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:

// The way Gov. Mitch Daniels, state Superintendent Tony Bennett and the Republican legislature passed the education changes – by “brute political force” – could cause opponents to dig in their heels and make the policies harder to implement. But even if Republicans had compromised, he said, “there is no guarantee that the opposition will not later come up with different complaints. Further, as we note in the paper, building consensus sometimes lead to watered-down or Frankenstein-like policies … (that) are nearly impossible to manage well during implementation.”

// How will school administrators handle their new responsibilities on top of the building-management duties that used to consume their time? “One strategy is to rethink how labor is divided on a school’s administrative team,” Manna wrote. “It may be that some tasks can be more efficiently and effectively accomplished if school administrators become specialists in certain areas.” That may be, but in many Indiana schools, especially elementary schools, the principal is the administrative team. “Given the massive number of regular evaluations that Indiana’s schools are now required to do … it is hard for me to imagine how all that work could be done well without bringing new people on board,” Manna wrote.

// The AEI report notes that, when charismatic leaders put reforms in motion, “other venues frequently come calling with generous salary offers and new portfolios of interesting work.” Was that a reference to Bennett? As School Matters has noted, he could triple his salary by taking the same job in Florida, which is vacant. Manna suggested Bennett could snag an even bigger pay-day if he “took his experience and contacts and headed for the private or cushy nonprofit sector.”

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

  1. The view from the trenches is substantially different. Teachers I know say the new evaluations are a disaster. The process is complicated and incredibly time consuming. The focus is jumping through the right hoops and putting on an effective “dog and pony” show.

    To complicate matters, local unions can no longer have any meaningful input into the evaluation process. Teachers feel powerless and intimidated. They are afraid for their job. Tough circumstances to teach under.

    Good luck getting administrators to talk on the record. The culture of compliance is pervasive right now. Realistically, the work load is unmanageable. The result will be a “just get it done” mentality. How this benefits anyone is beyond me.

    And now for the kicker. Remember, the legislature has decimated education funding. There is no money. The so-called bonuses for effective and highly effective teachers are a pittance. We are talking in the range of $300-500 a year in some districts. How is this an incentive?

    This is what happens when ideology dominates education policy. Consensus may be tough, but top-down is worse. Legislators may have scored political points, but schools are left holding a real stinker.

    What we have now is a slow moving train wreck.

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