Kobe Bryant helps Indiana high school students get out of taking a test

By Keith Allison (Flickr: Kobe Bryant) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Keith Allison (Flickr: Kobe Bryant) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Andrew Pillow

Kobe Bryant scored 33,643 points in his NBA career. However, Kobe Bryant was never  known to be much of a passer. That just makes the assist that he gave to a few Indianapolis students all that greater.

Ben Davis High School student William Pate tweeted Kobe and told him that if the 18 time NBA All-Star gave him a retweet, the students would be excused from their final exam. The tweet had a picture of Pate and his teacher attached.

Pate’s work was not in vain as Kobe Bryant re-tweeted and responded “Hope you have an A in this class”.

According to Pate the final was a US Government exam.


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.

When School Policies Interfere with our Children's Education

Without fail, every month, there is a report of a child unjustly punished at school because of a school handbook rule or school policy that is antiquated or discriminatory.  These policies interfere with students’ education and make students feel targeted and less part of their school community.

This month, in Massachusetts and Florida, black girls were singled out because of their hair. Twin girls, Deanna and Mya, who attend Mystic Valley Regional Charter School in Malden, Massachusetts have been assigned detention repeatedly, kicked off the track team and banned from prom for wearing box braids.  School policy does not allow hair extensions.  Many black women wear extensions as a protective hairstyle or a hairstyle to decrease the amount of time it takes to get ready in the morning.  Although both black and white women can wear hair extensions, the majority of women wearing hair extensions are black.  School is a place to obtain an academic foundation.  How does hair extensions interfere with this?  How did this become a policy in the first place when it is clear it will mostly affect black girls?  Even after the media reported the story and there was an outcry against the policy, the best the school could do is indefinitely suspend the policy not eliminate it.  

Straight A Florida student Nicole Orr has wears her hair natural.   Her parents were informed that her natural hairstyle violated school policy and she needed to change the style.  To back up their stance, the school referred her parents to a line in the school’s handbook that prohibits dread-like hair. When asked by the media why Nicole’s hair was considered a problem in the first place, Montverde Academy Headmaster Dr. Kasey Kesselring stated, “My understanding in talking with the Dean of Students, I think it was more in line with that neat and organized look that we’re going for not so much the issue with dreadlocks.”  Although after meeting with her parents, the headmaster agreed to remove the dread-like line from the handbook, I still find his explanation troubling.  He essentially said it wasn’t about her hair being in dreads, but about her hair looking messy and unorganized.  After being wronged by a discriminatory policy, to be told your hair in its natural glory is not neat and caused a problem is offensive.  I also wonder why at the end of the school year, this is now a problem when it is clear this is how she has worn her hair during year.

Another issue schools face is enforcing the clothing portion of the dress code.  At Tri-North Middle School in Bloomington, Indiana, both male and female students peacefully protested language used in their school’s dress code policy which says, “No apparel should draw undue attention from other students or faculty members.”  Female students felt this policy was mostly directed at them.  The peaceful protest included female students wearing shirts stating, “Not a distraction” and male students wearing shirts stating, “Not distracted.”  This subjective language is problematic.  What may garner, “undue attention” or seem distracting to one staff member may not be the case for another staff member.  I remember one morning a few years ago when two friends, a black female student and a white female student, came to my room during arrival. They had decided to wear the same pants to school.  The black student was told by a teacher her pants were inappropriate and violated the dress code and that she needed to go to the nurse’s office to get another pair of pants to wear.  The black student said to me, “That teacher is so petty.  She just doesn’t like me.  We are wearing the same pair of pants and she said nothing to her even after I pointed it out.”  Although Tri-North Middle School students had an opportunity to speak with administration about the policy, it is not clear if any changes will be made.

School should be a safe haven where students of all walks of life feel accepted.  Not a place where students are anticipating or blindsided by a punishment that not only interrupts their learning, but also makes you them feel less connected and part of their school community.   The article, “Racial Disparities in Discipline Greater for Girls Than for Boys” highlights research conducted by Dr. Brea L. Perry, associate professor of sociology in the College of Arts and Sciences at IU Bloomington and Dr. Edward Morris, a sociologist at the University of Kentucky. “Morris and Perry examine referrals to the school office, the gateway to formal school discipline. They find the biggest disparities are for low-level offenses that could lend themselves to subjective responses by teachers and staff: things like disobedience, disruptive behavior and inappropriate dress. We found black girls are disproportionately vulnerable to getting office referrals for these relatively minor offenses,” Perry said. “This is an area where there’s a lot of discretion on the part of teachers or other staff. They may just give a warning or they may give a referral.”

Policies with subjective language allow teachers and school staff to target students.  Yes, I agree that school handbooks are not the most exciting read, but we should read handbooks before an out-of-line policy affects a child’s worth, self-esteem, connection to the school community and interrupts his or her education.  Teachers have enough to worry about without wasting time and energy time enforcing or interpreting unnecessary and discriminatory school policies.

The Silent Black Voice in Indiana Education

“The first step on the road to justice is to provide the oppressed with a voice to tell their story.”
—Adrienne Dixson and Celia Rousseau, Critical Race Theory in Education

The argument the above quote presents is that lack of opportunity to voice our concerns as blacks especially when it regards education. Is that quote still applicable today? Well, absolutely.

There are not many platforms for the black voice to be heard; however, on the platforms that are available for blacks, why are we so silent?

I will ask the questions that many have not asked. Where are all the black voices in education in Indiana? As I look at the legislation, school boards, education policy programs I cannot help but see the lack of blacks. I know there are black educators, but many are silent on the issues for the masses. They speak on the issues that involve their district, but what about the collective? What about the mentality that has hampered us as a people since the time we came over here as slaves?

I will discuss three entities through which blacks can have voices and can speak a little louder and have more of a voice.

First, I look at the current policy fellowship that I am a part of at Teach Plus. Teach Plus is a national organization with a mission to empower excellent, experienced teachers to take leadership over key policy and practice issues that affect their student’s success. Teach Plus is the perfect platform for black educators to have a voice. It provides training and guidance on how to positively use your voice to make systemic change in education to greatly impact schools, students, and teachers.

Of the 46 current policy fellows that make up the Indianapolis and Indiana cohorts, only six are black. I am the only male. Are we the only six who have a voice in policy? How can six individuals have a voice loud enough to speak on the plight of education that affects black students in our state? It is frustrating. I am calling on other black educators—if you truly care about your students, then I urge you to get involved with Teach Plus.

Second, the Indiana State Board of Education is an eight-member board lead by the Indiana State Superintendent of Public Instruction. The board has zero Blacks serving. Let that sink in for a minute. A board that discusses and makes a decision that affects the schools in Indiana and oftentime affects schools that have a high number of black students has no one on the board that is black. The Indiana State Board of Education is probably one of the largest platforms for a voice in education and we have no voice there. Now the seats on the board are seats that are appointed by government officials like the house speaker and Governor. Do they not see the value in having a black voice on the board or do they not know where the black voices are? It is an honest, twofold question: They may not be looking for a voice, or they may honestly feel there isn’t a powerful enough black voice out there to sit on the board.

Finally, Indianapolis Public Schools, Wayne, Pike, Warren, Lawrence, and Washington are six school districts located in Indianapolis. The six school districts have 36 combined members on their school board, serving roughly 44,000 black students. There are a combined 11 black members on those six school boards. That means 30 percent of the voices on those boards are black voices when over 50 percent of the students in those six districts are black.

This is yet another example where the black voice is being silenced. We need our school boards to reflect the students that they serve in those districts.

If they don’t hear our voice then they won’t know that we have a voice.


David McGuire

Mr. McGuire is a middle school teacher in Indianapolis, Teach Plus Policy Fellow, and currently enrolled in a doctoral program at Indiana State University for Educational Leadership. Driven by the lack of having an African American male teacher in his classrooms growing up, David helped launched the Educate ME Foundation, which is geared towards increasing the number of African American male teachers in the classroom. A born and raised Hoosier, he is dedicated to improving educational outcomes for all students in Indianapolis. He describes his educational beliefs as a reformer grounded in the best practices of traditional public schools, where he was mentored by strong leaders. David graduated from Central State University with a degree in English and also holds an MBA from Indiana Wesleyan University.

Betsy DeVos alludes to an “ambitious expansion” of school choice but offers no details

By Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America (Betsy DeVos) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America (Betsy DeVos) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Andrew Pillow

Betsy DeVos was in Indianapolis Monday night to deliver a speech to the American Federation for Children's National Policy Summit attendees. She was expected to offer details about the Trump administration’s school choice plan.

That plan reveal was the principal reason the State Teacher's Association showed up to protest her visit.

However, the reveal of the new plan never really materialized.

DeVos did however, offer an impassioned defense of the school choice policies that the Trump administration will eventually seek:

“We must acknowledge that the future is bleak for millions of students if we only continue to tinker around the edges with education reform..."
"It shouldn't matter where a student learns so long as they are actually learning.”

DeVos also praised Indiana’s school choice programs and highlighted the example of a student named Reyna Rodriguez:

“Because of the financial help they receive from Indiana's Choice Scholarship, they're able to send Reyna and three of her siblings to schools that meet their individual needs…"
"Here in Indiana, we've seen some of the best pro-parent and pro-student legislation enacted in the country. More than 80,000 students take advantage of the state's public and private school choice programs.”

While it’s obvious that DeVos’s main goal is to implement school choice programs all over the country, she maintains that the Trump administration would leave such decisions up to the individual states.

DeVos was expected to unveil further details about the controversial Tax-Credit Scholarship Program. Critics of the plan say it allows wealthy businesses to turn a profit off of charitable donations. There were no further details on the program but DeVos is planning to visit Indianapolis’s Providence Cristo Rey High School Wednesday morning. Almost a third of the school’s students are scholarship recipients.

Read all of Betsy DeVos remarks here. (ed.gov)


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.

Broad Ripple Magnet High School for the Arts & Humanities Students Attend Hamilton in Chicago

On Wednesday, May 10, 2017, 38 performing arts students from Broad Ripple Magnet High School for the Arts & Humanities, 15 adults including a few Broad Ripple teachers and other teachers from Indianapolis Public Schools, traveled to Chicago to attend the Broadway show Hamilton: An American Musical, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda about the life of Alexander Hamilton, US founding father and the first US Secretary of the Treasury. This critically acclaimed musical with great box office success has won 11 Tony Awards including Best Musical, a Grammy Award, and a Pulitzer Award for Drama.

Once the group arrived in Chicago, Broad Ripple Choral Director Denise R. Johnson asked for a show of hands of students who had never been to Chicago and four hands went up.  Attendees spent time on Michigan Avenue and the Magnificent Mile.  Then, they enjoyed Gino’s East Chicago style deep-dish pizza before attending a matinee showing of Hamilton.

After the musical, one performing arts student stated, “I had listened to the soundtrack and knew all of the songs.  I had pictured in my head how it would look on stage.  This was better than anything I could have ever imagined.  I’m just so glad our teacher planned this trip.”

During her 17 year tenure at Broad Ripple, Ms. Johnson and has traveled out of the state with the choral music students, but this was the first time she took students out of Indiana to see a musical.  Her goal for next year school is to travel with her students to New York.  She believes this is possible with sponsorships and fundraising.  To travel to Chicago, the trip was mostly funded by student-led fundraisers and some donations.

Students attending this magnet high school have interest in the performing, visual arts and media, while many pursue a major in college afterwards.  Two former Broad Ripple students who are currently attending college in Chicago were able to attend the musical with the group.  Sixty percent of students at Broad Ripple receive free and reduced lunch; without attending this school they might have never been able to travel to see professionals perform in the field that interests them.


Weekend Links (5/20/2017)


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.

Black females are over five times more likely to be suspended than white females

By Andrew Pillow

Data around discipline has been a hot topic of discussion in education circles as of late. Many activist and advocates have voiced concerns over trends that show minority students are disciplined more harshly than their white counterparts. This newest set of data won’t ease those fears.

A report from the National Women’s Law Center shows that black girls are 5.5 times more likely to be suspended than white girls. This was just one part of the diverging experience for girls of color in America's schools according to the report:

“And national data shows that Black girls are 5.5 times more likely and Native American girls are 3 times more likely to be suspended from school than white girls. In addition to these barriers, girls of color are more likely to attend under-resourced schools that are not culturally competent or personalized to their needs or interests, which negatively affects their educational opportunities and future earnings.
Although expulsions are less common, Black girls are 6.1 times more likely to be expelled from school than white girls. To make matters worse, they are 2.5 times more likely to be expelled without educational services.”

This data would appear to mirror the other recent findings around school discipline that has advocates of minority children so worried.  

See the full study here. (NWLC)


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.

Thank You to my African American Teachers

Since 1984, The National Parent Teacher Association has celebrated teachers around the nation during National Teacher Appreciation Week, a week long celebration that takes place in May.

Many of us have a memorable teacher who inspired us and changed our life.  Nichole Henley, 3rd grade teacher, leader of Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) at William Penn Elementary School #49, and recently voted Teacher of the Year, was not only inspired by former teachers, but was led to join the teaching profession because of their impact on her life.

When I sit and think about who had the most impact on my life, it was undoubtedly all of my African American teachers.  I did not have many.  In fact, I can count them on one hand and have a finger leftover - Ms. Cook in kindergarten, Ms. Smith in 4th grade, Ms. Wilbur in 7th and 8th grade, and Professor Cromwell in the Telecommunications Department at Ohio University.

They were impactful because they made me feel comfortable and pushed me to my fullest potential.  They never singled me out.  They taught me there is a time and place for slang and a time and place for using proper English.  They made me comfortable being an African American. Ms. Smith, my 4th grade teacher, wore her hair curly.  Even though people talked about her hair, she exuded confidence and did not let it bother her.  It’s part of the reason, I have confidence to wear my hair natural today.    

Ms. Wilbur, who taught me in 7th & 8th grade, was sure I was going to become a teacher one day, but I fought against it.  I earned a degree in communications and pursued another career first. After having my son and seeing how my younger sisters struggled in school, I decided to pursue a master’s degree in education.  I wanted to become a teacher and make an impact in students’ lives, especially for those students who look like me.

Seeing professionals that looked like me and talked like me allowed me to believe I could make the same impact on others.  They had a certain mindset that made me believe I am somebody and I could achieve great feats.  They held the bar high and continually pushed me to reach it. I find myself building the same confidence in my students each day.

I wonder where my black teachers are now.  I wish I could let them know I followed in their footsteps and propel their subtle messages of excellence and acceptance forward. Most of all I want to say, “THANK YOU!”

Betsy DeVos will unveil Trump administration’s plan for school choice on Monday in Indianapolis

By Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America (Betsy DeVos) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America (Betsy DeVos) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Andrew Pillow

US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is expected to reveal the Trump administration’s plan for a federal investment in school choice. DeVos is scheduled to speak at an event hosted by the school choice advocacy group, The American Federation for Children.

Details have not yet been confirmed but she is expected to unveil a tax credit scholarship program. Such a program would allow individuals or corporations to receive tax credits in exchange for donations to certain organizations.

DeVos is also expected to emphasize that the main decisions are still up to the states and that the Trump administration is not “mandating school choice”.

Tommy Schultz, a spokesman for the American Federation for Children said in a statement that Trump has:

“a unique window of opportunity to facilitate a dramatic expansion of parental choice in America. More than 3.5 million children are currently benefiting from charters and private choice programs, while millions more are demanding access to these same options.”

Recently Rep. Todd Rokita of Indiana proposed a similar piece of legislation. 

Read more here. (Politico)


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.

What makes a Great Teacher

It’s not often enough community partners are afforded opportunities to show appreciation to leaders who may have the most selfless, thankless positions our country has to offer.

But with Teacher Appreciation Week last week, the Edna Martin Christian Center and our families were able to do just that for one neighborhood school working to regain and sustain a culture of excellence.

To close out the week, on Friday, the staff and educators at Indianapolis Public Schools Anna Brochhausen 88 were treated to a Center sponsored luncheon, where we not only due gratitude for dedication, but affirmation their effort mean so much more to us that standardized test scores or high stakes evaluations (though for the record 88 does outperform the district and other surrounding neighborhoods schools in terms of several key indicators, including standardized testing.) The Eastside Indianapolis based public schools serves a majority African-American and low income student population, while adhering to the mantra that success is the only option.

Led by a dynamic school leader and longtime community schools partner in Principal Carmen Sharp, the secret sauce that drives these great educators is no secret at all. Rooted in passion, dedication and adherence to the implementation and execution of rigorous, evidence based approaches, no one knows the traits required to thrive as teachers better than the educators themselves. To that, I thought it best to just ask as part of this recognition what makes them great. Their answers are below:

D. Baltzell - Dedication! A great teacher must be dedicated to his/her students, their learning, and their future!Enthusiastic! A great teacher must be enthusiastic about learning!  Learning new things and making connections with his/her kids.

S. Webster (Parent Involvement Educator)  - A great teacher is a lifelong learner. They want to impart what they know into the lives of children. They are dedicated to their work. No obstacle is too big that they can't maneuver around. A great teacher has a heart that wants all children to learn and will find ways to make that happen. 

K. Prince - Something that makes a good teacher would be someone who is dedicated to their work.  Someone who puts in their time to help students achieve.  It is someone who is given a challenging student is able to help that student.  It is someone who gives 110% into their work.  A great teacher works hard and cares about their students.  

C. Nichols - A great teacher…Cares about his/her students and never gives up on them no matter how tough and challenging they may be. Holds students accountable and pushes each one to do their own personal best. Sees the light in every child.

M. Evans - A good teacher is passionate about education and the important role in plays in a child's future. They persevere through difficult days to give their students what they need. They provide compassion and guidance for their students to grow academically and emotionally. And most of all they are fun because they love what they do. :) 

C. Risper - A good teacher is one who imparts content knowledge to his or her students. A great teacher is an advocate for their learners. A great teacher recognizes that each child is an individual that needs to be honored and allowed to have a say in their own learning journey. A great teacher will not only use the resources that are available in their school building, but they also go beyond those walls to bring relevant and tangible learning experiences to each learner.

L. Trostle- As a teacher, if I'm not grateful for what I get to do, I have no business being in this field. As a teacher, if I am great, I inspire students. I connect them to what is great within and all around them.  As a great teacher, I never consider my students a nuisance and I treat them with respect. As a great teacher, I am firm, consistent, and respectful. Last, but not least, as a great teacher, I am patient... with myself, my students, and my colleagues.  Together, we can make learning great.... meaningful and successful.

J. Burkman - For a good teacher, it is not about them, but about the student.  You need to remember to not take things personal, for their minds are not thinking like yours.  They do not always mean what comes out of their mouths and they will not always smile at you and agree with what you have to say. You want to be an instructor for your students.  You want to be a supporter for your students.  You want to be a mentor for your students.  You want to be a CHAMPION for your students!

M. Johnson - A great teacher respects students. In a great teacher’s classroom, each person’s ideas and opinions are valued. Students feel safe to express their feelings and learn to respect and listen to others. This teacher creates a welcoming learning environment for all students. A great teacher is warm, accessible, enthusiastic and caring. This person is approachable, not only to students, but to everyone on campus. This is the teacher to whom students know they can go with any problems or concerns or even to share a funny story. Great teachers possess good listening skills and take time out of their way-too-busy schedules for anyone who needs them.

A great teacher sets high expectations for all students. This teacher realizes that the expectations she has for her students greatly affect their achievement; she knows that students generally give to teachers as much or as little as is expected of them.

D. Witte – A great teacher has the following attributes -  Patience, Heart, Patience, Love, Patience, Hard work, Patience, Multitasking, Patience, finding another way to present, Patience