Indiana officially outlaws “Sanctuary Campuses”

By Andrew Pillow

When President Trump came to power he made it clear that he intended to honor his campaign promise to get tough on immigration by issuing an executive order. Shortly after the order was issued, many universities and schools concerned about the adverse effects of the order immediately released statements condemning the order and pledges of non-cooperation. Local schools may now find it more difficult to make such pledges.

Indiana has officially outlawed “Sanctuary campuses” which are colleges and universities that pledge not to cooperate with immigration authorities. The bill Gov. Eric Holcomb signed into law bans institutions from intentionally not sharing the immigration status of their students with authorities.

Schools that do make such a pledge will face a civil suit from the state and a court could enjoin the institution.

It’s worth noting that although many Indiana schools have expressed their displeasure with the executive order, none have formally declared themselves to be a sanctuary campus.

This law piggy-backs a 2011 Indiana law that bans cities from becoming "sanctuary cities".

Read more here. (WFYI)


Andrew Pillow

Andrew is a technology teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. He is graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Teach for America Alum. Andrew just recently finished his commitment as a Teach Plus Policy fellow, and he is looking forward to putting the skills he's learned to good use. Andrew has written for several publications in the past on a wide variety of topics but will be sticking to education for his role on Indy/Ed.

Don’t stop others from having school vouchers just because you don’t want one

Those damn vouchers. It’s the one education issue that departs me from the company of fellow school choice advocates. They’re with me on charter schools, but go ghost on publicly funded private school tuition.

The “I-don’t-think-public-money-should-go-to-private-schools” contingent is legion. They are absolute. And, in my opinion, they are in direct violation of their own progressiveness.

Enter my friend and colleague Beth Hawkins who wrote a blog post titled “A Voucher is a Voucher is a Voucher – And They’re All Wrong.” She calls it a rant, which is an apt description for a post in which she boils vouchers in acid and then arranges the bones to say “Hell No.”

Her prompt is Minnesota’s pending proposal for an “Opportunity Scholarship” that would fund private school tuition for low-to-middle income students. Given the shockingly poor outcomes for black and brown kids in our relatively well-resourced Twin Cities schools, I welcome anything that offers parents an alternative.

Beth isn’t a fan. At all.

“I have long opposed private school vouchers for many reasons–not least of which I think it’s morally wrong to give tax dollars to programs that can legally discriminate,” she says. “Against people like me, a gay woman. And against one of my children, who has an intellectual disability.”

We agree on that. Education should be about liberation, not discrimination.

Yet, we can’t fairly debate vouchers without a scan of real state voucher programs to see if the fears are sound.

Actually, a Voucher is not a Voucher – and some are good

Ironically, some charter supporters resort to making the same arguments that charter opponents make (i.e. “siphons” money from the public system, supports schools that discriminate, diminishes protections students have in district schools, etc.).

For her part, Beth argues “in the case of queer kids and kids with disabilities, taking a voucher to a private school means giving up the protection of the laws of the land that exist specifically to protect people whose needs are costly, inconvenient or uncomfortable.”

That would be bad if it were true.

Alas, most state voucher programs target tuition subsidies toward children in poverty and those with disabilities.

Here are a few examples:

Mississippi’s voucher program supports students with Dyslexia or speech-language impairment.

In Oklahoma, public school students with an Individual Education Plan (IEP) can get a scholarship to attend private schools on the state’s approved list. To be approved schools must prove fiscal soundness, comply with anti-discrimination laws, and have fully credentialed teachers with more than 3 years experience.

Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship program offers subsidies for students with disabilities, military families, wards of the state, and students who live near “D” or “F” rated schools.

Ohio’s statewide program, EdChoice, pays for 60,000 low-income students in under-performing schools to attend private schools. Students with autism or other disabilities can receive larger subsidies depending on the severity of their disability.

Established in 1873, Maine has the nation’s oldest voucher program. As of 1980 religious schools are barred from participating. I don’t support that, but it’s an example of how safeguards can be installed to prevent faith-based, discriminatory “pray away the gay” programs.

These scholarships aren’t outliers. Indeed, they are the most common forms of vouchers (here’s a state-by-state comparison).

The Goose and the Gander

Beth says “We are talking about sending public money—which people of myriad creeds contribute, because way back when we decided we were one nation, indivisible—to institutions that may decide to flaunt civil rights.”

That argument is smothered in idealism about public schools, and steeped in dogma about private ones.

Truth is, America has never respected a “myriad” of creeds (travel ban anyone?); we have never been one nation; and living in Trump-world is obvious evidence we are only indivisible in the thinnest stretches of our imaginations. When exactly did “we” decide “we were one nation”?

Real talk, without vouchers in the picture we’re sending public money to institutions that “flaunt civil rights” all the time. I call those institutions “district schools.”

The evidence is in Beth’s piece. She relays a story about a traditional district school that “pushed out” her son due to an intellectual disability.

In another story she talks about a local school district that experienced a “suicide contagion” due to policies that were hostile toward LGBTQ students.

I could add to her stories. The district where my children attend school settled 15 serious claims of systemic racial discrimination with the federal government.

Not to be outdone, California has 99 school districts that had to settle discrimination cases with the feds.

Get this: The democratically elected school boards of Texas were under suspicion of working with a powerful law firm that train education leaders on how to discriminate against children with disabilities.

I could go on.

If the possibility of discrimination is cause for block funding for educational programs we might as well shut down public schools and start over. It’s that bad, and it’s the reason so many families want alternatives.

Yes, there are valid arguments against vouchers. Most can be addressed by the way voucher laws are written. But, it’s simply unfair to summarily disregard the aspirations of marginalized children and parents who currently make good use of public funds to access educational programs they want and need. They matter. They deserve choices. It’s their lives on the line and God bless them for actively seeking better for themselves.

For me, prioritizing their rights and their self-determination over the whims and privilege of voucher opponents is the truly moral thing to do.

This story was written by Christopher Stewart. To read more of Chris's stories please visit Citizen Ed

Weekend Links (5/6/2017)


Andrew Pillow

Andrew is a technology teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. He is graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Teach for America Alum. Andrew just recently finished his commitment as a Teach Plus Policy fellow, and he is looking forward to putting the skills he's learned to good use. Andrew has written for several publications in the past on a wide variety of topics but will be sticking to education for his role on Indy/Ed.

Move the Conversation from School Type to School Success

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Spring 2006, I was in class at Purdue University.  It was my last semester before graduation and we had work time in class to complete a project.  Recalling I was from Indianapolis, my professor called me over to tell me about a potential opportunity in Brownsburg, IN located right outside of the west side of Indy.  She informed me the demographics of Brownsburg schools were changing and they were looking for qualified diverse candidates to apply.  I had not considered what type of school I wanted to work in; all I wanted was my first professional job.  Later, I applied and was hired.  

After the first month, I realized this was not the best fit for me.  This realization did not stop me from trying to be the best teacher I could be during my first year in the classroom for my 8th grade English & American Studies students.  In February, I turned in my resignation stating I was not returning the following school year.  Parents were surprised I wanted to leave.  One parent told me I would probably be the only non-white teacher her child would ever have in Brownsburg.  Another parent wrote me a note:

Mrs. Barnes,

B---- told us you are leaving Brownsburg schools for another job.  I wanted to thank you for helping him have such a great year.  He has enjoyed your class and has spoke of you often.  Best wishes in your new adventure.

Although I had some good memories in this suburban school district, I knew my calling was as an urban educator.  My next job was at Indiana Math & Science Academy (IMSA), a charter school managed by Concept Schools on West 38th street.  I began working there the first year it opened in Indianapolis.  Now, this school is referred to as IMSA West since there is also a north and south location.

I enjoyed my time there.  I grew as an educator and had the freedom to teach however I needed to help students learn.  I appreciated the focus on math, science and student interest clubs. Many times, in urban schools, especially underperforming ones which are typically filled with black and brown students, science, social studies and the arts are the first to be removed from the curriculum and replaced with boring ‘drill and kill’ activities to help these students pass the standardized tests.  I say, “How is that working for you?” Since many of those schools are still failing.  Maybe it’s time to learn from successful charters.

Even as an English teacher, I was involved in the science aspect of IMSA and I coached a science team that earned third place in the Science Olympiad at Purdue University.  I also facilitated an African American literature club and a Mythology literature club because of student interest; all teachers at IMSA had to have a student interest club.  My students also had the opportunity to have hands-on experiences off campus at least once a month.  Experiences they probably would not have had if they did not attend this school.  These activities helped students grow academically and build strong relationships with each other.  The off campus trips my students enjoyed most is when we went to Churchill Downs to learn about horse racing, visited various science museums, and when we went to Perfect North Slopes and learned how to ski and snowboard.  

I did eventually leave IMSA, but it was not because of the school or the fact that it was a charter school.  I wanted to obtain a master’s degree and have children.  By leaving IMSA and accepting a job in Wayne Township, I made $13,000 more a year and was able to complete by Master’s degree debt free and pay for infertility treatments that helped me have my two wonderful children.  I loved working IMSA and I still stay in contact with former colleagues.  Working there is the reason I know charter schools can work.  

As I reflect upon National Charter School week, I wish the conversation would shift focus from whether students should attend a public traditional school versus a public charter school; the conversation should move from school type to school success.   If a school is not successful, it should be closed regardless of school type and all schools should be closed based on the same criteria.  There is a Chinese proverb that I have displayed on my desk, “The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person who is doing it.”  If you do not have anything of value to add to the conversation of improving schools and supporting all schools who are helping students have a better future, then step aside and let the rest of us continue the work.

Governor Holcomb signs bill to expand Pre-K to more counties

By Andrew Pillow

Pre-K has been a controversial subject in Indiana. Mainly due to funding or lack there-of. The bill Gov. Eric Holcomb signed will expand the existing Pre-K program by a little.  

The On My Way Pre-K program currently serves around 2000 low income students in five counties. The new bill hopes to increase those figures.

Highlights of the new bill include:

  • Increased funding from $10 Million to $22 million.
  • Expansion to 15 additional counties.
  • A provision to make any of the 92 counties eligible to “compete” to be one of the 15 counties included in the expansion.
  • $1 million in funding for an online pre-school for eligible families.

Critics of the new bill say it doesn’t go far enough.

Ted Maple the president and CEO of Early Learning Indiana is looking for a more comprehensive plan that includes pre-k for all Indiana students:

“We’re very encouraged by the additional investment the state is making in expanding access to pre-K, but we also recognize there are many more children without access,” Said Maple. “We’re hopeful that our state leaders will continue to expand access.”

Read more here. (WFYI)


Andrew Pillow

Andrew is a technology teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. He is graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Teach for America Alum. Andrew just recently finished his commitment as a Teach Plus Policy fellow, and he is looking forward to putting the skills he's learned to good use. Andrew has written for several publications in the past on a wide variety of topics but will be sticking to education for his role on Indy/Ed.

The Power of School Choice

May 1-5 is National Charter School Week.  This week highlights the power and benefits of choice. Marie A. Wright believes enacting this choice is not only a parent’s right, but the reason her children have been academically successful and able to have access to great opportunities.

Choice is not about sending all your children to a charter school over your boundary school. Choice is about picking the right school for each child.  All of our children went to different schools.  For one child, the best fit was private and for the other two, the best fit was charter. Those children did not attend the same charter school.


Our oldest child, Timothy V. Wright Jr., attended school in both Pike and Franklin Township, but he graduated from Indianapolis Metropolitan High School, a charter school, where he was his class valedictorian.  He attended IUPUI on a full academic scholarship.

Our middle child, Taylor Byers, attended The Oaks Academy, a private school that offers a classical Christian education, from 1st to 6th grade.  She completed 7th-12th grade at Cardinal Ritter, a catholic high school.  She just completed her freshman year at Tennessee State University and she was on the dean’s list the entire year.

Our youngest, Morgan Wright, is a 7th grader attending Tindley Collegiate Academy, an all girls school.  It’s a charter school where the motto is, “College or Die.”  Prior to attending Collegiate, she was a student at Avondale Meadows Academy, also a charter school.

Choice isn’t without sacrifice.  My children did not know the kids in our neighborhood as well because they didn’t have a shared school experience.  We have a 40 minute commute to get Morgan to school each day.  We also have to sacrifice time and be involved in our children’s education.  Tindley and other charters have been given a bad wrap, but I don’t understand it. They are holding your child accountable and not settling for mediocrity.  They expect you to be involved.  When you enroll your child, you are entering into an agreement with the school that you are going to be an active participant to help your child excel.

What I have loved about the charter schools my youngest has attended is the consistent communication from 1st grade on.  They have worked with her on her strengths and weaknesses. They are there to make sure she is thriving.  The education is rigorous and challenging to her.  She excels on her tests including the standardized tests.  Most importantly the school holds both my child and our family accountable for her educational outcomes.  

My advice to parents considering choosing a school is do real research, not he said she said research.  Don’t listen to your friends at the beauty shop.  You have to go see the school for yourself.  Visit the school.  Observe what is going on and consider your child, each individual child.  It’s worth the sacrifice.  We know that choosing the right school for each of our children was the right decision and we know they are going to be prepared for the future.




As we shine the light on charter schools this National Charter Schools Week, several of the 100 plus public school options in Indiana are deserving of special attention and high praise.

One Indianapolis-based school network, where I served as a director, is a community centered option fortified by a national network with a decades long mission of rigorous, high quality education for traditionally underserved students.

With a network of over 200 college preparatory charters serving over 80,000 students nationally, the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) Schools are built on a foundation that demands and expects excellence from its students regardless their stations upon entry.

One of the most recognizable among charter school operators, 95 percent of the network’s national profile is African American or Latino, with just under 90 percent qualifying for free and reduced lunch. And, with students’ growth and academic outcomes outperforming the averages nationally and in most locals, there is much for KIPP to celebrate since the founding of the its Houston based school in 1994 under founders Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin.

KIPP Indy, based on the near Eastside of Indianapolis, represents this vast network locally, but has established its own unique identity as a neighborhood-based school deeply invested in the overall community well-being. In 13 years of operation, the network has grown to serve over 600 students across two schools, KIPP Indy College Prep and KIPP Indy Unite Elementary. Over that time, school leadership will admit results have been mixed, downright dissatisfying early.

However, under the leadership of KIPP Indy Executive Director Emily Pelino, the school began a cultural reversal that took stock of its full community assets in the effort to gain support and collective buy in through community investment. Working alongside its regional and national networks, KIPP Indy diligent approach has poised the school for an accelerated growth trajectory for which the surrounding community is taking notice, a very intentional strategy she notes.

“We’re deeply committed to the Martindale Brightwood community and the near eastside of Indianapolis,” Pelino said. “At KIPP Indy, we know that schools have the opportunity to be the cornerstone of communities and through our significant partnerships with neighborhood organizations, community leaders, and families, we are able to work together to leverage the many assets of our neighborhood to best support our students and families, inside and outside of the classroom.”

While challenges such as discipline and attendance metrics continue to adversely affect too many KIPP Indy Students, the school’s most recent academic data support its focus on complimenting high quality educators with comprehensive and strategic community partnerships. On the Indy networks’ most recent ISTEP report card, the school achieved enough growth domain points in English/Language arts and Math to earn the distinction as an “A” school.

Still there is much work to be done. For the dedicated leadership of KIPP Indy, a year’s state letter grade does less to satisfy this work than does the greater student achievement anticipated over the near and long terms. If successful in their aims, and by “their” I mean “our”, the schools network will expand to a full K-12 continuum with the prospective launch of a KIPP Indy High School in 2018-2019.

As evidenced by last week’s City of Indianapolis Charter Board hearing in consideration of this pursuit, the school’s national network, students, families and surrounding community are firmly behind them…

Indianapolis school crowns first transgender prom king

 Instagram via @alanchrismont

Instagram via @alanchrismont

By Andrew Pillow

The crowning of the prom king and queen is always a special moment. However, it was extra special for one Indianapolis student. North Central high school crowned their first transgender prom king. Alan Belmont, a transgender male, is now the holder of that distinction.

High school wasn’t exactly a smooth ride for Belmont. He came out during his sophomore year and faced bullying shortly thereafter.

At one point someone took Belmont’s homecoming king poster down and crossed out the word “king” and replaced it with “queen”.

Things like that made high school hard harder for him than the average student, but according to Belmont, students shouldn’t let incidents like that get them down as he told WTHR:

“I want kids to know that confidence is the key to surviving bullying. If you love yourself, negative words mean nothing if you know they aren’t true. Believe your own happiness and love over others’ negativity and hate.”

Watch the full story below or read more here. (WTHR)


Andrew Pillow

Andrew is a technology teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. He is graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Teach for America Alum. Andrew just recently finished his commitment as a Teach Plus Policy fellow, and he is looking forward to putting the skills he's learned to good use. Andrew has written for several publications in the past on a wide variety of topics but will be sticking to education for his role on Indy/Ed.

Weekend Links (4/29/2017)


Andrew Pillow

Andrew is a technology teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. He is graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Teach for America Alum. Andrew just recently finished his commitment as a Teach Plus Policy fellow, and he is looking forward to putting the skills he's learned to good use. Andrew has written for several publications in the past on a wide variety of topics but will be sticking to education for his role on Indy/Ed.

Former IPS teacher turned entrepreneur talks business and life after teaching

By Andrew Pillow

Derik Ohanian is former IPS teacher and also the CEO and co-founder of the online educational platform Lessonomix. He joined Teach for America in 2011 and taught for 2 years in inner city Indianapolis.

Pillow: “Hey thank you for granting an interview.”

Ohanian: "It's my pleasure. I'm excited to chat."


Pillow: “So you are a former teacher. When, where and what did you teach?”

Ohanian: "I taught high school social studies in Indianapolis, from 2011-2013. My career began at John Marshall Community High School, and then transitioned to T.C. Howe."


Pillow: “So what made you decide to leave the classroom and eventually start a business?”

Ohanian: "Public education has always been near to my heart. When I was in college, I became motivated by the fact that there's still so much work to do to ensure that every student leaves high school with a strong sense of preparedness. I wanted to teach, so I could have a positive impact on students' lives, but also understand more about the systemic issues that affect their education, and how we can resolve those issues. To me, it's always been about making sure that all students have full control over their destinies.  

When I left teaching, I thought about what I wanted my impact to be. My focus was more fixed on the teacher experience, and the splendors and challenges that came with it. I felt determined to do something beneficial, in that space. Of course, there are many ways to cast an influence, but for me, the route that made the most sense was through technology. I passionately believe that we can use technology to improve the lesson-planning process for teachers, and make teaching even more rewarding. Thus, it's these reasons that inspired me to venture into the startup realm." 


Pillow: “So tell us about your startup, Lessonomix. What is it?

Ohanian: "Lessonomix is an online social network that helps teachers create and share lesson plans and other instructional resources, through peer-to-peer connections. It also serves as a lesson-planner and an organizer of unit maps. Lessonomix is meant to help teachers stay organized and inspired, with whatever lesson they're planning to teach.

And really, it's about giving teachers that extra surge of energy and creativity. There are so many incredible teachers out there, who come up with innovative and transformative ways to teach a subject, gauge student mastery of that subject, and inspire student learning through projects and other activities. Lessonomix is about making sure that all teachers are speaking to one another, regardless of where they're located, so they can collaborate with one another.

Ultimately, we want Lessonomix to be a platform where teachers display their best skill-sets, and offer them in service to their fellow teachers. Teachers should coach other teachers. It's time we got away from the consulting model, where schools bring in high-priced project managers and analysts to solve problems in settings, where the existing resources could've accomplished the job."


Pillow: “Is your platform a response to a problem you saw in the classroom?”

Ohanian: "Yes, absolutely. When I was in the classroom, I struggled to put on an exciting lesson. It was tough, especially because I was new. I'd get tidbits of mentorship from seasoned teachers, whenever help was available, but I never felt like I had some kind of constant access to great ideas and successful lessons. While teaching, I really felt like there should be a tool that was as easy to use as a smartphone, just as intuitive as Google search, and as pleasant of a user experience as Snapchat. Something that clicks fluidly, is highly responsive, and navigable. The point is that it shouldn't be onerous to find the materials and resources, you need, to construct a great lesson on the War of 1812, or polynomial expressions. That's the point of Lessonomix, and I wish I had something like this, while I was in the classroom."


Pillow: "In terms of creating your startup, how did you learn what to do?"

Ohanian: “Any venture has to start off with a purpose. Why are you doing what you’re doing? What problem are you trying to solve? What behavior are you trying to change? I felt strongly about improving teacher-access to high-quality lesson plans and instructional resources, and could visualize what the problem looked like in my head. From there, it was assembling the right team, thinking about funding, and seeking mentorship out from entrepreneurs who had already been successful. Starting a new is all about asking questions, listening, and improving—that truly describes our experience with Lessonomix."


Pillow: “Thank you for your time!”

Ohanian: "You bet! I'm glad we had a chance to chat."

Check out Ohanian’s web app, Lessonomix here. For more info, email


Andrew Pillow

Andrew is a technology teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. He is graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Teach for America Alum. Andrew just recently finished his commitment as a Teach Plus Policy fellow, and he is looking forward to putting the skills he's learned to good use. Andrew has written for several publications in the past on a wide variety of topics but will be sticking to education for his role on Indy/Ed.