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

AEI: Implementing Indiana’s ed-reform agenda no sure thing

A new report from the conservative American Enterprise Institute raises questions about the education policies that Indiana has adopted under Gov. Mitch Daniels and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett – not whether they are good policies, but whether they’re likely to succeed.

Titled “Implementing Indiana’s ‘Putting Students First’ Agenda: Early Lessons and Potential Futures,” the policy brief highlights the gap between the top-down adoption of the policies by Republican state officials and their eventual implementation by local schools boards, superintendents and principals.

“Unless state and local implementers seize opportunities present in the law, efforts such as Putting Students First likely will prompt new rounds of compliance-oriented behavior, wasted money, bureaucratic busyness, frustrated teachers, and few or no substantive gains,” it concludes.

Authors are Rick Hess, AEI director of education policy studies; Paul Manna, an associate professor of government at the College of William and Mary; and Keenan Kelley, a William and Mary student. Hess is known as a strong supporter of what’s usually called education reform. In Indiana that’s the Daniels-Bennett agenda: an expansion of charter schools, state-funded vouchers for private schools, performance-based evaluation of teachers and limits on collective bargaining.

Even if you don’t agree with the authors’ perspective, however, the report is worth reading. A few highlights:

// “Indiana’s Republican leaders opted for wielding brute political force in passing the Putting Students First agenda in 2011,” the report says. Every Senate Democrat and all but one House Democrat voted against all four bills that made up the agenda. Continue reading

Checking up on Mitch Daniels at AEI

Gov. Mitch Daniels got several things right in his closely watched May 4 speech on education policy at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C.

He acknowledged that, for all the hoopla over Indiana’s expansive new private-school voucher program, the vast majority of students will continue to attend public schools. And he made the key point that the success or failure of Indiana’s education reforms will depend on how they are implemented.

Daniels kept down the bombast, generally refrained from demonizing teachers’ unions, and even had a kind word for President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, praising their focus on teacher effectiveness and charter schools.

You can watch video of the speech and a follow-up interview at the AEI website. You’ll see that, while some in the audience were looking for Daniels to signal his intention to run for president, he kept it low-key – more like a guest lecture for a college class than a tryout for the national political stage.

But some of what he said calls for scrutiny:

Teacher effectiveness — Daniels said teacher quality is “the dominant variable” in determining student success. “Some have quantified it as 20 times … the importance of whatever’s in second place,” he said. Previously, he has said teacher quality is 20 times as important as any other factor, including poverty, a bogus claim. If he had said teacher quality was the most important school-based factor, we wouldn’t argue.

Indiana test scores – Decrying evaluations that rate 99 percent of Indiana teachers effective, Continue reading