More news on Daniels-Bennett education agenda

Thanks to Niki Kelly, Statehouse reporter for the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, for a clear and comprehensive story about the education reform proposals that Gov. Mitch Daniels and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett put forward last week.

Kelly focuses on the most potentially controversial elements in the Daniels-Bennett agenda: 1) publicly funded vouchers to pay for students to attend private schools; 2) changes in the way teachers are evaluated; and 3) financial incentives for students to finish high school early.

Bennett and Daniels provided details about their proposals for the 2011 legislative session Wednesday to the Indiana Education Roundtable. You can watch a video of Bennett’s presentation, view PowerPoint slides, and read the Department of Education news release and summary of the proposals.

The agenda includes:

— “Identify and reward great teachers and principals” – merit pay, an end to seniority-based teacher tenure, restrictions on union contacts, etc.
— “Real accountability and flexibility” – more aggressive state action and fewer union restrictions on low-performing schools.
— “High quality options for families” – more charter schools, state funding for students to attend private schools, scholarships for early high-school graduation.

The Education Roundtable (local members: Indiana University President Michael McRobbie and elementary teacher/Republican activist Danny Shields) endorsed two elements of the agenda: new teacher evaluations and early graduation. On the former, the resolution supported “educator evaluation and compensation systems that include measures of content knowledge, instructional skill, classroom management, student academic achievement and leadership effectiveness as significant factors.”

Sounds fair and reasonable, doesn’t it? In fact, Kelly writes, Daniels and Bennett said they want student performance – presumably test-score improvement measured by the Indiana Growth Model — to count for a majority of the evaluations, which would be used to decide how much teachers should be paid and whether they keep their jobs during layoffs.

The idea of vouchers apparently wasn’t mentioned in the Roundtable meeting but was discussed in a later session with reporters. It shows up in the legislative agenda in the line that the state should “ensure state education dollars follow the needs of students so parents can select the best possible educational options for their children.”

It’s not clear whether Daniels and Bennett want a full-fledged voucher program that gives parents money to send their kids to private and possibly religious schools or an expansion of Indiana’s tax credit program to fund private-school scholarships.

Either way, let’s hope legislators take time to read the award-winning investigative series that Arizona’s East Valley Tribune produced in 2009 on Arizona’s private school scholarship program. The series, titled “Rigged Privilege,” found that that the program provided taxpayer-funded scholarships for the children of wealthy Arizonans, subsidized tuition increases at private schools, and enriched businessmen who started “school tuition organizations.” Seriously, check it out.

Kevin Carey of the Education Sector has a great blog post about this, titled “Arizona’s Corrupt Religious School Funding Shell Game.” He writes: “So if Arizona citizens want to support religious schools with taxpayer money, they should go to the statehouse during budget season and make their case alongside advocates for regular public schools, roads, hospitals, police protection, mental health, higher education, state parks, light rail, and so forth.” Let’s hope Daniels and Bennett are that honest in their efforts to use taxpayer dollars to fund private schools.

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