Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Mind Trust's David Harris: His Next Step Will Be Over You

As a former public school teacher who knows a lot about authentic assessment, I am always fascinated to read directives given by the likes of Mr. Harris, who hasn't taught - yet can suggest a school closing based on standardized test data - data that quite honestly, is worthless – if indeed you wish to know about real student learning.  Mr. Harris, CEO of Mind Trust, recently stated that The Project School (as well as three other schools) in Indianapolis should be closed, based on their low test scores. 

The research on test-based incentive programs shows that these mandates do not raise student achievement, yet, this prized standardized test data continues to be used to determine the success or failure of our public schools. Standardized test data does tell us one thing - which students are living in poverty. At TPS approximately 71% of the children receive free or reduced lunch.

The Project School is a charter school, but it is an “old school” charter school - the kind of charter that existed before profiteers co-opted the concept. One can be quite certain that high stakes testing is not a part of the TPS philosophy (note the word PROJECT – not bubble sheet).  The mission of The Project School reads as follows:

"The mission of The Project School is to uncover, recover and discover the unique gifts and talents that each child brings to school everyday. Our school works collaboratively with families, community members and social service agencies to solve real problems, as well as create art for public spaces. Students graduate from The Project School as stewards of the environment with the will, skill, capacity, and knowledge to contribute to the greater good."

Assessment components at TPS include:
  • Literacy Assessments—conferences, interviews, anecdotal records, authentic student work, Reading Miscue Inventory
  • Math/Logical Assessments—Investigations assessments, formal and informal teacher created assessments, instructional rubrics
  • P3 Ongoing Assessment—formal and informal teacher created assessments, instructional rubrics
  • Formal Standardized Assessments—ACUITY, ISTEP+
  • Student Exhibitions
  • Museum of Authentic Work
  • The Culminating Event
  • Electronic Portfolios
  • Student-Led Conferences
  • Project School Progress Report
  • Intensives
Quite honestly, out of all the assessments listed above, the formal standardized assessments are the least valuable and certain to represent the narrowest view of what the students at TPS know. 

Corporate Education Reformers who are privatizing public schools these days use standardized test scores because it is efficient and allows them to fail schools with a cut and dry approach – look at the data – not the learner.  If they bothered to look at the multitude of assessments of REAL learning, it would be much more difficult to fail schools. Imagine the growth you could demonstrate by looking at authentic student work, conferences, anecdotal records and exhibitions - all found in the list of TPS assessments.  However, Mr. Harris has never set foot in the door of TPS so he wouldn't see any of that.  The real strengths, needs and next steps of the students at The Project School are unknown to him.

Corporate education reformers spout directives with no knowledge of teaching and learning. I believe Mr. Harris has a degree in political science and is a former attorney. Go figure. Same game, new name.  Mr. Harris is a cookie cutter corporate education reformer.  He couldn’t evaluate a reading miscue analysis or decipher the value of anecdotal notes if he tried.  He doesn’t know the learners at TPS  - their hopes, dreams and day to day struggles.  The educators at TPS know these things, but their authentic teacher evaluation of the students does not count in the world of high stakes testing.

I admire TPS because they have attempted to focus on real learning and real teaching in the face of high stakes testing.  While many schools have caved and resorted to focusing solely on test prep, TPS has continued to follow their mission – that takes guts in today’s fear-based public school system, thanks to cookie cutter prototypes such as Mr. Harris who are charged with the overhaul of a school district.

Egos are big in this fame game played by corporate education reformers.  Protecting the children of the 99%  is not. Children's lives are unnoticed and ignored. How frequently do you see the story of a community destroyed by high stakes testing on the front page of your local newspaper?  Who reports the stories of these children whose lives are disrupted due to school closure?  Who shares the children’s feelings when their future is thrown to the highest bidder?  

No one in mainstream media reports these stories. Instead you see the bravado of corporate education reformers who squish schools like bugs and smile for the camera.

So, if Mr. Harris gets his way, what will happen to the children at TPS?  Does anyone care?  Will it fuel the school to prison pipeline?  Where will the children go to school?  Will they join a new school community focused solely on test prep?  Will they all be sorted and thrown in different schools, no longer attending school with their neighbors?  Will the TPS community of families slowly fade as parents head in different directions to take their children to school?

If I know the parents of TPS like I think I do, I believe Mr. Harris is in for a long fight.  And I intend to publicize what mainstream media will not. 

Perhaps Mr. Harris is suggesting shutting down schools to make room for new charters headed to Indianapolis.  Perhaps these new charters require less overhead – such as Carpe Diem.

Six Carpe Diem schools are indeed headed to Indiana. ALEC loves them. See chapter five of their latest report card.  Six schools will soon arrive, focused on ALEC’s love of technology and lack of teachers. This isn’t innovation – this is mind-numbing education delivered via computer with a few teachers (4) left to fill in the regimented gaps.  ALEC wants good little worker bees – not movers and shakers like those found at TPS.

Our country which prides itself on innovation is developing a generation incapable of thinking critically, conceptually or creatively.  If Mind Trust were truly inclined to help the children of Indianapolis they might just take that charter school incubator money and funnel it into wrap around services at schools for children living in poverty.  They might look at these schools which are considered failing and really dig deeper than a bubble sheet by looking at real assessments, such as those shared on the TPS website.  If Mind Trust were really about preserving and improving public education they would consult and respect the educators who know the community, culture and needs of the learners.  If Mind Trust cared about the children of Indianapolis they would listen to the parents who love TPS and are proud of the accomplishments of their children and their school.  If you wonder why they don’t, well simply look at the money trail.  Real learning, real teaching and protecting children from poverty do not create profit. 

The likes of Mr. Harris and Mind Trust do.


  1. Well done, Peggy. Combine with this Errant and we have argued against technocratic assessment as a reductive ideology suited to the economics of technocratic assessment. The monkey won't write Hamlet, but given only two keys, 1 and 0, maybe it will discover a new drone technology.


  2. Well said Peggy. What has the response been from parents and educators in Indianapolis? There is nothing about Mind Trust on their website.

  3. The response from parents is confusion, generally. David Harris holds no office, who is he to make recommendations on closing our school? Most certainly, Mr. Harris does not have children in the public school system, he's opted his family out of public education. And yet, and yet...Harris is attempting to reform IPS and recommending our Charter be closed. Mr. Harris has crossed the line and is working to create panic. I'll work to provide evidence of how wrong Mr. Harris is and educate parents. Thank you for your support Peg.

  4. This is our home, our community. In an environment like Indianapolis, parents choose a school. We chose TPS. Now David Harris is telling us we made a bad choice. But how? He hasn't seen it. He hasn't met with my daughter to see if she is learning. Shame on David Harris, he should keep his politics out of our education.

  5. Peggy, I agree with most everything you write in this blog! I believe you hit the nail right on the head, and I appreciate your willingness to shed light on this issue. I would like to add my thoughts to one piece, however. I am not in favor of for-profit schools (CD, in particular) replacing our schools. However, technology isn't adding to the problem. In fact, I've noticed that it's becoming an easy target, but I believe this fear comes from the unknown. For those of us who support high-quality online and blended options for students, I can tell you that technology doesn't have to be mind-numbing and isolating. Technology, when used with purpose, is an great equalizer that can create rich experiences to connect learners from the across the world. It can be a powerful tool for authentic assessment, so I don't want to lump "technology" into a negative category associated with these devastating reform efforts.