Scott Elliott in the Indianapolis Star used the right word to describe Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett’s State of Education address last week. “Bennett was triumphant about the state’s once-lagging education reform accomplishments in an emotional second annual State of Education address,” he wrote.
And why wouldn’t Bennett feel victorious? The Republican-controlled state legislature gave him and Gov. Mitch Daniels all the education reforms they asked for this year: the nation’s most far-reaching school voucher program, more charter schools, mandatory merit pay and performance-based evaluations for teachers and strict limits on teacher collective bargaining.
So Bennett was in a position to boast a little. And he could afford to be gracious, giving Indiana’s teachers some of the credit for improved test scores and better school grades under the state accountability system.
One problem with triumph, though: What do you do next? Bennett quoted Republican icon Ronald Reagan on the importance of painting with “bold, unmistakable colors.” But his proposals for future action seemed a bit, well, pastel.
Require every student to take an online course to graduate from high school. Give letter grades to school districts, not just to schools. Shorten the time frame for the state to take over schools that keep getting failing grades. Add multiple “count days” throughout the school year for the purpose of determining school enrollment and state funding.
They’re all ideas that are worth talking about, but nothing there seems likely to make a huge difference in the state of education.
The real issues, going forward, have to do with implementing the changes that the legislature passed this year. Where will schools find the resources to carry out fair and meaningful teacher evaluations? Will the state really start holding charter schools accountable for their performance? Will vouchers pull needed resources away from public schools? Will the voucher law hold up against a court challenge?
Most importantly, how will we know whether Indiana’s education reforms will do anything to help Hoosier students?
That said, Bennett’s passionate cheerleading for education in Indiana is something to applaud. And it’s noteworthy that 200 invited guests showed up for the speech to hear what he had to say. If nothing else, the state of education in Indiana is: closely watched.