Jonathan Plucker has been guest-posting this week at Education Week’s Rick Hess Straight Up blog, and it has been great reading for anyone who’s interested in Indiana education politics or education policy in general.
Plucker was director of Indiana University’s Center for Evaluation and Education Policy until last fall, when he returned to his home state to become a professor at the University of Connecticut. He offers an inside take on the email controversies involving former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and state Superintendent Tony Bennett, along with original thoughts about teacher preparation, poverty and special education.
// Tony Bennett – Plucker did work for Bennett’s Indiana Department of Education, and he likes Bennett while being blunt about some of the man’s faults. Notably, he helped develop the initial framework for the state’s A-to-F school grading system, the subject of the Bennett email flap. “IDOE staff eventually took our model in a different direction, one I didn’t agree with,” he writes, downplaying the frustration that he no doubt felt.
// Teacher preparation – We don’t really know a lot about what types of preparation produce the best teachers, he writes. Therefore it makes sense to encourage innovation and let “1,000 flowers bloom” while evaluating what works. He says teachers are professionals and should have some control of what it takes to join the profession.
// Mitch Daniels – This is Plucker’s take on the emails in which Daniels, the former Indiana governor, insisted that students and prospective teachers shouldn’t be exposed to American history according to Howard Zinn. He says attempts at political intimidation are a fact of life when you work in state policy. And he says it’s no secret Daniels “gets pretty angry and overreacts from time to time,” something Plucker probably experienced.
// Poverty and reform – Plucker rejects the reformist orthodoxy that we can’t solve poverty, so any mention of it equates to making excuses for low standards. In fact, the U.S. could do much more with tax and social policy to lessen poverty’s effects on children. “We don’t talk about poverty more in education reform — when perhaps it should be the foundational issue — because we’ve chosen not to see it,” he writes. “It’s everywhere, it’s solvable, and education reform can’t truly succeed until we start reducing it.”
// Special education – Citing Scott Kaufman, author of “Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined,” Plucker calls for “re-questioning” special education, including gifted education. He says the topic usually gets short shrift in policy discussions. It’s complicated, and people have strong feelings, often based on the experiences of their children. “But the pass-the-buck approach to studying special education policy is ill-advised,” he writes, “and Scott Kaufman’s work should inspire us to ask and answer these questions more often and more effectively, and from a broader set of perspectives.”