What would a second term in office for Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett look like? Bennett didn’t give a lot of clues during his 2012 State of Education address on Tuesday.
Bennett suggested expanding Indiana’s accountability system to include school districts, not just schools. And he said the state needs to better align its K-12 education with the expectations of colleges and employers.
Other than that, there didn’t seem to be a lot of new ideas in the speech, which included what some would consider fulsome praise for outgoing Gov. Mitch Daniels and claims that improved high-school graduation rates and tests scores have resulted from “Hoosier values” and the reforms adopted under Bennett’s watch. It seemed more like a victory lap than a look ahead to the next four years.
Bennett gave only a lukewarm endorsement to expanding state-support preschool, a cause that the Indianapolis Star and others have begun championing. “Looking ahead, we should examine ways to give our students even more high quality early learning experiences,” he said. “How do we make sure those children who will benefit most from early opportunities, like preschool, have access to them?”
As the Star’s Matthew Tully wrote recently about Indiana’s gubernatorial candidates, that’s an “underwhelming” approach to the critical issue of early-childhood education.
Bennett praised a South Bend public arts academy for raising its test scores, Fort Wayne Community Schools for making progress in career and technical education, and a Greenwood mother for coming around to supporting Indiana’s IREAD-3 exam as a screening mechanism for deciding if students are promoted to fourth grade.
He also highlighted Eastern Howard Schools for offering a high-tech curriculum that has attracted transfer students from other districts. (Eastern Howard has been criticized, however, for screening transfer students and accepting only those with good academic and disciplinary records).
Noticeably absent from the speech in this election year: any explicit reference to the Common Cores Standards, which Bennett has supported in the past but which are anathema for many conservatives.
Also missing were any of the customary kind words for President Barack Obama and his secretary of education, Arne Duncan. Bennett has made a point, previously, of noting that some of his ideas – more charter schools, test-based accountability for teachers – are bipartisan. Not so this week.
In fact the themes in Bennett’s speech track fairly closely to the education platform of Republican Mike Pence, who is widely expected to be Indiana’s next governor. Pence may well have a bigger impact on Indiana’s education policy during the next four years than anything Bennett says or does.
Bennett’s speech can be viewed online, and it will be shown later this week on Indiana public television stations (check local listings). The text of the speech and audio and text of Democratic superintendent candidate Glenda Ritz’s response are on the NPR State Impact Indiana website.