[r63] Messmer Report: Education News Keeps Coming

Posted by: Zach Weismiller  | Friday, August 27, 2010

As you can tell if you've been reading my column this summer, education has been a reoccurring theme at the Statehouse recently.

Now, as we head back to school, it's at the forefront of state officials' agendas more than ever. and it will continue to be one of the main things we discuss next year as we craft a state budget.

First, we learned some great news about my alma mater, which was just recognized in the U.S. News & World Report annual University rankings. Purdue jumped from 22 to 18 in public university standings and from 61 to 56 among all universities. The College of Engineering and Krannert School of Management earned overall rankings of eighth and 19th, respectively, and both had several highly ranked specialty programs.

In addition, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett gave Indiana's first ever State of Education speech last week.  As you might guess, he spent most of the 45-minute address discussing how to improve the academic performance of classrooms full of little Hoosiers.

But he talked even more about how to properly support, and evaluate, the person at the front of the room: the teacher.

According to Dr. Bennett, research tells us that students from low-income or minority households are the least likely to have great teachers.

He referred to recent ISTEP scores, which showed dramatic improvement this year, and then pointed out that during 14 consecutive years of education funding increases by the state, academic gains were small.

Now, when money is tight, our students have seen some of the biggest improvements in the state's history.

I personally believe this year's great scores were a perfect example of the innovation of Indiana teachers. When faced with a tough year fiscally, the majority of them responded with renewed dedication and creativity and schools did better than ever before.

Still, said Dr. Bennett, the stakes are too high to continue putting adult interests ahead of our children's needs. 

He added that after meeting individually with leadership in each of the ten corporations that are home to these lowest-achieving schools, he was startled. In some cases, numbers like 60 percent and 75 percent were used by administrators to describe the percentage of ineffective teachers in those schools. Some did not even conduct performance reviews. Clearly, we can't expect students to grow when we have extremely low- or no- expectations for teachers.

At the same time, we have to give every support we can to those enthusiastic and effective teachers who really do want the best for their students.

We are very fortunate, in our area, to have some of the best performing students-and teachers-in the state.

Last year, the Department of Education eased the relicensing process. It also made changes which will help encourage prospective teachers to switch from other professions into teaching, to help fill the voids in science and math teaching professions.

And next week, legislators will meet in small groups to jumpstart the process I mentioned earlier: the process of starting on the state budget when it comes to education funding.

The School Funding Committee, which will meet next Monday and can be viewed live via webcast, will look at the formulas used by other states. Then, they will take public testimony, asking two questions: "What efficiencies have schools made to cope with current funding levels?" and "What changes can the legislature make to improve K-12 funding mechanisms?"

Then on Tuesday, the Education Committee will discuss the problem of absenteeism.

If you are curious about these topics or the way the state plans to handle them, I'd highly encourage you to tune in via webcast. It's free, easy, and eye-opening.

Visit http://www.in.gov/legislative to watch education policy being made.