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Why is the Right-Wing PR Consultant Jo Blacketor on the Indiana State Board of Education?

11:29 am in Uncategorized by Doug Martin

Although she likes to post on the charter school/voucher/merit-pay promoter Indiana Democrats for Education Reform’s facebook page, Indiana State Board of Education member Jo Blacketor makes her living at Faulkner Strategies doing PR work for right-wingers. Currently changing its name to Gridiron Communications, Faulkner Strategies’ clients include or have included actor-lawyer-turned-nutcase Fred Thompson, the anti-public education DeVos family front group All Children Matter, Ice Miller LLP lobbyists (hired by Stand for Children to help pass Indiana Senate Bill 1), and almost all Republican party groups in Indiana.

Faulkner Strategies’ leader, Chris Faulkner, is becoming a big honcho in the conservative world of deception and smear. Recently, he was honored by Campaigns & Elections Magazine with the Reed Award for bombarding 500,000 Florida homes with his direct-mail attack on Charlie Crist while working on the Marco Rubio U.S. senatorial campaign. Appropriately, with all those anti-public education clients onboard, Faulkner threw Mitch Daniels and the Indiana Republican Party lots of money over the last few years.

Which brings us to Ms. Blacketor’s other educational activism, which began with a seat on the South Bend school board (where she seems to have been a supreme agitator) and found steam with her failed 2007 District 7 run as a Republican for the Indiana House. Although as a military child she spent a lot of time in Japan, Cuba, Germany, and Turkey, Blacketor stressed her knowledge of U.S. education on the campaign trail by claiming that NCLB was wonderful and parental choice was essential.

Not only did Mitch Daniels recruit Blacketor for the State Board of Education, he let her represent Indiana on the National Association of State School Boards’ Government Affairs committee in Washington from 2007-2009. On assignment with NASBE, she was able to visit the U.S. Army branch at North Carolina to analyze their teaching methods, reminiscence about being a child and firing weapons, and then make policy recommendations for NCLB.

A former AFLAC employee, Blacketor also speaks for Indiana through her involvement with the American Diploma Project, which was launched in 1996 by the Bill and Melinda Gates-funded education reform group, Achieve, with funds from the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation. Achieve and the ADP work to “bring value to the high school diploma by raising the rigor of high school standards, assessments and curriculum.” In other words, they publish propaganda to promote the testing of kids to death and basing teachers’ pay on test-scores like Indiana’s ISTEP.

And let’s not forget Jo’s consulting work with Indiana Virtual Families, a home-schooling moms’ group whose members are about to get a nice tax cut for keeping their precious darlings out of the socialist public schools. Along with the Indiana Public Charter Schools Association, School Choice, Indiana, Students First, and a slew of other front groups, Indiana Virtual Families organized Queen Bee Michelle Rhee’s statehouse rally. With hundreds of charter school teachers and students taking the day off with Indiana taxpayers’ money, the groups awarded honors to Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett and Republican leader Brian Bosma.

Monique Christensen, Indiana Virtual Families’ leader, helps run the National Coalition for Public School Options. She—like Mitch Daniels’ teacher-seniority-bashing star Pam Heuer—has cameo-appeared to support Senate Bill 1 in videos for Stand for Children. In 2009, Christensen testified in front of the Indiana government’s Interim Study Committee on School Funding Formula and in a letter in the Journal Gazette called on Indiana Democrats to sell out to the rich school reform crowd, quoting the crooks Democrats for Education Reform to make her point.

Apart from Christensen, Jo Blacketor schmoozes with State Board of Education member Gwen Adell and Eli Lilly’s Theressa Wright on the Indiana Public Charter Schools Association, which she helps direct. With so many ties to Daniels and Bennett, this lovey-dovey group might as well be living in the Governor’s Mansion, or Daniels’ $3.5 million home in Carmel. Last year, they even hired Lt. Governor Becky Skillman’s former intern, Sarah Overshiner, and Tony Bennett’s wife in 2009. Although Tina Bennett has now resigned, her ghost is still roaming the charter association’s hallways, if not her own physical body.

Besides the Indiana newspapers’ constant references to IPCSA, most people don’t know that their January study stating 71% of Hoosiers favored charters was paid for by Christensen’s National Coalition for Public School Options and was done by the Glover Park Group, a Washington PR firm adored by both sides of the political aisle because they will basically say anything you want, as long as you have enough money to pay them.

Blacketor must have felt cheated. Her Faulkner Strategies could have cut IPCSA and NCPSO a mighty fine deal, rigged the results even more in their favor. But it wouldn’t have looked good if someone had connected the dots. Ms. Blacketor, it doesn’t look good now, either.

The Two Indiana Teachers in Mitch Daniels’ Anti-Education TV Commercials: In with the Wrong Crowd

7:00 pm in Uncategorized by Doug Martin

Besides a State Board of Education member who forged her dissertation, charter studies done by charter supporters, and a Superintendent of Public Instruction whose dissertation disproves everything he is putting into practice, Indiana now has Mitch Daniels’ Aiming Higher PAC running a TV ad (displaying a pronoun-antecedent agreement error, in fact) with a two-year teaching veteran the director of the Gates/Broad funded, anti-education movie Waiting on Superman calls one of the top 10 educators in America.

A Teach for America alumnus and current teacher at Harshman Magnet Middle School in Indianapolis, Pam Heuer boasts that although she raised her students reading scores, she was laid-off from the Indianapolis school district in 2009 because she was the last one hired and not an older, lazy teacher. What often gets deleted from this story when passed on by the anti-education groupies and crooks, however, is that Heuer was rehired by the school district before the next school year even started.

Indeed, terrific-teach Heuer was even invited to the Bill Gates/NBC Education Nation last year, a week of free propaganda and promotion for charter school/voucher/anti-seniority billionaires, where she elbowed with Brian Williams, Arne Duncan, Adrian Fenty, Michelle Rhee, and other haters of knowledge.

A ham in front of the camera, Heuer has also made videos for Stand for Children, another Mind Trust/Joyce Foundation funded anti-teacher-seniority group. Besides paying for Stand for Children to invade Indiana, the Joyce Foundation recently footed the bill for the scholarly sloppy study praising Indiana charter schools done by a past Walton Family researcher, Margaret Raymond. To slant the research to favor the charter, Raymond refused to name the specific charter schools included, although not all of them in Indiana were studied.

Besides the claim that 97 percent of the money used to run these commercials supposedly comes from out-of-state donors, another red flag in Aiming Higher’s anti-education campaign is Heuer’s membership in Marian University’s Academy for Teaching and Learning Leadership, the program the Indiana Department of Education last September awarded a $500,000 grant to turn around failing Indiana schools, even though it wasn’t the most qualified college to initiate the program. Marian University’s president, Daniel Elsener, donated to Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett’s campaign, and was once Bennett’s wife’s boss when she ran Teach for America at the campus. Elsener also sits on the Indiana State Board of Education, which is more of a charter school cheerleader than an educational governing body.

Another Harshman Magnet Middle School teacher guest-appearing in the Aiming Higher TV ads is Lanier Echols from Florida. She, too, comes from Teach for America and is enrolled in Marian University’s Academy of Teaching and Learning Leadership.

At the academy, Echols’ facilitator is Dr. Charles Schlegel (see middle of this page), who leads the Charter Foundation Academy charter school, which was honored by Tony Bennett in 2010. Ironically, as principal at Wayland Middle School in Massachusetts in 2008, Schlegel violated campaign laws by sending emails through his school address to parents, begging them to support a local property tax increase to help fund the schools. He quickly packed up and headed back to Indiana. Now working with charters whose financial records and shady activities are never questioned but endorsed by Indiana government officials, Schlegel must be happy to be back home.

Charlie’s wife, Mindy Schlegel, is the Senior Advisor for Teacher Quality at the Indiana Department of Education. She also sits on the Board of Directors at the Indianapolis KIPP charter school, along with the Mind Trust’s Claire Fiddian-Green. KIPP Indy ran into a serious problem last year when news broke that a special needs, 11-year-old female student on a field trip to Boston was allegedly sexually assaulted by four males in 2007. A former Teach for America member, Mindy is also involved in the Democrats for Education Reform, a national group of rich hedge fund owners who love charter schools, merit-pay, and even vouchers, who now have unwelcomingly snaked into Indiana.

Echols, Daniels’ new TV star, emotionally testified before the Indiana House Education Committee to support merit-pay based on student testing, claiming she feared becoming a victim of older teachers who might beat her out of a job.

Wrapped in the blanket of this anti-educational cronyism, these two Indiana teachers seem wholly self-absorbed and incapable of knowing that higher test scores don’t mean a damn thing, as researchers like Diane Ravitch and others have noted. Not for the teacher; not for the student. Good teachers walk in their students’ shoes, know how to identify with them, and show the kids that they can be trusted. They know that real learning is a lifetime of trying to understand the un-understandable universe, or as Emerson put it, to see God in the rain puddles. For the anti-education group, learning is merely a money-making, materialist orgy. Those in this mindset don’t know neuroscience from Noah. And stuck there, they sure don’t know anything about living or breathing the quest for learning into another human being.

Maybe Ms. Heuer and Ms. Echols do belong on TV, where the rest of the walking-dead hold fort.