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 Letters Published in January 31, 2007 Issue



 Jan. 31, 2007 - Letter submitted by Dr. Suellen Reed, Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction

Nothing is more essential to Indiana’s future than a quality education for all Hoosier students. This reality has placed increased scrutiny on our schools’ efforts to raise student achievement.

With the level of performance data that is available today, we have a better understanding of the strengths and weaknesses in our K-12 education system than ever before. Though undoubtedly more work must be done to tailor instruction and support to meet the needs of each student, clearly schools cannot meet this challenge alone.

With that in mind, each year the Indiana Department of Education, local schools and newspapers across the state work together to publish performance “report cards” for every school corporation and school between January 15 and 30. These reports are part of a continuing effort to encourage Hoosiers to become more knowledgeable about the progress of their students and schools.

Each school report features the most recent information available, including test scores, attendance rates, school safety statistics, teacher salaries and dollars spent per student. The reports provide even more information this year with additional data linked to high school graduation, such as the numbers of dropouts, freshmen not earning enough credits to become sophomores, suspensions/expulsions and students moving from school to another (mobility).

To provide an even clearer picture of Indiana’s schools, our Department makes detailed information available year-round on our Accountability System for Academic Progress (or ASAP) website at ASAP provides information beyond what is possible on the printed page, allowing anyone to access a wide range of data, graphically display the results, and even compare schools based on a variety of characteristics.

I encourage all Hoosiers to review the performance reports for the schools in their communities. Then take the time to visit your local school to find out what you can do to help make a difference. Together, we can ensure that all students meet the high expectations we have set in Indiana.



 Jan. 31, 2007 - Letter submitted by Judy Jackson, Jeff Jackson and family, Cheryl Sullivan and family

The family of John A. Jackson would like to take this time to extend our sincere appreciation to family and friends who sent flowers, cards, food, thoughts and prayers during our recent loss of our loved one. A special thanks to Randy Riggs and Hinsey Brown staff for their kindness and making this time as easy as possible. Also, thanks to David Bonne for a beautiful funeral service, and to Karl and Dale Wayne Pitts for their help. Most of all, a special heart filled thank you to Jim Anderson, a dear friend who helped us through the last days and passing of John. Again, thank you all.



 Jan. 31, 2007 - Letter submitted by Warren Watson, director of J-Ideas, Ball State University’s national First Amendment Institute

Muncie, Ind., and Olympia, Wash., are separated by 1,914 miles of prairie grass, tall peaks and raging rivers.

But they are connected today in a most special way – fused by interests which share a mutual desire to promote our democracy through civics education and student journalism.

Ball State’s J-Ideas program, through a new, unique public policy alliance, is shining a light on an energetic Washington state lawmaker who believes that active and unfettered student reporters and editors may be the key to a more informed electorate and community.

State Rep. Dave Upthegrove, a 35-year-old Democrat, has introduced HB 1307, which would give high school and college students true Freedom of the Press, one of the five freedoms guaranteed under the Bill of Rights. The bill is being considered by the Washington House of Representatives, in the state capital of Olympia.

“It’s important to protect the First Amendment rights of everyone,” said Rep. Upthegrove. “Freedom of speech and press are fundamental to our democracy.”

Upthegrove’s bill, which recently had an initial public hearing, would strengthen free speech protections for students and prohibit censorship of their publications by shifting editorial liability from schools to students. This would make student reporters and editors responsible for any legal problems that might result.

Since 1988, when the U.S. Supreme Court passed the infamous Hazelwood decision, which granted broader censorship authority to school administrators, six states have enacted similar laws: Arkansas, California, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas and Massachusetts.

J-Ideas, through its new First Amendment Public Policy Alliance, has become an information hub for the bill, reaching out in a public education campaign that reaches beyond both Muncie and Olympia. It’s all part of a new policy emphasis at J-Ideas, a four-year-old program which supports excellence in high school journalism, First Amendment awareness and news literacy.

But why support an effort 1,914 miles from home?

Well, the First Amendment is in peril. Just ask anyone who truly cares about openness in government, the free exchange of ideas and the future of our democracy.

Governmental bodies waving patriotic flags continue to move toward secrecy. Reporters struggle to tell the full story. Cases of censorship of student media expression proliferate. High school students sit back and yawn. Their college counterparts cut classes – and dates at the voting booth.

In fact, a 2006 survey sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, of which J-Ideas was a partner, showed that 45 percent of high school students feel that the First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees. And more than 75 percent either do not know how they feel about the First Amendment or take its rights for granted.

 “The purpose of school,” said executive director Dick Johns of the Iowa-based Quill and Scroll Society, an organization for youth journalists, “includes enlightening students and preparing them to be contributing citizens in our democratic society. Both educators and parents know that students best learn to do by doing.”

Upthegrove, Johns and J-Ideas all believe that this important civics lesson can be conveyed through a student media not subject to administrative censorship. “Journalism is the application of civics,” said Upthegrove.

Johns added that the Washington bill would allow students to become active participants in their own schools by eliminating prior review by administrators, which is short for “censorship.” He added, “Arbitrary censorship and other devices of autocracy do not teach democracy, ethics or responsibility. They teach hypocrisy, cynicism and tyranny. Too many administrators do not want students ‘to do,’ ” said Johns.

In the coming months, the J-Ideas First Amendment Public Policy Alliance will work in a number of areas, including training and education of principals and administrators in First Amendment education, news literacy, and the advocacy of an Advanced Placement high school course in journalism.

The Ball State institute also is developing a model policy for school districts that would guide administrators in the ever-evolving area of digital free speech. The policy would recognize that administrators need to maintain order, safety and discipline in schools in this Information Age, but recognize that the First Amendment must be respected and celebrated as well.

So, the First Amendment battleground in our schools will be a broad one.

The first such skirmish is taking place in faraway Olympia, on the southern shores of Puget Sound.


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