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The Mind Trust: The Celebrity-Corporate-Government Plan To Privatize Indiana Education

When former NBC Today Show co-host Jane Pauley walked out onto a stage in her birth city, Indianapolis, a year ago, some in the audience, including Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett and former mayor Bart Peterson, understood what was behind Pauley’s show of empathy for Indiana’s school children, even though it may have been hidden to those there to see a celebrity.

Pauley spoke with pride of her son Ross—who had just joined the teaching staff of a charter school—and how she heard in Washington about the great things happening in the school reform movement back in her former hometown.

As member of the Board of the Mind Trust, a nonprofit school reform group in Indianapolis which has over $12 million to attack public education, Pauley was there to help sell the corporate privatization of public education. This coming May, in fact, Pauley will even join New York Times’ David Brooks (a “Quiet Revolution” quack) onstage at the Mind Trust’s “Grow What Works: Campaign to Accelerate Education Reform.”

The Mind Trust is the product of President and former Indianapolis Democratic mayor Bart Peterson and CEO David Harris, the mayor’s first Charter School Director in Indianapolis. In 2001, the Indiana legislature passed a charter school law which made Peterson the first mayor to have the authority to charter schools in the country. For their various programs, Harris, Peterson, and the Lilly Endowment-funded Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning (CELL) at the University of Indianapolis received $11.3 million from the Gates Foundation. To the Indianapolis Charter Schools Facilities Fund, a loan program which operated from 2005 to 2009, the Annie E. Casey Foundation (AECF) added another $1 million.

Bart Peterson is currently the Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs and Communications for Eli Lilly and Company, the mega-drug company where Mitch Daniels was Senior Vice President before joining the Bush administration.  In fact, current or former Lilly members onboard with the Mind Trust include Alecia DeCoudreaux, General Counsel at Lilly USA, Mind Trust President Claire Fiddian-Green, and Anne Shane, Community Development and Education Consultant to the Lilly Endowment, Inc. The Lilly Endowment, the Ruth Lilly Philanthropic Foundation, and the Eli Lilly and Company Foundation all significantly fund the Mind Trust.

Mind Trust’s Board of Directors is stacked with other Indiana corporate leaders.  It includes Indianapolis Power and Light Company (IPALCO) CEO Ann Murtlow, who previously worked as an AES Corporation liaison at the same time Mitch Daniels was an IPALCO board member, then joined IPALCO in 2002 (for the AES-IPALCO connections to charter school scandals, see my article here). Murtlow is also on the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago’s Board of Directors, a member of the Board of Directors of Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, and now the Senior Vice Chair of the Mind Trust.

Through its Venture Fund and with help from the Lilly Endowment, in 2008 the Mind Trust spent $2 million to recruit Teach for America to Indiana. Nationally, Teach for America has been under much scrutiny, and the Indiana branch is also drowning in controversy.  Tina Bennett (the wife of Tony, Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction) recently quit her job as assistant director of Teach for America at Marian University, a Catholic school that was awarded $500,000 from the Indiana government to train future school principals, even though many other more qualified universities applied and were denied.  Daniel J. Elsener, Marian’s president, also serves on the Indiana State Board of Education.  When asked to comment on his wife’s many conflicts of interests with charter schools, Tony Bennett, in April, arrogantly told a South Bend School Corporation audience: “I see no conflict. I invite choice.” He, however, had no comment on the recent corruptions in Dennis Bakke’s Imagine Schools.

School Choice is indeed the buzzword of another Mind Trust recruit, Stand for Children. Originating in Portland, Oregon, Stand for Children used $242,300 from the Mind Trust and $150,000 from the Joyce Foundation to sweep into Indiana and lobby for Senate Bill 1, the legislation which makes it easier to fire teachers and make annual teacher evaluations based primarily on student performance, or the ISTEP test. As Steve Hinnefeld has noted, Stand for Children lists the Indiana Public Charter Schools Association address for its office and has “two high-priced Statehouse lobbyists and a ton of positive publicity courtesy of Indianapolis Star columnist Matthew Tully.” Linda Erlinger, Stand for Children’s executive director in Indiana, previously served as Development Director with Teach for America and as Manager of Applications of Research with the Chicago Panel on School Policy. Thus, it is not surprising that Arne Duncan lauds Stand for Children in a Mind Trust press release

True to the conservative-corporate propaganda plan, another Mind Trust spin-off, Teach Plus, recruits young teachers, trains them to question seniority in the teaching profession, and pits them against older, more experienced teachers who, instead of being criticized, should be looked up to and learned from. Started by Mind Trust Education Entrepreneur Fellow Celine Coggin (who was nominated by Paul Reville, Massachusetts Secretary of Education and charter “Innovation Schools” advancer), Teach Plus hires people to write studies claiming that once the governor closes down low-performing schools in Indiana, lazy senior teachers will replace the jobs of younger ones at other public schools in the district, what they refer to as the “Domino Effect.”  In their anti-seniority attack, they have $4 million from the Gates Foundation to infiltrate six cities over three years, including Boston. The Teach Plus fellows in Indianapolis also focus on “advancing a reform agenda based on improving teacher evaluation and staffing policies,” or to press for an agenda where teachers are based primarily on how well their students do on the state ISTEP test. 

Proudly, the Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction has no qualms about promoting the Mind Trust’s Fellowship program which led to Teach Plus. In his March 21, 2011, bulk-email to teachers and others, Bennett includes a link to apply for one of the group’s Education Entrepreneur Fellowships. Along with members of the Mind Trust, Bennett has even hyped the Broad and Gates funded anti-public education film, Waiting for Superman, in an interview with Inside Indiana Business’s Gerry Dick.

With Bennett, business, the Indy Star, and a former NBC Today Show anchor on board, the Mind Trust and Teach Plus aren’t having problems landing gigs, either.  Last year, Indianapolis charter school teacher James Larson appeared on the heavily Broad and Gates Foundation-funded Today Show’s Education Nation. Larson was a Teach Plus Indianapolis Teaching Policy Fellow. In his discussion of this, Larson writes:

The first thing Siri and Marcus [founders of Charles A. Tindley Accelerated School in Indianapolis, where Larson teaches) told me in my job interview is that Tindley teachers are held accountable – not only by parents and students, but also by the administrators themselves.

You would think that would be typical of all schools, but unfortunately it’s not. Too many teachers are simply allowed to close their doors when the bell rings. Too many administrators close their doors, too.

Larson graduated from DePauw in 2005 (as did Siri and Marcus, at some point) and started at Tindley in 2008, so he’s not seen much of what teachers and administrators do in the public schools in Indiana, if anything. Whether he is being duped into buying the argument for privatization of public schools or he is a part of the scheme is hard to tell. Let’s just hope others don’t fall in line.

For latest updates, see Indiana Government Exposed.

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Doug Martin

Doug Martin

Doug Martin is a Walt Whitman scholar, poet, fiction writer, editor, musician (the Delicious Militia), and teacher.