very city.”

Lately, Memphis — along with several other cities in the South — has been grappling with how tell the complete stories of historical figures who many felt were war heroes, but who also contributed to the enslavement of black Americans.

The new and larger historical marker about Forrest was erected on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. He was killed two miles from the all-boys charter school. City leaders vowed and succeeded in taking down Forrest’s statue, which had loomed downtown for more than 100 years, before honoring King’s legacy.

From the archives: Meet the Memphis educator leading the charge to take down her city’s Confederate monuments

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat
Teacher Tim Green travels to several schools to teach students how to express their emotions in a healthy way.

Tim Green, a teacher at Grizzlies Prep, prompted discussion among students about how to use their newfound knowledge about history in positive ways to improve their city. It’s part of Green’s larger effort to teach students how to express their feelings on difficult topics.

Recently, that has meant delving into the city’s racial history, which is fraught with tragedy that has not been fully reckoned with in public discourse.

“Me forming this class was a way to talk about some of things we deal with and one of those things is our past,” he recently told students. “As African-American men — and African-Americans in general — we don’t have a clear understanding of where we came from.”

Students said their initial feelings after watching the documentary included anger, sadness, and fear.

“It kind of makes me feel scared because you know your parents and your teachers say history repeats itself,” said student Sean Crump. “So, we never know if it’s going to happen again because some things that people said are going to stop have came back. … That makes me feel scared of when I grow up.”

Watching the documentary was the first part of the class’ history exploration before meeting with two key people who organized the removal of Forrest’s statue at the county government building about two blocks from the school.

The documentary shows actor Jussie Smollett interviewing the younger brother of Jesse Lee Bond, a 20-year-old black sharecropper. He was killed in a Memphis suburb in 1939 after asking for a receipt at a store owned by a prominent white family that depended on the credit balances of its black customers.

The brother, Charlie Morris, said he was ready to go on a revengeful rampage after learning his brother had been shot, castrated, dragged by a tractor, and staked to the bottom of a nearby river. He said he still carried the trauma, but doesn’t carry the hate he felt nearly 80 years ago.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat
Students watch as Charlie Morris, the brother of lynching victim Jesse Lee Bond, explains the racism that led to his brother’s murder in an episode of “America Divided.”

“The first step to equal justice is love. Where there’s no love, you can forget the rest,” he said in the documentary. Morris died in June at the age of 98.

After the episode ended, the class was silent for a moment. The first question from a student: Were the people who lynched Jesse Lee Bond ever convicted?

The answer made one student gasp in shock, but was predictable for anyone familiar with the history of lynching in America during the Jim Crow era that legalized racial segregation. Two men were charged and tried for Bonds’ murder, but were quickly acquitted.

Students seamlessly tied the past to racism and violence they see in their city today.

“I feel sad because there’s lynchings and people — mostly white Americans — they know there’s lynchings and they know what the Confederacy did to cause those,” said student Tristan Ficklen.

“I would have felt the same too because all he asked for was a receipt,” student Jireh Joyner said of Morris’ initial reaction to Bond’s death. “And now these days there’s still police brutality and it’s hurtful.”