Education panel calls for equity as path to excellence

Education policy debates have long pitted supporters of equity against advocates for excellence. A report from a congressionally chartered commission suggests we can’t have one without the other.

“For Each and Every Child,” issued last week by the federal Equity and Excellence Commission, echoes the sense of urgency of the “A Nation at Risk” manifesto that came out 30 years ago. But its primary focus is on the dramatic inequality of opportunity that characterizes America’s schools.

“With the highest poverty rate in the developed world, amplified by the inadequate education received by many children in low-income schools, the United States is threatening its own future,” it says.

The 52-page report centers its recommendations on five themes: developing fairer approaches to school funding; training and retaining good teachers; expanding pre-school; mitigating the effects of poverty; and tying governance and accountability systems to the goals of equity and excellence.

The commission that produced the report was packed with influential figures: scholars, union and civil rights leaders and others. And the members seem determined not to let the report gather dust. They’re out doing media interviews and writing op-eds about their findings and recommendations.

Yet implementing their ideas will likely be a struggle. Continue reading

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Trying – oh so hard — to look at the bright side

The Indiana legislature has produced almost no good news for public schools this year. But here’s a little: Republicans and Democrats joined together this week to push for improvement to Indiana’s A-to-F grading system for schools.

The Senate Education Committee voted 11-0 to approve Senate Bill 416 and send it to the full Senate. As amended before passage, it’s a simple bill: It would repeal the grading rules that the State Board of Education approved a year ago and direct the board to adopt new criteria based on students’ test-score growth compared to established standards, not on students’ growth compared to their peers.

This is arguably a rare victory for Glenda Ritz, the Democratic state superintendent of public instruction. The Indianapolis Star’s Scott Elliott writes that Ritz wants to replace the A-to-F grades with designations of reward schools, focus schools and priority schools. The ratings would be based on the percentage of students who pass state tests and a measure of student growth on test scores, Elliott writes.

But it’s way too early for Ritz’s supporters to declare victory. For one thing, getting a bill through a Senate committee is just a small step toward making it a law. For another, while almost everyone found something not to like about the current grading system, we won’t all agree on what a better system would look like. Continue reading

What’s wrong with school choice?

Columnist Dan Carpenter answers the question in Sunday’s Indianapolis Star: Vouchers, charter schools, parent trigger laws and the like “send a counter-educational message that one doesn’t have to work to improve a school; just go buy a new one.”

Another way to put it is this: Education isn’t a commodity. It’s not a product that you shop for and buy, after doing a little research on Consumer Reports. Education is, for students, parents and the public, a transaction: What you get out of it is related to what you put into it.

School choice means parents don’t have a real do-or-die stake in their children’s schools, or the public school systems that the schools are part of. If they don’t like the way the school is being run, if they’re unhappy with a teacher or a textbook, they can go elsewhere. The grass is greener … somewhere.

More importantly, they don’t have a stake in the schools attended by their neighbors’ children – or by the kids from across town. If everyone can opt out, if everyone is encouraged to shop around for a better deal, then no parent or citizen has to do the hard, demanding work of making sure the public schools do what’s best for all students.

Caleb Mills, regarded as the father of public education in Indiana, said as much more than 160 years ago. In one of his annual letters to the state legislature, he explained why he advocated “common schools” Continue reading

Indiana officials to Ritz voters: Drop dead

Hoosiers who voted for Glenda Ritz for state superintendent of public instruction no doubt did so for a variety of reasons. But many of those reasons added up to this: Ritz was an unapologetic champion of public education and it often seemed that her opponent, Tony Bennett, wasn’t.

So it’s a slap in the face to the voters who elected Ritz that Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and Republican legislators are now pushing bill after bill to undermine public schools. For example:

// House Bill 1003 would expand Indiana’s private-school voucher program, removing the requirement that students spend a year in a public school to qualify and providing generous taxpayer tuition subsidies for many families who don’t need the help. The House Education Committee approved the bill last week, 9-3, and it could go to the full House this week.

// House Bill 1358 is a “parent trigger” bill – it sets up procedures for a public school to be converted to a charter school or taken over by the State Board of Education if parents of 51 percent of the students sign petitions calling for the conversion. Sponsored by Rep. Todd Huston, who was Bennett’s chief of staff, it’s scheduled for a hearing in the Education Committee on Tuesday.

// Several bills are being considered that would reduce Ritz’s authority as state superintendent Continue reading

Indiana voucher expansion scheduled for vote

It looks like the Indiana House Education Committee will vote Thursday on a plan to significantly expand the state’s already generous private-school voucher program. Hoosiers who care about public education should fight this every step of the way.

Some observations, based on news stories – Indy Star, Evansville Courier-Press and NPR — about Tuesday’s hearing on the proposal, included in House Bill 1003:

First, it’s astonishing how vouchers, a fairly radical idea until recently, have morphed into a middle-class entitlement. Would-be voucher parents imply that they have a right to taxpayer funding of tuition at private schools, most of which are Christian schools. That would have seemed like a far-out idea a couple of years ago.

Second, some Republican officials seem to have embraced the Libertarian position that self-interested parental choice should be the primary driver of education decisions. The logical end point of this thinking is that we should abandon public schools and replace them with a marketplace of school “businesses” Continue reading