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Last modified: Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Columnist Matthew Tully will discuss new book chronicling troubled IPS school at IU's CEEP Policy Chat


Feb. 7, 2012

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The Center for Evaluation & Education Policy at the Indiana University School of Education presents Matthew Tully, author and columnist for The Indianapolis Star, speaking about his extensive writing on an Indianapolis school at an Education Policy Chat this week.

Tully's yearlong observation at Manual High School and resulting columns are the basis for "Searching for Hope: Life at a Failing School in the Heart of America," a book from IU Press. The book won't be in stores until March 1, but copies will be available for purchase and signing at the Education Policy Chat at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 9, in the Indiana Memorial Union's Dogwood Room.

Manual is a struggling school that has been placed in the Turnaround Academies program. Charter Schools USA, a company that operates schools across the country, will take over administration of Manual in the fall after the Indiana Department of Education determined its performance warranted state takeover from Indianapolis Public Schools. In the 2010-11 school year, 21.4 percent of Manual students passed both the math and English ISTEP-Plus state assessment tests. In 2009-10, less than 2 percent of graduates passed an Advanced Placement exam. Just 60 percent of the students who started Manual High School four years earlier graduated in spring 2010.

Tully said in a podcast for IU Press that he saw some inspiring students who persevered and teachers and staff who worked hard to do the right thing. But much of the book involves some stunningly common occurrences at the struggling urban school where he had unfiltered access to witness its inner workings over an entire year.

"I got there and I saw things I had never seen before," Tully said. "Things like kids getting arrested day after day; seeing teachers being threatened or even attacked; seeing things like a kid coming to school with a loaded handgun." Tully said the book recounts often heartbreaking stories of students, difficult family situations and the layers of problems affecting school performance.

While the book isn't out yet, he has provided it to some Manual teachers and administrators to review.

Matthew Tully

Photo by Danese Kenon

Matthew Tully

Print-Quality Photo

"A couple of teachers have read it, and they gave me the reaction I wanted the most, which is that it was accurate and it gives a fair picture of the school," Tully said. He added that the principal of Manual at the time hasn't responded so favorably to the critique he offered in the book. "I understand that, but I really felt my job as a writer was to really lay things out in the way that I saw them."

"The school in Indianapolis where Tully spent so much time is close to what I have found in many big cities," longtime Washington Post education columnist Jay Mathews wrote in his review of the book. "But few reporters have gone as deep as Tully has."

The story of Manual, once considered one of the great Indianapolis high schools, chronicles a slow fall along with a deteriorating urban neighborhood. The process didn't happen overnight, Tully said, and turning it around likely won't be quick process either, he added.

"Anyone who thinks that just because a new group is coming and taking over that all of a sudden all the problems that existed are going to go away just doesn't understand education," he said. Nonetheless, Tully said his experience proved to him that something had to be done at the school.

Tully said the book is written to present the troubles of one urban school that illustrate what is happening in many schools across the country. After spending so much time at Manual, he said he's sure the pathway to improving troubled schools is a long one. Tully also said the community reaction to the series of Manual columns in the Star reflected the desire of people to do more for these schools. "Schools have to find ways to harness the energy out there," he said.

The CEEP Policy Chat is free and open to the public. An audience Q-and-A session will follow Tully's formal remarks. Note that only cash or checks will be accepted for on-site book purchases.

More about "Searching for Hope" is available on Tully's blog.

CEEP, one of the country's leading nonpartisan education policy and program evaluation centers, promotes and supports rigorous evaluation and research primarily, but not exclusively, for educational, human services and nonprofit organizations. Center projects address state, national and international education questions. CEEP is part of the IU School of Education. To learn more about CEEP, visit