Bennett calls for school district accountability, says little about pre-K

What would a second term in office for Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett look like? Bennett didn’t give a lot of clues during his 2012 State of Education address on Tuesday.

Bennett suggested expanding Indiana’s accountability system to include school districts, not just schools. And he said the state needs to better align its K-12 education with the expectations of colleges and employers.

Other than that, there didn’t seem to be a lot of new ideas in the speech, which included what some would consider fulsome praise for outgoing Gov. Mitch Daniels and claims that improved high-school graduation rates and tests scores have resulted from “Hoosier values” and the reforms adopted under Bennett’s watch. It seemed more like a victory lap than a look ahead to the next four years.

Bennett gave only a lukewarm endorsement to expanding state-support preschool, a cause that the Indianapolis Star and others have begun championing. Continue reading

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Experimenting with the truth

It’s an old trick in journalism. I’ve done it. Every reporter I know has done it. You talk to the main players about a complex or controversial topic. You get “both sides of the story.” Then, whether you set out to or not, you subtly frame the story and select quotes and details in a way that suggests truth and justice are on one side.

I kept thinking of this as I watched “The Experiment,” Ben Lemoine’s film about the changes that have taken place New Orleans schools since Hurricane Katrina, at a screening hosted by the IU Education Policy Student Association.

Lemoine is a former TV news reporter, and his film, on the surface, nods to the conventions of balanced journalism. He presents the city’s education changes – the takeover by the state-run Recovery School District, the mass conversion to charter schools, a voucher program for children to transfer from under-performing public schools to private schools – as an “experiment” whose results won’t be immediately obvious. With a broadcast writer’s knack for simplicity, he boils down the complexities of education reform to simple nuggets that anyone can understand.

But Lemoine’s heart is with the reformers. He gives decent air time to reform critics Ken Saltman, author of “Capitalizing on Disaster: Taking and Breaking Public Schools,” and Lance Hill, director of the Southern Institute for Education and Research. But the last word typically goes to reformers and cheerleaders: Continue reading

Let’s hear what it’s like to implement Indiana’s education policies on the ground

A recent analysis from the American Enterprise Institute relied primarily on interviews with Indiana Department of Education officials to identify the challenges the state faces in implementing the education policies that the legislature approved in 2011.

An interesting complement would focus on what it looks like to the people charged with making the changes happen – the superintendents, principals, assistant principals and school boards who are managing Indiana’s public schools.

“Yes, I think this would be a great follow-up study for someone to do,” College of William and Mary professor Paul Manna, a co-author of the AEI study, told School Matters. “Take the same sorts of issues we considered from the state-level perspective and see how locals would react. Also see what other sorts of issues they’d bring to the table.”

It would be a worthwhile study for university researchers. It would also be a great project for an education reporter, provided he or she could get school officials to speak honestly and on the record.

Manna, who wrote the AEI report on Indiana with AEI’s Rick Hess and W&M student Keenan Kelley, graciously answered follow-up questions by email. Here are some of his comments: Continue reading