Different perspective on Canaan Academy story
Saturday, August 09, 2014 5:00 AM
To the editor:
As a former newspaper reporter and press secretary to public officials, I cannot help but read every article with an eye for "the story behind the story."
In the case of the August 7 Courier coverage of the Canaan Community Academy (CCA) charter school, three elements jumped out.
First, what old-timer journalists call "the buried lead" (or "lede"), which was that the government entity responsible for assessing education performance and adjudicating disputes - the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) - judged Canaan as having earned an "A" rating in 2013. This was buried on the back page, in the second-to-last sentence. But it was there; no harm, no foul.
Second, The IDOE's charter school expert - Dr. Robert A. Marra (executive director of the Office of Charter Schools) - received a June 30, 2014 memo from Dr. Michele Walker, Director of Office of Student Assessment, revealing that the study of CCA was conducted by Ball State University - not by the school's official regulator, the IDOE. Readers were informed that the memo "did not mention any incident of tests being altered."
Third, virtually the entire conversation at the local level misses the big picture, and how one successful, small charter school can be caught in political crossfire originating at higher levels.
History lesson made simple: Former Gov. Mitch Daniels and former Indiana Education Secretary Tony Bennett (who enthusiastically attended CCA's uplifting Aug. 2012 opening ceremony) were strong proponents of maximizing educational choices for parents and students, as well as holding all involved accountable for results.
This did not sit well with the Indiana State Teachers' Association - historically one of the most powerful union lobbies. Nor did some of Secretary Bennett's provocative comments during his tenure.
Ironically, Daniels' and Bennett's views are much closer to those of the reformist Obama appointee U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan than they are of incumbent Democrat Indiana Education Secretary Glenda Ritz, who defeated Bennett. This fact sticks in some craws, locally, regionally, and even nationally.
Regardless, the education reform debate - flying back and forth, above us - was largely constructive and informative. Why? Because it sometimes helped illuminate core concerns surrounding a vital question - how to best educate and fund the children?
The larger argument partially obscures the topic of public charter schools, and specifically CCA. Here we pause for a public service announcement: Charter Schools ARE public schools. They do not drain dollars from traditional, large schools; they merely provide parents and students with another choice.
So now the saga becomes local again. Canaan is being unduly scrutinized - particularly in light of its "A" rating from state regulators - because of three things:
Some supporters of Madison schools apparently miss the fact that charter schools are no threat to their favorite institution, but instead are a value-added part of our local solution.
Ball State University seems to be in the process of distancing itself from an under-informed and increasing contentious debate on reform and choice.
The local school building referendum went down to an ignominious defeat of 23-77; some who regret that may be seeking non- sequitur scapegoats or diversions.
Regardless, what matters most is the quality of education and variety of choice we provide to all parents, teachers and students. Let's celebrate this free-society opportunity, and not toss it aside. Let's look and work forward, and maintain focus on the children. They are our tomorrow.