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Posted at 5:00 AM ET, 01/20/2011

Policing the rush to charter schools

By Valerie Strauss

Here is an editorial that was published in the Journal Gazette of Fort Wayne about education policies in Indiana. It specifically refers to reform plans by Gov. Mitch Daniels that include promoting vouchers for students to use to attend private schools, greatly increasing the number of charter schools, and paying teachers according to how well their students do on standardized tests, while limiting collective bargaining between teachers unions and schools. This was written by Tracy Warner, editorial page editor, who has worked at The Journal Gazette since 1981.


Knowledge and learning, generally diffused throughout a community, being essential to the preservation of a free government; it shall be the duty of the General Assembly to encourage, by all suitable means, moral, intellectual, scientific, and agricultural improvement; and provide, by law, for a general and uniform system of Common Schools, wherein tuition shall be without charge, and equally open to all.
– Indiana Constitution

For perspective on Gov. Mitch Daniels’ education policy, consider the ramifications if a similar policy applied to Indiana’s city police departments.

After all, the police departments clearly are failing. Each week, dozens of crimes occur in our city, and many of them go unsolved. As Hoosiers, we cannot allow this record of failure to continue. Remember when we were kids? We could walk to the park without our parents. We could leave our doors unlocked. Clearly, the police departments have gotten worse and worse.

What we need is to give police departments competition and to give citizens choices.
Indiana should empower a university with a criminal justice program – say, Indiana Tech – to authorize charter police departments. Citizens could choose to have the charter department, not city police, patrol by their homes and answer their calls for help.

But that’s not enough. Rich people can hire security guards. Why shouldn’t all Hoosiers have the same access to safety? Let’s give every Hoosier who wants one a voucher financed with our tax dollars to purchase their own security if they choose.

Of course, there will be no tax increase to finance these additional police forces, so money will have to come out of the city police department budget. Because the vast majority of that budget goes to salaries and wages, that will mean eliminating positions on the city police department. Liberals may argue that fewer police officers will make city police even worse. But all the city police need to do is look for efficiencies.

One way to hold the line on the city police budget is by stopping the huge pay increases officers receive every year – 1 percent in 2011 alone. Police officers should be paid based on their success – the crime rates in the neighborhoods they patrol, for example. Higher pay where crime rates are low, lower pay where they are worse.

If that were the state’s approach to police departments, Hoosiers would quickly see some of the faults.

For one, the historic increases in crime have much more to do with society than police departments. And in recent years, crime has not been increasing substantially. And most Hoosiers go through the day without being crime victims.

Hoosiers would surely see the unfairness of paying police officers who patrol the most dangerous, crime-ridden neighborhoods less than the officers who have the safest streets.

Daniels has long called for greater government efficiency, going as far as to advocate for school corporations to consolidate.

Where is the logic in spreading limited state money to more and more schools, each with its own principal, its own bureaucracy?

There is a fundamental unfairness in this comparison, however. Nearly all of our elected leaders consider running police departments a clear function of government. Practically anyone, it seems, can start a school.

Yet, Indiana’s constitution makes no requirement that cities have police departments – or fire departments or street departments or zoning departments. The state’s constitution makes clear, though, that it is a fundamental obligation of Indiana to provide an education through a system of public schools.

Why would elected Indiana leaders want the state to transfer resources from the public schools, for which they have a constitutional obligation, to private schools for which Indiana has no obligation?

Perhaps our state leaders should focus on better meeting their constitutional mandate to provide education through a system of common schools rather than to encourage parents not to send their children to those very schools.


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By Valerie Strauss  | January 20, 2011; 5:00 AM ET
Categories:  Charter schools, Guest Bloggers, Teachers, Vouchers  | Tags:  charter schools, gov. mitch daniels, indiana education, indiana schools, journal gazette, schools and police, vouchers  
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I got my Criminal Justice degree from "United Forensic College" I got a job in 2 months and now solving crimes. You can also do the same, search internet.

Posted by: ezracallum | January 20, 2011 5:32 AM | Report abuse

On point. Not a bad analogy but would love to hear the counterpoint. More money rarely equates to more product.

Posted by: jbeeler | January 20, 2011 7:04 AM | Report abuse

Let's see more analogies like this, please, by more respected journalists in more newspapers all over the country.

Posted by: efavorite | January 20, 2011 7:55 AM | Report abuse

Nice article.

Charter schools won't solve the problem. There will always be poorly run schools, both public and charter. There will also be islands of hope, run by exceptional people.

Maybe the reforms can't be replicated because it is the people who are making the difference, not what they are doing, but their style, personality and dedication is what makes the difference.

I feel charter schools are inevitable at this point. There needs to be a way to regulate them however.

We need public education. Why do some people feel that the pioneer times were somehow better? Read history, please.

Posted by: ubblybubbly | January 20, 2011 10:29 AM | Report abuse

Charter schools are the new segregation sought by choice/private school advocates:

Posted by: plthomas3 | January 20, 2011 12:20 PM | Report abuse

Beautiful. That is a very effective analogy.

Posted by: zebra22 | January 20, 2011 12:58 PM | Report abuse

This is the rhetorical question asked at the end of the editorial: "Why would elected Indiana leaders want the state to transfer resources from the public schools, for which they have a constitutional obligation, to private schools for which Indiana has no obligation?"

It would seem, despite the liberal use of the word "charter" in the piece--and by faulty extension, in the headline of the post--that the author's main beef is with vouchers for private schools. As far as I know, charter schools in Indiana are public schools, not private. So, though funding may be migrating from the traditional schools to both charters and private schools, state and local control is ceded only when the funds go to the private schools.

Like all attempts to analogize education, the police department/public safety comparison has curb appeal but nobody home (education is sui generis, because unlike public safety or medical care or clean air, it is important because we have decided it is important).

But just one point--let's suppose that Ft. Wayne did get a "charter" police department. This police department would operate alongside of the existing police department, not replace it as the editorialist implies. It would be funded by the city but would operate with an independent focus and methodology. The goal would be a more nimble and responsive force, free of much of the burden of the departmental bureaucracy. It could go into the most crime-ridden parts of the city and try new methods to achieve the same goals as the "traditional" police department. Maybe it would work well, maybe not. You'll agree that this analogy more closely represents the dynamic between public and public charter schools more accurately than does the editorial, where juxtaposition is supposed to confer correlation.

Guess what. Police departments are already using these methods. It's called substation-based neighborhood policing. It's called task forces. It's called trying a new way to improve the results. And yes, a proactive citizen who has gotten to know the officers at the substation might just call them first to get help with a problem, even if there is a "traditional" patrol car sitting at the end of the street. Maybe they should have that choice.

Posted by: gardyloo | January 20, 2011 1:32 PM | Report abuse

I agree, it's bad students that make bad schools. Teachers have very little to do with it, as the vast majority simply aren't very good.

What charters help, and what selective admissions schools help even more, is getting the good students out of the bad schools. America loves to let the bad apples poison the well, socially promote kids, and teach classes that span four or five grade levels of ability with a teacher standing at the front of the room lecturing. It just doesn't work. We need need charters only because the public school system won't adapt to wide variety of student capabilities, insisting on "equal treatment" which is equally bad for all.

If you want a simple measure of performance, look at how much homework these kids are doing. I am sure if they studied for 3 hours every night, they would be doing much better. It's a statistic that is better correlated with the rate of learning than income.

Posted by: staticvars | January 21, 2011 10:46 AM | Report abuse

Some charter schools are clean, but in the recent past I have visited two that were dirty and airless. I wonder why these schools are cleaned up?

Posted by: educationlover54 | January 23, 2011 2:46 PM | Report abuse

I meant:

I wonder why these schools are NOT cleaned up?

Posted by: educationlover54 | January 23, 2011 2:50 PM | Report abuse

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