PDK/Gallup Poll: Mixed messages as usual

There’s something for everyone in the 2012 Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitude Toward Public Schools, results of which were released this month.

For supporters of accountability and market-based education policies:

// Two-thirds of respondents favor charter schools.
// Support for school vouchers rose to 44 percent from 34 percent last year.
// 70 percent like the “parent trigger” idea – letting parents of children in a failing school vote to remove the principal and staff.

On the other hand, there are findings to cheer supporters of public education:

// 71 percent have “trust and confidence” in public school teachers.
// 62 percent would pay higher taxes to improve the quality of urban schools.
// A 35 percent plurality says the biggest problem facing local schools is a lack of funding. Ten years ago, people were more likely to blame education problems on drugs, crowding and a lack of discipline.

The poll found an even divide on whether teachers should be evaluated on students’ test scores. “Americans really are split on that issue,” Phi Delta Kappa Executive Director William Bushaw told April Toler of the Bloomington Herald-Times, PDK’s home-town paper. “Half say yes, half say no.”

PDK/Gallup found support and ambivalence and not much opposition to the Common Core Standards. Continue reading

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Teachers with advanced degrees: good for elite schools, bad for the rest of us?

Gov. Mitch Daniels recently recalled his Indianapolis childhood and teen-age years in a sweet and nostalgic “My Indiana” essay for the Indianapolis Star.

“I was lucky to attend a tremendous public school system,” he wrote, referring to Washington Township schools and North Central High School. “During my senior year in high school, at least three of my teachers had Ph.Ds. The next fall when, naïve and a little scared, I showed up on a far-away college campus full of prep-school types, I found myself better prepared than most of them.”

Is it maybe a little ironic that Daniels and Superintendent Tony Bennett pushed through the legislature a teacher compensation law that devalues the advanced degrees that Daniels’ teachers possessed?

The law, adopted in 2011, says no more than 33 percent of a teacher’s pay calculation can be based on advanced education and years of experience. Until now, it’s typically been 100 percent. According to the Indiana Department of Education, the law remedies the fact that teacher salaries were based on education and experience “despite data that shows these components have little or no relationship with teacher performance.”

Yet Daniels believes he was lucky to have learned from teachers with Ph.Ds. And today, exclusive Park Tudor High School in Indianapolis, where 100 percent of graduates are admitted to college, boasts on its website that its teachers have an average of 20 years of experience and one in five have doctorates.

Maybe education and experience count for students whose parents can afford nearly $20,000 a year in Park Tudor tuition – just not for the rest of us. Continue reading

AEI: Implementing Indiana’s ed-reform agenda no sure thing

A new report from the conservative American Enterprise Institute raises questions about the education policies that Indiana has adopted under Gov. Mitch Daniels and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett – not whether they are good policies, but whether they’re likely to succeed.

Titled “Implementing Indiana’s ‘Putting Students First’ Agenda: Early Lessons and Potential Futures,” the policy brief highlights the gap between the top-down adoption of the policies by Republican state officials and their eventual implementation by local schools boards, superintendents and principals.

“Unless state and local implementers seize opportunities present in the law, efforts such as Putting Students First likely will prompt new rounds of compliance-oriented behavior, wasted money, bureaucratic busyness, frustrated teachers, and few or no substantive gains,” it concludes.

Authors are Rick Hess, AEI director of education policy studies; Paul Manna, an associate professor of government at the College of William and Mary; and Keenan Kelley, a William and Mary student. Hess is known as a strong supporter of what’s usually called education reform. In Indiana that’s the Daniels-Bennett agenda: an expansion of charter schools, state-funded vouchers for private schools, performance-based evaluation of teachers and limits on collective bargaining.

Even if you don’t agree with the authors’ perspective, however, the report is worth reading. A few highlights:

// “Indiana’s Republican leaders opted for wielding brute political force in passing the Putting Students First agenda in 2011,” the report says. Every Senate Democrat and all but one House Democrat voted against all four bills that made up the agenda. Continue reading

Louisiana funds schools that teach creationism? Indiana does too

Louisiana’s school-voucher program has been getting a lot of media attention for providing public funding to religious schools that teach creationism and far-right ideas about U.S. history. The fact that Indiana’s voucher program does the same thing has largely escaped scrutiny.

Associated Press and Reuters news service have reported on Louisiana’s program and the controversy over whether taxpayer dollars should pay for the teaching of religious doctrine that is contrary to state science education standards.

And Mother Jones magazine mocked the Louisiana voucher program, listing “14 wacky ‘facts’” about science and history that Louisiana students will learn in voucher schools – for example, that humans and dinosaurs “probably hung out,” that “slave masters were nice guys” and “the Great Depression wasn’t as bad as liberals made it sound.” The magazine’s source is the A Beka and Bob Jones Press textbooks that are used in evangelical Christian schools that qualify for vouchers in Louisiana.

IUPUI professor and former Indiana Civil Liberties Union chief Sheila Kennedy laments such “rejection of science and rewritten history” in a blog post. “Welcome to Bobby Jindal’s Louisiana,” she writes.

Yeah, and to Mitch Daniels’ Indiana.

A number of Indiana schools receiving vouchers use A Beka and Bob Jones textbooks, according to their websites. Here are a few: Liberty Christian School in Anderson, Kingsway Christian School in Avon, Lighthouse Christian Academy in Bloomington, Continue reading

Will Indiana’s Bennett be heading to Florida?

Florida officials say they plan to conduct a nationwide search to replace Gerard Robinson, who resigned abruptly this week as state commissioner of education. Will the search bring them first to Indiana?

This is pure speculation, but why not? Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett has become something of a rock star in what’s known as the education reform world. He’s as obvious a choice to lead Florida’s education system as anyone.

Bennett is considered to be tight with former Gov. Jeb Bush, still a big name in Florida politics. He is a charter member and current chair of Chiefs for Change, an organization of chief school officials affiliated with Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education.

He won Indiana the title of “reformiest” state in the nation in a competition sponsored the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, which is highly regarded in conservative education policy circles. And in May, the American Federation for Children and the Alliance for School Choice gave Bennett their John T. Walton Champion of School Choice award.

As NPR StateImpact Florida made clear, Bennett looked to Florida as a model for the education policies that Indiana has adopted, and he and Gov. Mitch Daniels turned to Jeb Bush for help in getting Indiana Republicans to support the ideas. Continue reading