[r72] A Clere view of the Statehouse: Let's come to the table on education (1/3/2011)

Monday, January 3, 2011

Start Date: 1/3/2011 All Day
End Date: 1/3/2011
When the Indiana General Assembly meets next month, K-12 education reform will be a top priority. By itself, the subject of education reform would be enough to dominate any typical legislative session, but reform initiatives will have to compete for attention with the crafting of the next two-year state budget, legislative redistricting, an attempt to fix the Indiana's bankrupt unemployment trust fund and many other difficult issues.

As we consider potential reforms, it is important to acknowledge and keep in mind that there is much to celebrate about K-12 public education in Indiana. Countless teachers, administrators and other school employees work tirelessly to provide a high-quality education to Hoosier students. It is understandable that many of them feel underappreciated and under attack, and the reform debate should recognize this and work to correct it.

For the most part, individual educators are not the problem. There are some who need to go, and reform will address that issue. The vast majority of educators, however, are qualified professionals who care about children and want to make a difference. Our challenge is to reform the system to give them the best possible resources and support and then get out of the way and let them do their job.

We also must recognize that many of the problems in education start at home. Educators have to deal with problems over which they have little or no control. To be effective, reform will have to acknowledge and address factors in the home - something that starts to make reform at school look easy.

Last week, at the quarterly meeting of Indiana's Education Roundtable, Gov. Mitch Daniels and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett announced their reform agenda. They co-chair the Roundtable, which includes more than 30 leaders from education, business, government and the community.

Here is a summary of their agenda:

Identify and reward great teachers and principals: Give local leaders flexibility to promote excellence.
. School leaders must have the autonomy to make the improvements necessary to bolster student achievement and should be held responsible for the performance of their schools.
. Promote excellence by identifying and rewarding great teachers and school principals based on their performance rather than seniority or degrees held - two things research shows have little influence on teacher effectiveness and student achievement.
. Reliable, fair, accurate evaluations, which are informed by student achievement or growth data, should be used each year to assess teachers and administrators, recognize our best educators and identify those who need support for improvement.
. Administrators must use these evaluations to inform decisions about hiring, firing, professional development, compensation, placement, transfers and reductions in force.
. Collective bargaining agreements between school corporations and teachers' unions should focus on salary and wage-related benefits and should be innovative in recognizing performance through compensation.
. Tenure should be awarded to teachers based on performance instead of seniority.
Real accountability and flexibility: Empower school leaders. Bring success to failing schools. Hold all schools accountable for achieving results for students.
. We must demand swift and dramatic improvement from all chronically failing schools and provide the state all the necessary tools to intervene when local leadership has failed to offer a quality education to children.
. Students in our failing schools need the best teachers and leaders to help them catch up to their peers. We must free school leaders in our lowest-performing schools from restrictive collective bargaining agreements between school corporations and teachers unions that prevent schools from making staffing decisions in the best interest of students.
. We must give all turnaround managers adequate time to demonstrate improvement, but we must also set rigorous annual performance goals and replace ineffective managers as quickly as possible.
. Once schools successfully improve student performance, we must act with care to be sure the school community has the autonomy and freedom to maintain success. The State Board of Education will appoint the first school board to successful turnaround schools and allow the community to decide how best to operate the school once state control is relinquished.
. Create a "Parent Trigger" - if 51 percent of parents in a school sign a petition, the state can step in early to turn around a failing school.
High-quality options for families: Offer equal educational opportunities to all children. Give parents a voice.
. Every student should have the opportunity to attend an excellent school.
. Allow students to graduate early and offer them a college scholarship equal to the amount the state would have spent on the last year of high school.
. Ensure state education dollars follow the needs of students so parents can select the best possible educational options for their children.
. Create an Indiana Charter School Board to authorize new charters across the state.
. Allow private higher education institutions to apply to the State Board of Education to authorize new charters.
. Increase accountability for all charter authorizers. Only let the best open, and close poorly performing charters.
. Expand virtual charter schools to reach underserved students and to fill gaps in the traditional system.
. Eliminate caps on charters and help them access safe and appropriate public facilities.
. Grant schools and communities more authority to convert failing schools to charters.

A paragraph from the release summarizing the agenda does a good job of summing up the situation: "This legislative session, we will - first and foremost - have the debate on what is best for Hoosier children. We must be willing to engage in difficult conversations about the long-standing practices that have favored adults over children. And during these trying economic times, we must stop asking how to get more money for education and begin pursuing the most education for our money."

Additional information about the agenda, including video from last week's Roundtable meeting, is at www.doe.in.gov/puttingstudentsfirst, and information about the Roundtable is at www.in.gov/edroundtable.

Reform is coming. The debate in the coming months will be over the details, and I look forward to holding local roundtables to hear from educators, parents and other members of our community.