Tony Bennett on ‘Noon Edition’ — easy listening?

Did anyone else think that Tony Bennett, the Indiana superintendent of public instruction, came across as unusually conciliatory on the WFIU radio “Noon Edition” program last Friday? There was no teacher-bashing. No school-of-education-bashing. Not even any real union-bashing.

Was Bennett striking a friendlier tone because Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, had singled out Indiana (along with Virginia and Minnesota) for failing to include teachers’ unions in its initial application for federal Race to the Top funding? Did “Noon Edition” host Bob Zaltsberg’s reasonableness rub off on his guest?

Bennett did offer some interesting comments. He said the current state of education is challenging but also rewarding. “These are definitely unique times in Indiana education,” he said. He repeated his contention that future funding for Indiana schools will be stuck at the same level as in 2006. “It’s a time when we will refocus education on those big bets, so to speak, that will really impact students,” he said.

He gave a nod to the idea of basing teacher evaluations and compensation on “effectiveness” – that is, on the gains their students make on test scores. But he passed on an opportunity to fire back at Weingarten, whose criticism seemed to baffle him. “We need to do a better job, and I will try to do a better job, of not lumping good teachers with bad teachers,” he said.

Bennett made a passing reference to a recent Harvard study that looked at the connection between teacher preparation and experience and student achievement. Here’s a link to the study, which found that Florida teachers educated at the highly selective University of Florida were no more effective than those who attended less prestigious state schools — not good news for those who say recruiting more “talented” teachers will fix what ails the schools.

The study found that teachers become more effective with a few years of experience, but elementary math teachers and middle school teachers stop making gains after a decade in the classroom. It found no difference in effectiveness between teachers who trained at education schools and those who didn’t. Altogether it’s more fodder for the fight over how to train and compensate teachers.

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