Monday, June 11, 2012

The Failure of School Leadership: Eugene White, Indianapolis, and the Need to End the District Model

 RiShawn Biddle blasts Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Eugene White:

If success as a school leader is merely judged on length of tenure alone, then Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Eugene White has clearly done well. Unlike peers such as former Philadelphia schools chief Arlene Ackerman, White has held on to the job of heading one of the nation's most-populous districts in the American Midwest for seven years, or double the usual tenure.

But holding onto a job isn't good enough, especially when one is overseeing a district almost as infamous as Detroit for systemic academic failure. By all other counts, White has been an abject failure. Which makes recent news that he's being considered for the top school leadership job in Greenville, S.C., even more puzzling. How school board members in that city have ignored the facts about White's tenure — and the fact that counterparts in the Circle City have allowed him to stay in his current job for so long — offers examples of why overhauling school governance is critical to helping all children (especially young men of poor and minority backgrounds) get high quality education.

White's job search comes just as his future in Indianapolis is in doubt. School reformers in the city are rallying around the efforts of the Mind Trust to place the district under mayoral control. Current Mayor Greg Ballard has been mum about the proposal, and state legislators across the way at the Indiana Statehouse haven't moved on a plan. But all the talk about mayoral control (along with Ballard's appointment of a former Teach For America executive as his education czar) has made clear that such action is inevitable.

At the same time, White has attracted plenty of the wrong kind of attention. In one of his more-ludicrous statements, he proclaimed last October that IPS was failing because unlike Indianapolis' charter schools, the 33,079-student district had to take kids who were "blind, crippled, crazy". (White later apologized for the statement; Dropout Nation would chastise White for this and other failures in its podcast on school leadership.) Months earlier, White had the dubious distinction of being the first superintendent in the Hoosier State to watch the state seize control of four of the district's schools and hand them over to private and nonprofit charter school operators. This included Emmerich Manual High School, one of the most-persistent dropout factories in the Midwest with graduation rates likely hovering below 60 percent long before your editor brought attention to its woeful state in a 2005 editorial series on the nation's dropout crisis.

Given these circumstances, White shouldn't even be under consideration for a coat check job at Ruth's Chris, much less competing for the chance to be entrusted with management of the larger Greenville district (and the futures of the 69,802 children in its care). But then, White shouldn't even be in his current job. Ever since taking over IPS during the 2005-2006 school year from the less-than-remarkable Duncan "Pat" Pritchett, White has presided over a series of district reorganizations and administrative reshufflings that have resulted in little improvement in student achievement. Although the district's five-year Promoting Power rate (based on eighth-grade enrollment) improved from 32 percent to 47 percent between 2005-2006 and 2009-2010, IPS's five-year graduation rate from 41 percent to 36 percent over that time, according to a Dropout Nation analysis of federal and state data. In fact, IPS graduated 205 fewer graduates in 2009-2010 than it did five years earlier; that's greater than the 90-student decline in eighth-grade enrollment that happened over that same period.


The Failure of School Leadership: Eugene White, Indianapolis, and the Need to End the District Model

March 26, 2012 No Comments by RiShawn Biddle

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