John Krull

In a few days, thousands of educators, parents and students will flock to the Indiana Statehouse.

That has self-appointed education reform advocates all in a tizzy.

The occasion is Red for Ed Day on Nov. 19. That’s when teachers, administrators, parents and students from all around the state plan to show up at the Statehouse to lobby for more money for the state’s schools. So many teachers and students are planning to attend that some schools plan to close on that day.

Some members of the education reform crowd think this is just horrible.

Even though they’ve applauded students and educators from charter schools or private schools accepting vouchers who went to the Statehouse to lobby, they say, somehow, that it’s wrong for public-school teachers, parents and students to do the same.

This is an argument for more civics education in all schools — and maybe remedial training for adults, too.

Last time I checked, the First Amendment’s guarantee of the right to petition government for a redress of grievances didn’t have an asterisk by it. It doesn’t say that self-proclaimed education reformers were the only ones who got to go to the Statehouse to ask for more money.

But that smokescreen is not what has the education reformers so upset about Red for Ed Day.

No, what has them worried is that people have begun to figure out that none of their so-called reforms have worked.

Worse — from the point of view of the “reformers,” that is — people also have begun to realize who to hold accountable for these failures.

Once upon a time, “accountability” was a word the education reform crowd loved. The reformers said they wanted to hold schools and educators accountable. It was the state’s responsibility to make sure that every child had a quality education and, thus, it was the state’s responsibility to hold every — every! — school accountable for delivering that education.

Another word they used almost like punctuation was “empowerment.” They said they wanted to “empower” parents. “Empower” students. “Empower” citizens who cared about education.

These days, they don’t use those words as often.

That’s because it’s now clear that they didn’t mean what they said.

If they had meant it, they wouldn’t have removed charter and voucher schools and students from the accountability measures imposed on traditional public schools. Any time anyone casts an inquiring eye on how charter schools are performing or whether the students receiving vouchers are doing better in private schools than public, the reformers pull another curtain closed or throw up another barricade.

Accountability, it seems, is for other people.

Not for them.

Their definition of “empowerment” is similarly selective.

They love it when parents take an active role in their children’s educations — unless, that is, that active role contradicts some of their cherished but largely ineffective notions of how schools should be run.

A few years ago, for example, parents around the state were so upset about the state of Indiana schools that they elected a traditional public-school educator, Glenda Ritz, to be state superintendent of public instruction.

The reformers were so thrilled to hear the parents’ voices in that election that they stripped parents of the right to choose the state’s schools chief.

Then, when the person they recruited to defeat Ritz, current Superintendent Jennifer McCormick, began to say that the reformers’ plans to improve Indiana schools belonged in the science fiction section of the bookstore and also said she wouldn’t run again, they accelerated the plan to make her job appointed rather than elected.

That’s some parental empowerment, isn’t it?

There’s a cliché that says that some people play checkers while others, those who think farther ahead, play chess. These education reformers seem to be confused by tic-tac-toe.

The reason so many students, parents and teachers are coming to the Statehouse on Nov. 19 is that the reformers gave them no place else to go.

Every move the reformers have made has funneled all the anger and frustration surrounding the state’s schools right back at them.

They might as well have sent an invitation.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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