Fact-checking the Indiana State of Education speech

Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett mostly told the truth in his State of Education address last week, but not always the whole truth. There were no pants-on-fire whoppers – just the fact-bending you expect in an election year.

A few examples, with Bennett’s claims in italics:

(More students) are taking and passing challenging Advanced Placement exams. In fact, Indiana has the second highest two-year AP pass rate gains in the nation. In four years, the number of Indiana students taking advanced classes and exams has increased by almost 50 percent, and their success rate has jumped by 48 percent. This is news worth celebrating.

It is, but according to the College Board’s AP Report to the Nation, Indiana remains in the middle of the pack for most measures of AP test performance. Indiana’s percentage of graduates who took an AP class and scored 3 or higher on the exam is below the national average. Its rate of improvement in passing scores between 2001 and 2011 is right at the national average.

Beginning this school year, all districts will use locally designed teacher evaluations. These new evaluations must consider students’ academic performance and growth, but local schools have full flexibility to determine the other factors to include in the overall evaluation of teacher effectiveness.

It would be accurate to say that “most school districts” will begin using the new evaluations this year. However, some districts, like the Monroe County Community School Corp. in Bloomington, are operating under multi-year teacher contracts that specify how teachers are to be evaluated. The state teacher-evaluation law, passed in 2011, doesn’t trump contracts. So those schools may not be implementing the new, state-mandated evaluations until their contracts expire.

Today, in Indiana, all schools are schools of choice, and all parents have the freedom to find the best learning environment for their children—whether that’s a traditional public school, a public charter school, or a voucher participating private school.

As Bennett suggests, it’s a big deal that Indiana public schools now compete to enroll each other’s students, and to net the state dollars that the students bring with them. But that doesn’t mean that you, as a parent, can send your child to whatever school you choose. Districts can still assign students to schools based on where they live and other factors. And they can apparently turn down out-of-district transfer requests from students who don’t meet academic or disciplinary standards.

And while Bennett’s policies have greatly expanded parental options, choices are still limited by where you live and what you can afford. In most cases, parents need to provide transportation if they don’t send their child to a local public school. And even with a state-funded voucher, most can’t afford tuition at non-religious private schools.

Indiana is directing more money—about 128 million dollars since 2009—to our low performing schools that commit to taking bold action to improve student performance, increase community and parent engagement, and avoid state intervention down the road.

Indiana Department of Education spokeswoman Stephanie Sample confirmed that this figure refers to School Improvement Grants, federal dollars that are directed by the states to low-performing schools. As the Indianapolis Star and Education Week reported in April, SIG was a fairly modest effort until it was “supercharged in 2009 by a $3 billion windfall under the federal economic stimulus program.”

Yes, that would be the same program that Bennett’s fellow Republicans like to call the “failed Obama stimulus.” With an election barely a month away, don’t expect to hear Bennett giving Obama credit.

2 thoughts on “Fact-checking the Indiana State of Education speech

  1. Don’t forget Bennett’s boast about ISTEP gains.

    The majority of the gains occurred during his first year, well before any of his policies were enacted.

    Other than that, Tony was pretty truthful about his education agenda.

    And that was scary enough.

  2. Tony Bennett is nothing more than a handpicked puppet for Mitch Daniels. The Indiana Superintendent of Education prior to Mr. Bennett was republican Suellen Reed. Mrs. Reed was an intelligent woman who was not intimidated by other politicians, including Mitch Daniels. Prior to the 2008 election Mrs. Reed was told by the governor that the republican party would not support her for reelection, in essence telling her that she would be replaced on the ticket. Mitch wanted a puppet that would do what he wanted. This is where Bennett enters the picture. Bennet and Daniels are longtime friends. Daniels needed someone who appeared to have good education credentials. Bennett fit the bill. Unfortunately no one actually researched Bennett’s career. As a teacher and administrator in Scott and Clark Counties he was mediocre. His role as the superintendent of public instruction has been driven by ultra conservative education theories that have not proven to be effective. He has frequently lied and twisted statistics in order to promote legislation that he favors.

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