The first meeting of Indiana’s Select Commission on Education takes place Tuesday. On the agenda: a review of the state’s new A-to-F grading system for schools and how it was developed by the Indiana Department of Education.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett is scheduled to speak, along with several of his top aides. Also on hand for the Department of Education will be Damian Betebenner of the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment. He is the primary architect of the Colorado Growth Model for gauging student improvement on standardized tests, the basis for the Indiana Growth Model.
Lawmakers created the Select Commission because of a sense that the Department of Education and the State Board of Education were adopting policies without due deference to the legislature and the laws it enacted. Members include everyone on the House and Senate education committees – a majority of whom are, like Bennett, Republicans.
Readers of this blog may assume that Bennett and the Republican legislators are on the same page. In the 2011 legislative session, for example, Bennett relied on partisan votes to push through his package of charter schools, vouchers, teacher evaluation and merit pay, and limits on collective bargaining.
But that’s not necessarily the case.
Some of the most vocal critics of the state’s new A-to-F grading rubrics have been operators of charter schools, some of whom have close political ties to Republican officials. For example, Christel DeHaan, founder of Christel House Academy in Indianapolis, has given $2.3 million to Indiana political campaigns since 1998, with the biggest gifts going to Republicans.
As School Matters reported, the new A-to-F grading system could reflect poorly on charter schools; only one of the almost 100 Indiana charters would have earned an A, had the system been in place last year.
Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education obtained and posted a mass email from Florida education activist Patricia Levesque, calling for support for Bennett and his policies. Levesque is executive director of the Foundation for Excellence in Education and the Foundation for Florida’s Future, advocacy groups started by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whose education policies provided a model for Bennett.
Levesque writes that “behind the scenes we have learned that the legislature will likely rake Tony over the coals … some of this hostility is due to legislative allies of charter schools who are concerned with the strong accountability Tony is putting in place to ensure all public schools, including charter schools are effectively educating their students.”
Another point of contention: Some Republicans are bound to be upset that Bennett and the State Board of Education signed onto the Common Core Standards, developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers and backed by President Obama and his Department of Education.
When Bennett tells audiences that his policies have upset critics on both the left and the right, there’s some truth to what he’s saying.
The legislation that created the Select Commission on Education also called for it to review teacher licensing and evaluation rules and “any other issue that the legislative council or commission considers necessary.” Arguably, that could include reviewing whether Bennett and his department over-reached in creating policies that call for retaining students in third grade if they don’t pass the new IREAD-3 exam.
Tuesday’s meeting starts at 2 p.m. in the House Chamber at the Statehouse in Indianapolis. According to the legislature’s website, people who can’t attend can watch online.