- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Indianapolis Star. Jan. 7, 2016

As a dad, how will I judge a school? Not by ISTEP.

In recent months, I’ve followed the state’s messy debate over ISTEP scores and education in general more as a dad than as a news columnist. And the dad in me, the dad who will send his son to his first day of kindergarten in about seven months, is flat-out frustrated and disappointed.

The bottom line is this: We’ve lost our focus in Indiana. We’ve lost the urgency to make sure more students are receiving the education they deserve. We’ve lost the ability to concentrate on what truly matters.

Many of us, it seems, are more worried about the grades lobbed on schools and the public-relations impact of declining test scores than about whether our kids are truly being prepared for the world and workplaces they’ll encounter. We’re worrying about a new state test that sent scores plummeting but not, as a friend put it, whether “enough of our kids are learning what they need to have a chance at a decent future.”



I support testing. I do. Well, with this caveat: I support testing when it’s done right and for the right reasons. And to me there are only three good reasons: First, to make sure students are learning what they need to learn. Second, to identify particularly successful teachers so that others can learn from the methods they use. And, third, to give educators the data they need - and this only helps if it is delivered in a hurry - to address any problems students are facing.

That’s it. Anything else is a distraction. And the debate and discourse surrounding Indiana education of late has been nothing but a distraction. A distraction based on ISTEP scores and what they mean for buildings and adults.

That’s not what matters. Here’s what does: Is Indiana capable of refocusing its attention on issues that truly improve the lives of students in the classroom? And are lawmakers distracted by ISTEP headlines capable of doing more to help school districts attract more and better teachers, to celebrate the great teachers already in the classroom, and to address the issues that stand in the way of schools moving forward?

I hope so. Because I have this 4-year-old son and he’s going to walk into some teacher’s kindergarten class in August. And I’ll tell you this: I’ll judge the classes he spends his school years in and the education he receives in a lot of ways, but not on the ISTEP scores he receives, or the state grade his school receives.

I’m not saying we don’t need to hold schools and teachers accountable. And, of course, there needs to be some standardized way of determining what students across the state are learning. But on a personal level, on that one-kid level, that’s not what I’ll watch.

Here’s what I’ll ask myself as the school years roll by: Are my son’s teachers able to identify individual characteristics within him and use them to motivate him to work harder and to love school? Are they able to help him and his classmates overcome any challenges they’ll encounter? Is he coming home from school excited about learning? Are we as parents embraced as partners in his education? Is the school he will attend filled with the type of energy and urgency every student deserves? Is he being challenged and pushed, celebrated when he excels and comforted when he struggles?

Those are the questions I’ll ask. Those are questions that still have us debating where to send our son to school.

Because, honestly, while ISTEP scores can indeed identify outliers, good and bad, they just don’t tell us enough. A school might have wonderful scores, but that doesn’t mean students are being pushed or that the school is offering the well-rounded education students need. A school with low scores in a struggling neighborhood might be doing more to move the education needle than a high-scoring school in a wealthy district.

So, sure, we can learn from test scores. I’ve used them often to look at how hard schools were fighting back against the challenges of poverty. But I’ve been swayed much more by what I see and feel in classrooms and hallways, and what I hear in the voices of teachers and students.

I think most parents would agree. Yet here we are, spending day after day debating the ISTEP mess and twisting ourselves to make sure scores that have sunk because of all sorts of blunders don’t put a blemish on a school’s record or a teacher’s performance review. We have to address these issues, of course, but it’s disappointing that this has come to dominate the state debate.

My son’s elementary school education begins later this year. I have a lot of optimism about him and about the teachers who will educate him. But it sure is troubling that so many state leaders have lost their focus. This distraction will not help our kids.

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The South Bend Tribune. Jan. 8, 2016

Protecting families judge’s goal.

St. Joseph Circuit Court Judge Michael Gotsch has accomplished much in his 12 years on the bench, but nothing more important to this community than establishing a special civil protective order court.

Gotsch described that as one of his most satisfying achievements when he recently announced he would not seek a third term as Circuit Court judge.

In a judicial system that had been funneling as many as 1,000 protective order cases each year through the county’s small claims court, establishing a separate court where cases were heard more quickly and efficiently had a significant impact on tracking domestic violence cases.

“The thing these cases need is time, time to establish the level of violence, the level of lethality, the level of legitimacy,” Gotsch said in a 2013 Tribune story when the court started. Prior to the creation of the new court, domestic violence cases often were lost in a sea of filings, with sometimes tragic consequences.

Gotsch was appointed judge by former Gov. Joseph E. Kernan in May 2004. Prior to that, he was chief deputy and chief of staff in the St. Joseph County prosecutor’s office. Gotsch also has participated in the ongoing development of a new criminal courts space adjacent to the county courthouse and a new DuComb Center, the county’s corrections facility for low-level offenders. He also has worked to improve technology and accessibility to the courts.

In an interview with Tribune staff writer Christian Sheckler following his announcement, Gotsch said it has been his “sincere pleasure to serve St. Joseph County in this position. I feel like I’ve done my best to make it a better place to live, and I hope others feel the same way.”

Gotsch will remain on the bench until the end of the year. Exactly what path his future will take is unclear. However, as Circuit Court judge, he has served residents well. He has been forthright in his dealings with the public and earned the community’s respect.

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The Bloomington Herald-Times. Jan. 7, 2016

Prove case for MRF or drop the idea.

Some issues stay on the public agenda for what seems like forever without being implemented.

That’s the case for a materials recovery facility, called a MRF for shorthand. The facility would package recyclable materials for sale on the salvage market.

This has been a dubious idea since it was introduced in its latest form back in 2009 (there were earlier versions of MRFs in operation or in discussions in the 1990s). Descriptions on paper of how it could work to the benefit taxpayers have been just that - on paper. Even though the idea has taken up hours and hours and hours of discussion by people involved in government and with the Monroe County Solid Waste Management District, as we start 2016, it all comes down to this position from one of those officials:

“We need a comprehensive plan and a fiscal plan before we can go anywhere, as far as I am concerned, and then have some public input,” Iris Kiesling, county commissioner and chairwoman of the Monroe County Solid Waste Management District, said recently.

That’s a prudent step, one that should have been signed, sealed and delivered in the seven years since this issue has been in the public arena.

Discussions have usually turned on a MRF being a good idea, “if” - as in, this would be great “if” the service brings down costs to taxpayers.

It’s not at all clear that will happen.

The volatile nature of the recyclables market always has made operation of a MRF risky for a taxpayer-supported entity such as the district. The capital and operational expenses would be there, but would revenue follow? No one’s sure it would.

So far, we’ve seen years of fits and starts. The year 2016 should be marked by getting reliable numbers that support moving forward, or dropping the idea altogether.

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The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette. Jan. 8, 2016

Simple equality.

Despite months of thinking and discussion, Gov. Mike Pence’s recently released legislative agenda doesn’t even mention guaranteeing basic civil rights to gay and transgendered Hoosiers.

The Senate agenda released by President Pro Tem David Long doesn’t include the additions to the civil rights bill, either.

No matter. It’s generally good when governors lead, but when a question of human rights engenders such paroxysms of doubt as Pence has displayed during the past year, silence may be more prudent. And Long and House Speaker Brian Bosma have indicated they want to see the legislature deal with the matter during this session.

As we’ve noted before, the issue could be dealt with by adding four words and a comma to the state’s civil rights code. The code outlaws discrimination on the basis of race, religion, color, sex, disability or national origin. Add a comma after “disability,” and then add “sexual orientation, gender identity” before the words “or national origin.” Then you’re done, and the legislature can move on to such pressing matters as highway funding and education.

Unfortunately, the bills being offered up as compromises, while adding layers of complexity to what should be a simple tweak, threaten to dilute the basic premise of the whole exercise: affirming that gays and transgendered people deserve equal protection under the law.

Long’s SB 100 attempts to “balance” things by adding in matters of religion and conscience. But the issue is basic rights, not individual interpretations of morality.

The latest entry, SB 344, introduced by Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, adds veterans and active-duty military personnel to the protected classes - but excludes transgendered people.

A statement Thursday from Freedom Indiana, one of the lobbying groups attempting to get the legislature to do the right thing, expressed the problem well.

“The more lawmakers try to dance around the need for real, clear LGBT protections, the more it looks like they want a way to maintain the status quo: a state where you can be fired, denied housing or turned away from public places because of who you are or whom you love.”

A recent Indianapolis Star/Ball State University poll confirmed that a majority of Hoosiers don’t want to maintain that status quo. Most urban centers of the state, including Fort Wayne, already have protections for sexual orientation. Other states protect transgendered people’s rights as well. And the sky hasn’t fallen.

Indiana legislators need to stop playing games and get this right.

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