Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett seemed to employ a strategy from football Tuesday at the first meeting of the legislature’s Select Commission on Education: If your defense may be leaky, try to keep your offense on the field.
Called to answer questions from lawmakers about Indiana’s recent education reforms, Bennett and several assistants went through a lengthy, detailed presentation on Indiana’s growth model for measuring student improvement, along with the state’s new rubrics for awarding A-to-F grades to schools.
By the time they were done, Democrats on the panel took some verbal shots, but there seemed to be little time or energy for substantive discussion.
The legislature voted overwhelmingly last month to create the oversight commission, made up of all the members of the House and Senate education committees. It’s supposed to review the new grading system, teacher licensing and evaluation rules, and any other education issues the members want to investigate.
“I was disappointed no Republicans asked any tough questions,” Indianapolis Star reporter Scott Elliott says on his blog. “This commission only happened because there also are a lot of Republicans who have questions about the new grading system and are getting an earful from constituents, too. I thought we’d at least get a taste of any hesitation about how education reforms are being implemented from the GOP side.”
Maybe the Republicans got the message to be on their best behavior. Patricia Levesque, a Florida Republican education activist and ally of former Gov. Jeb Bush, wrote to prospective supporters in Indiana last week, expressing alarm about the commission. She said that “behind the scenes we have learned that the legislature will likely rake Tony over the coals” and added that “some of this hostility” would come from supporters of charter schools – presumably Bennett’s fellow Republicans.
Sen. Jean Leising and Rep. Cindy Noe, both Republicans, asked a few questions about the school grading system Tuesday, but nothing very pointed came from the GOP side.
Among Democrats, Sen. Tim Skinner expressed frustration with the DOE’s presentation and lamented how much money the state has spent on testing, evaluation and consultants at a time when the Daniels administration had cut K-12 funding by $300 million. Rep. Shelli Vandenburgh questioned the fairness of stigmatizing schools by giving them low letter grades and criticized the state’s adoption of a policy that calls for retaining students in third grade if they don’t pass a state reading test.
While the back-and-forth left something to be desired, the DOE staff presentation on the growth model and the A-to-F grading criteria could have been helpful for anyone trying to follow what’s taking place with education policy in Indiana. It’s a shame the legislative staff didn’t archive the video so people who work during the day could view it later.
Meanwhile, the next meeting of the Select Commission on Education is scheduled at 1 p.m. May 21 at the Statehouse. Maybe by then Republican lawmakers can think of some questions to ask.