During my entire tenure as a state representative, education has always been a top priority for House Republicans. Through our efforts, we have made great strides, especially with our college- and career-ready standards. Unfortunately, while Indiana is experiencing success in several areas, our country as a whole falls behind top-performing countries in education.
Recent scores from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), an exam taken every three years, ranked the U.S. 39th in mathematics, 23rd in reading and 25th in science out of 72 countries. We ranked similarly in 2012, when there were only 65 countries that participated in the PISA. These results are somewhat sobering—and if not improved, the implications are frightening.
To understand why the U.S. is not on par with the rest of the world, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) created a bipartisan study group of legislators and legislative staff from 26 states nearly three years ago. Ultimately, the group looked for commonalities between the U.S. and top-performing countries, while also determining what next steps need to be taken to ensure that our students do not continue to lag behind the world. I had the opportunity to participate, and the experience was extremely eye opening.
While the study was focused on the U.S. as a whole, we found that many of the programs implemented by countries could be incorporated at the state level. As the chair of the House Committee on Education, I used this experience to find potential options to improve Hoosier schools.
In order to begin transforming our education systems, we need to make swift and substantial changes, while also recognizing that we cannot make all of these changes at once. This session, there are two pieces of legislation being considered that begin taking critical steps to keep our students, teachers and schools moving in the right direction to compete in an ever-globalizing world.
As a part of the international study, I was able to visit China and observe their classroom interactions. One practice that stood out to me was the amount of time that was devoted to teacher collaboration. Educators – veteran and new – spent time observing each other’s classrooms and discussing ways to improve overall instruction. Unfortunately, American teachers are provided very little time to collaborate with their colleagues during the school day. I believe that collaboration is a vital part of any profession and should be implemented more in Hoosier schools. One of the bills being considered this session deals with career ladders and mentorship programs. This legislation would establish the Indiana New Educator Induction Program, which would provide new teachers, principals and administrators mentoring support.
The study also found that most, if not all, educators had specialized in a subject, like math or reading. We ask a lot of our teachers, especially elementary teachers who need to have a working knowledge in multiple subjects. I authored legislation that would direct the State Board of Education to establish a content area specialist license. The early years of a child’s education are the most important and lay the ground work for the rest of their academic career. This bill would ensure that our young students are exposed to rigorous lesson plans that help jump start their education.
While these bills and many more are being considered, key members of the NCSL study committee visited Indiana and met with state leaders. These conversations covered a wide range of topics, but ultimately, it became clear that we must take action sooner rather than later. Ensuring that young Hoosiers have access the best education in the world is important to the state, and I will continue working to drive our education system to the next level so that Indiana can continue to compete on the global stage.
To learn more about the NCSL study, visit www.NCSL.org and search “No Time to Lose.”
State Rep. Bob Behning (R-Indianapolis) represents portions of Hendricks and Marion counties.
Behning serves as the chair of the House Committee on Education.
A high-resolution photo of Behning can be downloaded by clicking here.