outlook unclear

Advocates of all stripes wonder: How would Hogsett approach education?

PHOTO: Alan Petersime
Tindley Accelerated School was one of the first 10 mayor-sponsored charter schools to open in Indianapolis. Now the mayor's office oversees 35 charter schools.

To Robert Vane, a Republican strategist who used to work for Mayor Greg Ballard, there is only one sensible posture for an Indianapolis mayor to have on education.

“I believe the mayor has to be an activist,” he said.

That’s a common sentiment among both Republicans and Democrats who have been involved in pushing for changes in the way the city’s schools are run.

Advocates on both sides of the political fence say they are optimistic about Joe Hogsett, who has emerged in the last month as a leading contender for mayor in 2016. But they also admit that they really don’t know much about what he thinks about charter schools, the structure of the Indianapolis Public School Board and other issues that the next mayor is likely to confront.

“I don’t know where he is on education issues,” said Gordon Hendry, a member of the Indiana State Board of Education and a former deputy mayor under Ballard’s Democratic predecessor, Bart Peterson. “But I think, should Joe Hoggsett be elected mayor, he would be an activist. That’s the kind of guy he is. He would want to roll up his sleeves and consider the best policies possible.”

The fast-changing mayor’s race has raised questions about the possibility of a change in direction for the city’s approach to education.

Just months ago, at the summer’s end, there was every reason to believe Ballard would be a formidable candidate seeking a third term in 2016. A third term likely would have meant a continued push for charter schools. Over his six years in office, Ballard has aggressively backed the opening of new charter schools and other changes.

But Ballard announced last month that he would not run, followed by Hogsett’s announcement that he would. Since then, the other Democrat in the race, state Rep. Ed Delaney, ended his campaign, and the Indianapolis Star reported the Republicans have so far struggled to recruit a replacement for Ballard.

That means the chances that the city’s mayoral leadership could switch political parties, as it did in 2008 when Ballard defeated Peterson, are considerably greater.

Just how much a party switch would matter when it comes to education is unclear. Peterson and Ballard shared the view that Indianapolis needed more good schools, and both supported expanding the city’s charter sector: Peterson was the first mayor in the nation to sponsor charter schools, and Ballard nearly doubled the number of mayor-sponsored charter schools to 35 this year.

Their bipartisan support for charter schools means the publicly funded but privately managed schools are here to stay, said David Harris, a former Peterson aide who helped him co-found The Mind Trust, a nonprofit that advocates for educational change, including charter schools, in Indianapolis.

“I don’t see how anyone could be a candidate for mayor and do anything but embrace the success of the charter sector that we have in Indianapolis,” he said. “My expectation would be whoever wins, we will have someone who is supportive of the charter sector.”

Joe Hogsett
Joe Hogsett

Indeed, in an interview last week with Chalkbeat, Hogsett said he supports charter schools. But how strong that support would be, and where he would stand on other issues, remains to be seen, and in some ways Hogsett sounded very different from Ballard and Peterson.

He cited his early legal work on behalf the Indiana State Teachers Association — the state’s largest teachers union — and called teacher pay his top education issue. Ballard and charter school advocates have been at odds with the ISTA, which argues charter schools, which are almost always non-union, often mean less pay and fewer job protections for teachers.

Rather than describe himself as a force for change focused heavily on inner-city schools in the mold of Peterson and Ballard on education, Hogsett pitched himself in a more centrist role. He said he hoped to be a “convener” of conversations about education and a “cheerleader” for public education, promising that his focus would extend beyond charter schools and Indianapolis Public Schools.

“I think how I might be different than previous mayors is I intend to be fully engaged and immersed in how education is being delivered in all four corners of this county,” Hogsett said. “We do tend to focus on IPS, with good reason admittedly. But the mayor must not lose sight of the fact that there are 11 school corporations in this city. Each of them are worthy of the mayor’s time and attention.”

Hendry cautioned that there is no reason to believe Hogsett would act differently than his predecessor when it comes to advocating for charter schools or creating urgency to improve schools in the center city.

“He’s always been a visionary so I think I would place him more in the Mayor Bart Peterson camp,” he said. “I think he will listen to the best minds within our party and formulate the best policies.”

That’s what Vane expects, too, citing the fact that both Hogsett and Peterson are strongly connected politically, having both worked for former Indiana governor and U.S. senator Evan Bayh.

“I would be absolutely shocked, and really dismayed, if he walked us back,” Vane said.

While the prospect of a Hogsett mayoralty is drawing bipartisan optimism, there are also people on both sides of the aisle who are wary about his education outlook.

Some Republicans worry that Hogsett will be too heavily influenced by unions and Democratic lawmakers who have raised concerns about charter schools and the education policy shifts of the last decade.

“There is a certain faction of the Democratic Party that has never embraced the sort of reforms that we have done in Indiana,” Vane said. “If they took over in the city of Indianapolis and held too much sway it would impact the kids who need it most.”

And Democrats who are wary about recent education policy changes hope that Hogsett would be more cautious than Ballard about school choice and accountability.

“He needs to be very cognizant of what the majority of people within the Democratic Party believe,” said Rep. Greg Porter, a Democrat from Indianapolis. “The party is not as fractured as people say.”

Despite Hogsett’s ISTA connection, the union’s president, Teresa Meredith, said she is looking forward to meeting with him to learn more about his views. Hogsett, she said, should rely on teachers to inform his policy choices.

“There are some great teacher leaders around the city,” she said. “It would be smart of him to talk with them before he came down strongly committed on any policy in education. He needs to hear what teachers think. He need to hear what it’s like to deal with student poverty issues every single day, so he has a true understanding of the whole picture of what it’s like in Indianapolis.”

Porter also is among the high profile Democratic leaders lining up to meet with Hogsett to discuss education and other issues with him. In the meantime, he said he hopes that Hogsett sees education as part of the puzzle for improving the city, along with neighborhood revitalization and other efforts, rather than as a silver bullet.

“He needs to understand all the complexities going on: mobility, neighborhood stabilization and education,” Porter said. “All of that is important.”

For true believers in charter schools, including those who are Democrats, the myriad issues facing the city is exactly why they hope Hogsett would continue Ballard’s and Peterson’s support.

“To me the most important thing for the future of the city is we continue to advance school reform,” Harris said. “If we are unable to do that it would make all other goals for the city impossible to achieve.”

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”