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Indiana P-16 Plan

Smaller Learning Centers


Article VIII, Section I of the Indiana State Constitution addresses
education and states:

“. . . it shall be the duty of the General Assembly to encourage, by all suitable means, moral, intellectual, scientific, and agricultural improvement; and to provide, by law, for a general and uniform system of Common Schools, wherein tuition shall be without charge, and equally open to all.”




A Discussion of “Smaller Learning Centers”
By Ed Sparks

19 November 2003


It was with interest that I read the article printed in the Indianapolis Star 1 November 2003, titled “Small-school idea closer to reality” concerning the small-school-within-a-school idea, and represented in that article as “academies”. In that article these “academies” are presented as an outgrowth of the Gates Foundation grant authorized in May, 2003. Actually, work in the Indianapolis Public School toward the creation of those schools, known as “Smaller Learning Centers” started long before that with a $2.242,031 grant from the federal government Department of Education. The school IPS board voted to accept that grant in August 2002. In accepting that grant the IPS School Board accepted the federal control that goes with that grant.

In its own publications the IPS school system refers to the academies, as “Smaller Learning Centers” that are proposed to be created within each of its five high schools. It has already named the Centers as follows:

(1: The Center for Performing and Visual Arts and the Center for Humanities.
(2: The Center for Art, Media and Communications.
(3: The Center for Engineering, Science, and Technology.
(4: The Center for Business, Marketing, and Finance.
(5: The Center for Legal, Social, and Recreational Services.

If you will study these titles closely you will see that each is a cover for vocational education. These are “limited and directed” vocational training centers identical to the schools that already exist in St. Paul, Minnesota and Vancouver, Washington. In St. Paul every student has selected and is enrolled in a vocational academy identical to those that are in process of formation in the Indianapolis Public School system. In Vancouver, Washington some students are even being taught to sort garbage. This waste of valuable student time is defended as a “Work Experience Program”.

In Lakewood, Washington at the Northwest Career and Technical High School the schools director said students will prepare for jobs ranging from carpentry to massage therapy.....Students will receive training for jobs like nursing assistant, cosmetologist and mechanics.

If the students are to be taught to become waitresses, cashiers, auto mechanics, grocery clerks, ushers or restaurant servers (to name a few vocations) they are not being educated. We, society, long ago stopped binding our children as apprentices to businesses so they could learn a trade. Over a hundred years ago all apprentice programs had disappeared in this country. Two hundred years ago they were in full blast in many countries. Even the future Captain Cook was apprenticed in 1745 to a grocer to learn that trade. Eighteen months later that grocer helped him to acquire a second apprenticeship with a shipowner family, coaliers, where he learned ship handling in the English Channel. Those days are long gone.

Yet, here we have the IPS and other school systems around the country, to acquire a few federal dollars, rapidly resurrecting this obsolete vocational training teaching program, a 200-year step backwards in our education system. In so doing these school systems entirely ignore the great educational advances made over the years. This backward change will destroy the future growth potential of its graduates by locking them into a directed and limited educational program.


Read this carefully. Today, the average worker changes his job seven times in his lifetime career. Twenty-five years ago AT&T had 450,000 switchboard operators. Today there are about 87,000 AT&T operators. Technology replaced those people who moved on and allowed them to progress into more challenging and better paying jobs.

Twenty-five years ago small desktop computers did not exist. Today every successful business has at least one computer and most businesses have many. Some have thousands. With computers, employee productivity has soared and our gross national product has exceeded $10 trillion. Yet what educator or education system 25 years ago could have forecast how technology, computers, would have changed the workplace as it has done in this short time. That is the danger of allowing a school system to inaugurate a limited and directed vocational education system. It amounts to “dumbing down” the student so he is qualified to fill nothing but the job he is trained to handle by the school system–the bottom of the barrel jobs. What if technology somehow eliminates the job classification we know as automobile mechanics? Where does the high school graduate trained as a mechanic go to find a new job if he does not have a broad, academic-based, education? Does he get to go back to school to be retrained? I don’t think so. Our society can not afford that expense or the enormous loss of productive time. (Under the P-16 Plan they seem to propose exactly that.)

It is in the school system that the student must acquire the breadth of knowledge that will allow him to change his employment seven times and to eventually acquire enough savings to ensure a worry-free retirement. That requires a knowledge of Civics and Economics where he will learn understand the political system, (he may be asked to sit on a jury one day) and the value of compound interest–yet neither study is listed in the Smaller Learning Center curriculum.

Neither are the other basic core education studies listed. Where in these academies is there room for English, Mathematics, History, Geography, Economics and yes even Civics? These studies alone require a four-year time frame to learn. According to the listings published, and listed above, there is no time allowed for these important studies. They certainly cannot be learned through osmosis while studying the vocational subject matter.

Cultural Literacy:

It is in the grade school and high school system that the student must acquire his Cultural Literacy, the mores, the lore and the values of this society. For instance, where else will the student learn of Sun Tzu, of Charlemagne, Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar, Plato, Archimedes, Mohammed, Suleiman, Columbus, Geronimo, Capernicus, Galileo, Picasso, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, Edison, Bell, the Wright brothers, Fermi, Oppenheimer, Douglas MacArthur, Yamamoto, Hirohito, Stalin, Lenin, the Roosevelts (Teddy and Franklin), Churchill, Eisenhower and scores of others. Each of these must be introduced to the student by the time he graduates from high school. Here is where the student learns his own individuality as a person. He learns who these people were and how he too can become an important and accomplished person–just like them. Here he must learn that his ability to accomplish, to succeed, is only limited by his own ability and drive. Here he learns of individual freedom, his own individuality and his own individual rights. In this country we do not teach any student to become a garbage sorter, we teach him that he has the unalienable right to strive to become president.

The youngster only has so much time to acquire knowledge of his culture, to solidify his beliefs and build a knowledge platform solid enough to last him a lifetime. For most people that is only twelve years. Then he is on his own.

Here, in this country, the schools must instill in the student the understanding that our society stands on the shoulders of those great people who preceded him and that one day one of them, perhaps himself, may be just as revered as any of those in the above list. The teachers must teach the students that one day one of them will replace him or her. The teacher must communicate to every student that whoever replaces a teacher must be a better teacher than the present teacher. Exactly as the new worker must be a better worker that the worker, or any other person in every other field that he may replace. The student today is the genesis of all future generation and by preparing him properly the future of our culture is ensured. The student must understand freedom, and he cannot do so unless he has the freedom to select and build his own course of study and select his own career path. E. D. Hirsch in his magnificent study “Cultural Literacy” shows us just 5,000 bits of knowledge the student must acquire by the time he graduates from high school. Without these items, learned in the school, or motivated by the school to learn them on his own, the student will be lost in society.

That is why we must never be satisfied to allow a “dumbed down” student body to exist. Each student must be capable of teaching the next generation student to be smarter than himself.

Thus each student must be well prepared to go on to higher education. No one, unless he looks on himself as God, can foretell which of those students is destined to greatness, but many will be. None will be capable, if all are forced into a limited and directed educational system.

The Exceptional Student:

This follows: Our society requires that the smartest students must be pushed to their ultimate limit and reach their greatest potential. This will not happen in a limited and directed “Smaller Learning Center” vocational classroom, the smartest students will be crushed and devalued. At graduation, if a high school student has not finished at least pre-Calculus that student will be effectively locked out of certain higher education activities such as Physics, Computer Science or Engineering. Just as, not too many years ago, Analog engineers were swept away by the Digital revolution, modern students unprepared for advanced study by the high schools cannot meet the requirements of an advanced, higher educational system. And that is what the high schools are here for. To prepare the student for higher education. The high schools are not here to prepare him for a vocation. As I stated above, that thinking is 200 years out of date.

As for vocational training. If a bank needs a cashier, the bank can train that cashier. If an auto repair shop needs a mechanic, the shop can train the mechanic. If a store needs a salesman, the store can train that salesman. It is not the responsibility of society to finance the training of workers for industry. It is the job of industry to train its own workers. It is the job of society to ensure that students have the needed knowledge to ensure that he can be a productive member of society throughout his working career.

Few people can understand Nuclear Physics but our school system must be formed to identify and prepare those few students who have that ability, or any other unique and needed ability for higher learning.

Yet, I see the Indianapolis Public School system worrying more about the form of the teaching than about the “what” it is teaching.

Where are the Electronic Books?

And there is something so simple, so missing from our schools that I must ask about it. Where are the electronic books? In the modern world every textbook could be made available to the student on a computer disk, or better yet, from the Internet. These could be available at a cost of pennies for each student, free to the student. If the student truly needs to see a printed page it can be printed at a penny a page. Books are no longer needed. It is the knowledge in the books that must be transferred to the student and that can be free.

Once the student has access to free on-line textbooks then he can progress at his own speed and study whatever course he wants to study. Knowledge is then available at the touch of a computer key. Gone is the high cost of textbooks, which to some families is almost prohibitive, replaced with instant access to books that will be available for a lifetime for reference. As an example for schools to emulate, we need only look at what has happened to encyclopedias. They once cost $2000 for a 24 volume set that were instantly outdated. Today some encyclopedias come free with a computer or can be bought on a CD for under $100 with yearly updates and are never obsolete. This is where schools should be looking, not to Smaller Learning Centers.

Our State Constitution:

And that brings us to this final, most vital, subject. Our state Constitution.

Constitutions, whether they are national or state, are the basis for all statutes, not the other way around. Constitutions are the supreme law and do not have to conform to any statute. In essence the Constitution is the cap of all laws, all laws or statutes must conform to the Constitution and if any statute does not conform then that law is unconstitutional.

Article VIII, Section I of the Indiana State Constitution states: “. . . It shall be the duty of the General Assembly to encourage, by all suitable means, moral, intellectual, scientific, and agricultural improvement; and to provide, by law, for a general and uniform system of Common Schools, wherein tuition shall be without charge, and equally open to all.”

With this simple statement, written over a hundred and fifty years ago, the people of Indiana, speaking through the State Constitution, explicitly prohibited this type of limited and directed education within the education system of Indiana.

The words “general and uniform” defines the education system and explicitly require the General Assembly to ensure that all students, everywhere within the state (general), shall have access to the same, identical (uniform) curriculum and that none will be discriminated against as would be deliberate and inherent in the “Smaller Learning Community” vocational education system classrooms. It does not give the student the right to any particular class but it certainly gives him the right to elect to attend the same classes that every other student in the state has the opportunity to attend. It is the student who must determine his own course of studies as he grows, as his interests and abilities expand and become more and better defined. No person can accurately forecast his own abilities, needs and interests in the eighth year of his education. Yet that is what this new vocational system requires of every student.

Under our State Constitution, not only is the General Assembly bound to provide a “general and uniform” education system but the schools are bound under it to maintain that system as well. The General Assembly may not pass enabling legislation to allow one school to be different and likewise one school system may not differentiate itself from all the others in the state. It’s a two-way street.

The Indianapolis Public School system is forcing its own limited selection of subject matter on the student when he is incapable of wisely making that decision for himself. The school system has no right to either force the student to make that decision or to make that decision for the student.

Even though the Smaller Learning Center is a federal program (clearly described in the Department of Education web site at www.ed.gov) and is funded with federal dollars, the Indiana State Constitution expressly prohibits the General Assembly to implement that program in Indiana. It may not delegate its Constitutionally defined authority to any other body.

Yet they have done it. In his second letter to me, dated 19 June, 2003, Senator Robert D. Garton, President Pro Tempore of the Indiana Senate stated “The property interest created (for the student) by Indiana statute is participation in the educational process.” This is patently incorrect. The onus to comply, and provide a defined standard education is placed upon the state Legislature. Under the “general and uniform” clause the State Legislature is required to ensure that every publicly funded school presents the same curriculum at each school. The “property right” created under the Constitution for the student is his right to attend any high school in the state and receive the same, the identical, level of education at each.

The Dime Box, Indiana student:

If a student from Dime Box, Indiana, school population 250, transfers to a high school in Indianapolis, school population 2500 (divided into limited and directed small schools that require entry into each at Freshman level) that students property interest in participating in a school system identical (read uniform) to the one he attended at Dime Box, has been, or will be, denied. In fact, certain students may even have a vested property interest in participating in a particular class, or in a number of particular, perhaps diverse, classes that he may not attend as a transferee from a smaller school, due to the separation of every IPS high school into these directed, vocational, schools. For instance, the study of Fermi and Picasso would be offered in different Learning Centers.

It is obvious from his letter that Senator Garton and his attorneys do not understand their own state constitution. This letter is available elsewhere on this site.

In fact, as the new educational system becomes more clearly defined, it begins to appear that the transfer student may have his entire IPS public high school education denied. In each published article that discusses the Smaller Learning Centers it is clearly stated that each student must enter an SLC at Freshman level and attend his full four-year term in his selected course of study under the same group of teachers. If this rule is correct, and enforced as stated, then not only the student from Dime Box, Indiana but, every student who transfers into the IPS high school, or any Smaller Learning Center system after the first day of Freshman level, from either a small Indiana school or from out of state, will be deprived of his most valuable property right created by Article VIII, Section I of the Indiana Constitution, the right to a free and uniform education. The only alternative available to a transfer student is to attend a private school and pay the tuition out of his own pocket.

And here’s even more. In Senator Garton’s first letter to me, dated 22 May 2003, he states that: “For IPS’s purposes, the Legislature has passed a number of laws that affect it only. See IC 20-3.1 et seq. The program described in the media is actually authorized by various provisions of IC 20-3.1.”

Thus, it appears that the Legislature has passed enabling legislation to allow the non-uniform “Smaller Learning Centers” in the Indianapolis Public School system. This legislation is in direct violation of Article VIII, Section I of the Indiana State Constitution.

This program must be stopped.

Ed Sparks

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