News From Terre Haute, Indiana

August 16, 2011

LIZ CIANCONE: Charter schools won’t solve all of education’s problems

Liz Ciancone
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — A friend asked me the other day what I thought of Tony Bennett.

She had been a teacher and is now retired. I knew who she meant, but I just smiled sweetly and said, “I think he’s a great singer. I especially like his recording of ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco’.” She looked confused, so I took pity. “Oh, you mean that man in Indianapolis masquerading as an expert on education?”

Yes, that’s who she meant all right and, like anyone who has served years in the trenches, she wasn’t enthusiastic about the changes which have been made in the name of improving public education. I spent only one year in those trenches and am no expert, but I can’t believe that cutting funding is going to go far when it comes to raising test schools. I can’t believe that cutting taxes for millionaires is going to create jobs either, but that’s another matter.

There are far too many problems in society and these affect kids and schools. Problems won’t go away just because the kid moves to a charter school.

And we are about to embark on another school year. Tony, Indiana’s superintendent of public instruction, and our governor are convinced that all the problems will disappear if the taxpayers subsidize private education. Even if that were true — and evaluations of charter schools in other states find as many problems as they profess to find in public schools — the whole project is a law suit waiting to happen. Do the taxpayers of Indiana want to go to court to prevent tax dollars diverted to private education?

Even Tony seems to be aware that public schools are over a barrel. The property tax cap put the pinch on public schools because property taxes traditionally provide the bulk of financial support for the schools. Then there are all those mandates, state and federal, many of which are ordered but not funded. One proposal suggests charging kids who ride the school bus. It’s not clear if that’s a suggestion or a mandate.

Nor is it clear whether private and charter schools will be required to administer the ISTEP tests and if teachers there will be rewarded only if the private/charter school improves. It isn’t clear that private/charter schools will be held to standards to provide access for handicapped children or whether they will be allowed to dump a problem child back on the public school system.

I wonder if those questions were asked before the rush to legislate. Wouldn’t it have been a good idea to ask professional educators for input before rushing to judge?

In the immortal words of Bette Davis, “Fasten your seat belts! It’s going to be a rocky year!”

Liz Ciancone is a retired Tribune-Star reporter. Send e-mail to