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One of the Best Arguments for School Choice

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

As someone who frequently covers school choice-related issues in Indiana, I find it interesting and ironic when opponents of reform and vouchers make better arguments for healthy competition than I do.

A friend of mine (we’ll call him Ben) is a teacher in a traditional public school. He is a good guy and has the best interests of his students at heart, like any good teacher.    Unfortunately, like a lot of anti-charter crowd, whenever a new school pops ups,  he goes crazy.

Ben will tweet that approving a new  charter school is a bad idea because there are too many of them and not enough oversight. But the argument that got my attention was when he said he would gladly match up the programs at his school against any charter school. And that ladies and gentlemen, was the best point anyone could make for choice and competition.

Allow me to elaborate.

I told Ben that I have no doubt that there are programs at his school parents would like, just like there are programs at charters, private, virtual and even home-school settings that parents would enjoy. They should just have the choice to make that decision. And all charters and choice do is give parents more options to find the best education for their kids. And who wouldn’t want that?

Ben then went on to complain about charters “taking” money from traditional schools. I remind him that would be like McDonald’s complaining about Burger King taking their customers.  No one owns anything. And instead of whining about choice, schools like Ben’s should spend more time looking at why people are seeking other options and rectify that problem.

I told Ben if the programs at his school are that good, I have no doubt it can compete with all the other alternatives out there. Now this doesn’t mean we can’t have a conversation about more oversight and measuring of student performance. I regularly remind my friends in the school-choice community that we should be just as happy when a charter fails as when they succeed. The point of choice and accountability is that failing schools go out of business as soon as possible and children be moved into a school that works.

And if schools like Ben’s have programs that can compete and perform better than charters or private schools then I say “here, here!” If I were a traditional public school administrator I would welcome the challenge. Actually the competitive streak in me would actively try to recruit students from the charter schools. Because if I’ve got amazing programs that will educate kids and make parents happy, then I am all over that.

And that’s what choice is all about, giving parents options so they can choose the best schools and their kids can get the best education.

Thanks, Ben. I could not have said this better myself.

Pence Wins Round Two

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

To be honest, when I started watching last night’s Vice-Presidential debate I really did think it would be as one commentator put it, “The Thrilla in Vanilla”.

No such luck.

Both Governor Mike Pence and Senator Tim Kaine were a lot more animated and combative than I thought they would be.   Kaine went after Donald Trump and Pence went after Hillary Clinton.

But if I had to pick a winner, it was easy, Pence.

Pence won by staying calm, cool and collected.  He spoke when he needed to and pulled back when it was necessary.

Kaine did way too much interrupting.  It was as if he over prepared and wanted to make sure he got in every line possible.  It really did look like your rude uncle at Thanksgiving who is hellbent on trying to show you smart he is when it comes to politics by not letting you get a word in edgewise.  Kaine would have done a much better job had he not interrupted Pence so much, because after a while you start to tune him out.

Now with that said, while Pence did well going after Clinton he did not do as well as he could have defending Trump and that will be the line of attack Democrats use, saying  Pence declines to defend his running mate.

However, Pence showed how style can really shape a debate.    And Kaine showed how interrupting too much can cost you a win.

Now the big question is this, if  Trump was watching, did he learn anything for Sunday?


Gregg’s Gaffe

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

Let me start this by saying John Gregg is a pretty smart guy.  You don’t become Speaker of the House, work for major Fortune 500 companies and become the interim President of a University without knowing what you’re doing.   This is why I was surprised at his major gaffe at last night’s gubernatorial debate.

It was on the subject of RFRA and LGBT rights.  Gregg stated that the legislature passed a law that prohibited local governments from passing their own human rights ordinances.*

Not true.

There was a bill introduced by Sen. Travis Holdman that would have prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation, but not gender identity.  And as part of the original legislation all local HROs would have been superseded by the state law. But there was an uproar and it was later changed to allow existing HROs to stay in place but prohibit any new ones.  That bill never got to a vote because the two sides could not agree.

The local HROs are still in effect and Gregg should have known that.   In fact, there is no reason why Gregg should not have know that.

As a former Speaker of the House, he of all people should know this process works.  As someone who has been running on the LGBT rights issue, he should have known that.  And as a candidate who knows that people like me write about people like him, he should have known that.

Now will this derail Gregg’s campaign, not really.  But I think it does undermine his credibility somewhat on this issue which has been a foundation for Gregg.  And in a close race, little things like this can take on a life of their own.

*I got word that Gregg realized he made a mistake regarding the local HROS and corrected himself in the media availability shortly after the debate.

Round One Goes to Hillary

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

If you’re a Donald Trump supporter I have good news and bad news for you.

The bad news is that I think Hillary Clinton won the first debate.   The good news is that you have two more debates to go.

I think Clinton showed she could master a lot of facts and more importantly she managed to get under his skin.

Although I disagree with Trump on trade, I thought he did a good early on of putting Clinton in the defensive, however he lost that momentum.

I think Clinton scored some major hits on taxes and more importantly the birthed question.

But like I said, this is round one.  In previous Presidential debates, I recall Barack Obama in 2012 and George W. Bush in 2004, neither did all that great.  However, they both went on to do well in subsequent debates and to win their respective races.

If I were on the Trump campaign, I would spend my debate prep time pulling a Clinton familiarizing my candidate with the facts and being able to put them in the proper context as to why he would be a better President than Clinton.

Trump scores points on being more passionate and being able to make that emotional connection with his supporters, but he doesn’t have enough supporters to win.   If he makes some adjustments in time for the next debates, that might change.

But right now, this first round goes to the lady.


The Superintendent and Segregation

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

As a child of parents who grew up in the segregated south in the 1940s and 50s, I got more annoyed than usual when I read Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz blamed school choice and vouchers as a contributing factor for increased segregation in Indiana schools.

In an interview with Chalkbeat Indiana, Ritz said vouchers were to blame for a rise in segregated schools….

Ritz acknowledged the importance of diversity in Marion County, and she, too, brought up school choice and vouchers in particular. She said her effort to pause the expansion of the state’s voucher program could perhaps play a role in decreasing segregated schools, although she didn’t elaborate.  

The problem with Ritz’s claim is that not only is it wrong, but the data tends to show otherwise; that vouchers and choice actually increase integration.

An analysis of voucher use by Chalkbeat showed that while 71 percent of Indiana’s K-12 student population is white, only 60 percent of the vouchers users are white.  And a majority of them qualify for free and reduced lunch.

Secondly, in Indianapolis Public Schools, prior to the voucher program the district’s white population was 20.9 percent, that most recent number was 20.4 percent, virtually unchanged.

And third, and perhaps most telling, Chalkbeat looked at two Indianapolis Catholic high schools that participate in the voucher program.  Both schools had more integrated populations as a result of school vouchers.

Now there is a question as to whether charter schools add to segregation in some areas, however I would argue any segregation as a result of charter schools is more de facto than de jure (purposeful) because charter schools in Indiana tend to pop up in highly urban areas, which is where a majority of their population originates.

So for the Superintendent of Public Instruction to say vouchers and choice are partially to blame for an increase in segregated schools is factually inaccurate. Maybe the next time Ritz wants to talk about segregation, she should have a conversation with my parents.  They could probably teach her a lesson or two, or three, or four.


A Few Thoughts on Free Speech

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

The greatest thing about America is that we are free to speak our minds.

I bring this up because of recent controversies regarding athletes who chose to protest unjustified police action shootings of unarmed black men by either kneeling during the national anthem before sporting events or raising the “black power” fist as symbolized in the 1968 Olympics by  Tommie Smith and John Carlos during their medal ceremony.

Some folks call it disrespectful and say they shouldn’t protest.   I call it exercising your rights.

If someone has a problem with something this country is doing, they have every right to peacefully protest.  Remember the Tea Party rallies back in 2010?   And to get mad when someone peacefully protests and exercises their first amendment rights seems a little misguided.  And dare I say, almost anti-American?   They have the right to speak out, just like you have the right to speak out against them.

Now with that said, while I do think these athletes, just like anyone else, have the right to protest, I think they should also be mindful of exactly what they’re protesting.  I have no problem with the protests of what someone thinks is an unjustified police action shooting, but how about we also protest the fact that African-Americans are disproportionately a  majority of the the murder victims in this country.

Have you seen the local news lately?  And my hometown of Chicago has been in a murder free-for-all, and I can assure you the bulk of those murders weren’t done by someone wearing a police officer’s uniform.   I think those types of incidents deserve as much attention from the protesting crowd as unjustified police action shootings.

But at the end of the day, we all have the right to speak out and protest what we think is a societal injustice.  And you yes, have the right to peacefully protest them.  And then someone has the right to protest you.  And someone has the right to protest them.  And so on. And so on.

America is an awesome place.


Let Johnson Join the Debate

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

I just spent the last couple days with Libertarian Presidential candidate Gary Johnson.  He was in Indiana at Purdue University on Tuesday evening and I moderated a discussion with him at the Detroit Economic Club on Wednesday.    After spending that much time with him one on one, I am fully convinced he should be part of the debates scheduled between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.    Here are my reasons.

  1. Governor Johnson is not a rookie.  As a former two-term Governor of New Mexico, fact he has more Executive governing experience than Clinton and Trump combined.
  2. He is willing to admit when he’s made a mistake, i.e. the “Aleppo” flub, as opposed to try  and avoid responsibility for his actions with legalese or changing his mind altogether without acknowledging his previous position.
  3. He is intellectually consistent, practical and thoughtful when it comes the economy, jobs, trade, the environment, immigration and national security.
  4. He is a really engaging individual who can connect with an audience.
  5. As more Americans refuse to declare themselves as Republicans or Democrats, a third choice on the debate stage is only appropriate.

You don’t have to take my word for this.   You can hear Governor Johnson in his own words.  I recorded our conversation in Detroit and posted it over at Indy Politics.

And here’s a thought for the Debate commission, instead of polling at 15-percent to make the debate, how about no candidate can appear on stage whose disapproval ratings are above 55 percent, seeing how all they will do is remind the American people why they can’t stand the current two-party system?


Murder, He Wrote

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

Indianapolis is on track for a record breaking year when it comes to murders.

According to the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, there have been 97 murders so far this year.*    That’s literally a murder every 2.5 days.  And if things stay at this rate, Indy is looking at 146 murders.

The largest number of murders since the merger of IMPD and the sheriff’s department was 144 in 2015.   And while the number of murders is on the rise there are some trends, old and new, that worry me and should worry you, too.

First,  African-Americans continue to lead the pack when it comes to victims and suspects.  So far this year, blacks who are only 27-percent of the population make up 77-percent of the murder victims as well as the suspects.   And for my detractors, yes, most crime is intra-racial, but there is something fundamentally wrong when a quarter of the population is also three-quarters of the murder victims, and most of it is self-inflicted.

In addition, the average age of the black murder victim was 31 while it was 28 for the suspect, so we are not talking about hothead teenagers pulling the trigger, but as my grandmother would say “grown folks” are killing each other.

Some other disturbing stats include the fact that nearly 30 percent of the murders took place in the last two months.  And if someone was going to be a murder victim the data shows it was most likely to happen indoors, on a Friday at 10 p.m.  And for the icing on the cake, IMPD’s murder clearance rate so far this year is the lowest since 2007.   In all fairness to the men and women of law enforcement, I submit much of that is due to the fact that certain individuals won’t cooperate with law enforcement.

One bit of data I did not have as I was reviewing the stats was the criminal histories of the suspects and victims.  As of July 1, 66 percent of the victims had adult criminal histories while 75 percent of the suspects did.  Those numbers were 80 and 82 percent respectively last year.  With the nature of a number of murders being the result of arguments, I don’t think the number will be that high this year.

Regardless, none of this is good.  I asked Indy Mayor Joe Hogsett last month when I noticed a 20 percent spike in the murder rate if it was time to change course on public safety.  At the time the Mayor told me no, saying it was going to take a while to get Indy on track as a number of the problems concerning crime were systemic and the root causes needed to addressed.  I fundamentally agree with the Mayor that we do need to tackle the root causes of crime, but the way things are going this year we might need to step our efforts and pull up more weeds as well.

*It’s important to remember, that so far this year while there have been 97 murders, there have been 113 homicides.   And while all murders are homicides, not all homicides are murders.  A homicide is an incident where someone is killed.  A murder takes place when someone is killed, but it is an unlawful killing.


Spare Me the “Safe Space”

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

I am a firm believer that the movie “Blazing Saddles” should be shown at every college freshman orientation across the country.

Not so that every student can learn the words to “Camptown Lady” or be able to answer the age old question of “where the white women at”, but learn two of life’s most important lessons, learn to have a sense of humor and nobody is safe; and that’s how it should be.

I bring this up due to some recent news out of my hometown at the University of Chicago.  The school sent its incoming freshmen a letter saying it will not sacrifice political and intellectual dialogue to spare students from political discomfort.

The U of C is informing incoming freshmen if they enrolled at the institution expecting to have a “safe space” where they can retreat from ideas that might upset their world point of view then they might want to enroll somewhere else.  The school is also telling freshmen that they can forget about what are known as “trigger warnings” which is basically putting labels on speech warning students the following content might upset their delicate sensibilities.   Safe spaces and trigger warnings have been popping up across college campuses like mushrooms and luckily schools like the U of C, and Purdue for that matter, have said enough is enough.

And they are absolutely correct.   As part of the learning process a college campus should be a place for the free exchange and rigorous debate about the big issues of the day.  It should not be a place where you go to get your worldview reaffirmed.  Creating safe spaces and trigger warnings don’t help students in the long run.  If anything it will have the opposite effect when they go into the real world which does not have a warning label attached to it.

Academia should encourage students to seek out and engage those who have different opinions and beliefs.   Not only will that encourage more dialogue and open discussion, but it will also help in that area known as “critical thinking”.   And as I have told my college students over the past 13 years, if they don’t study and learn other points of view, they are putting themselves at a major disadvantage down the road.

Also by embracing differing points of view, you learn not to take yourself and opinions so seriously that you can never be challenged.  That is just a house of cards that’s waiting to collapse on itself when real life kicks in.

This is why I started this column by saying every college should include students watching “Blazing Saddles”.  If there was ever a film that goes for the jugular when it comes to safe spaces and trigger warnings, while teaching you to laugh at yourself,  that would be it.    And while we’re at it, they may also want to throw in Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” where the moral of the story is no matter how bad things get, always look on the bright side of life.


Let’s Talk About Textbooks

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz wants to give all parents in public school a $1,000 tax credit to help public school parents cover the costs of textbooks and other education related expenses.

Election year pandering notwithstanding, I agree with Ritz from this perspective, no parent in a public school who is already paying taxes should have to pay for textbooks which are essential to part of an education.

However, the bigger issue should be why do textbooks cost so much in the first place?

A study by the American Enterprise Institute showed that over the past 20 years while televisions and cell phone have only dropped in price, TV’s (-96%) wireless service (-45%), the costs of textbooks have gone up an average of 207%.  By the way, college tuition was right behind it at 197%.

There are a number of reasons for this price gouging.  They include…

  • With taxpayers footing the bill, there’s no real incentive for publishers to try to sell things on the cheap nor schools to try to buy on the cheap, or at least be fiscally responsible.
  • There’s no money in used books for publishers so they crank out new editions as often as possible.
  • Publishers will include special access codes and CDs which make the books more scarce to find online.

I could go on but you get the point.

At the college level, we have all sorts of tricks to use to beat the publishers at their games of taking us to the cleaners.  High school and elementary school parents in Indiana unfortunately don’t have those options.

But at least this way, parents have a little more information they can use.  And knowing is half the battle.