The anti-Common Core election campaign that wasn’t

It’s been 19 months since Glenda Ritz upset Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, but some people are still struggling to make sense of the election. One tempting explanation: Voters punished Bennett for supporting the Common Core State Standards. From there, it’s a short step to imagining a campaign that didn’t happen.

You’ll see it in “The State Education Agency: At the Helm, Not the Oar,” a Fordham Institute policy piece on state education departments. “Political backlash has often frustrated state efforts to adopt, protect, and implement the CCSS,” the report says. “Tony Bennett, Indiana’s chief, was defeated in an upset election by Glenda Ritz, who ran largely on an anti-CCSS platform.”

In fact, that didn’t happen at all. I wasn’t involved in Ritz’s campaign, but I paid pretty close attention. I don’t recall her raising Common Core as an issue, much less running “largely on an anti-CCSS platform.” But I don’t entirely trust my memory, so I reached out to people who were involved in the campaign, to the organization Republicans for Glenda Ritz, even to someone who is close to Bennett. They all agreed that Common Core wasn’t a point of emphasis for Ritz or much of a factor in the election.

Trish Whitcomb, Ritz’s campaign manager, said Ritz didn’t campaign against Common Core. The topic would occasionally come up at campaign events or on social media, she said; and Ritz would say Indiana had rushed to adopt CCSS in 2010 without much input and it would be appropriate to take another look.

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On Common Core, Indiana declares victory

Back in 1966, when things were starting to go bad in Vietnam, Vermont Sen. George Aiken famously suggested the U.S. should “declare victory” and get out. Did Indiana Gov. Mike Pence just pull an Aiken on the Common Core State Standards?

For a conservative politician with alleged presidential ambitions – i.e., for Mike Pence – the Common Core had the makings of a quagmire. The business community was for it. But to the Republican base, it was anathema, tainted by support from the White House.

Pence’s answer was to declare victory and move on, to reject the Core on principle but embrace standards that, by some accounts, are awfully similar. The State Board of Education approved the new standards Monday..

Indiana adopted the Common Core in 2010, and schools were transitioning to using them. But state legislators caught the anti-Core fever. First they “paused” the standards, and then they repealed them.

Pence got in front of the parade, calling for “uncommonly high” standards “written by Hoosiers, for Hoosiers.” And in the Indy Star, he insisted that’s what he got from a panel of teachers, professors and business people who worked from the Common Core and Indiana’s old standards to create a new set.

“Here in Indiana,” he wrote, “we will use our own standards, we will use our own assessment, and our schools and teachers will choose their own textbooks and curricula. We have proven once again that Hoosiers are best served by Indiana solutions.”

Diehard Common Core opponents fumed that the new state standards are just the Core rebranded. Continue reading

PDK poll: Charters yes, vouchers no

Seventy percent of Americans oppose the idea of vouchers – publicly funded tuition subsidies for parents who send their children to private schools. On the other hand, 68 percent support the concept of charter schools, and a majority think the U.S. should have more of them.

Those are among the findings of the 2013 PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools. The poll is conducted each year and is sponsored by Bloomington, Ind.-based Phil Delta Kappa International.

The voucher result is especially interesting. PDK says it’s the strongest opposition since the poll began asking about vouchers, over 20 years ago. Just last year, only 55 percent opposed vouchers. Voucher supporters will argue that PDK is primarily an organization of public-school teachers and its results can’t be trusted. But the question in the poll – “Do you favor or oppose allowing students and parents to choose a private school to attend at public expense’’ – is a straightforward and accurate description of what vouchers do.

And the poll also finds strong and growing support for charter schools, something that may not please public education advocates. This suggests charter schools are here to stay, and maybe we need to judge schools on whether they promote opportunity for all children, not how they’re organized.

Another interesting result is that 58 percent of respondents were against using students’ scores on standardized tests to evaluate teachers. That’s a reversal from what PDK found just last year. And it runs counter to the support for test-based teacher evaluations in a recent Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey of parents. Continue reading

Legislative roundup: Pre-K, vouchers, Common Core and more

The 2013 session of the Indiana General Assembly is in full swing. Here’s a look at some education issues, with help from Terry Spradlin, director for education policy of the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University.

Pre-kindergarten

Pressure has been building to address the fact that Indiana is one of only 11 states that don’t fund pre-K programs. Legislative leaders seem to be on board but Gov. Mike Pence has been lukewarm on the issue. He barely mentioned it in his State of the State address – he again cited the Busy Bees preschool in Columbus as a model, even though Bartholomew County voters rejected a property-tax referendum to fund the program, making it unaffordable for many families.

The bill to watch appears to be House Bill 1004, which establishes a pilot program of state-funded vouchers allowing families to send their children to preschools that earn a Level 3 or 4 in the state’s Pathways to Quality voluntary rating system. Lawmakers have suggested funding the pilot with $7 million. If it’s a full-day program, that would serve about 1,000 of the 81,150 Indiana 3- and 4-year-olds in low-income families.

Many of us would prefer state support for public schools to provide free, high-quality preschool for needy children. But given political reality, that’s probably not in the cards.

The state is looking at pre-K after finally implementing full-day kindergarten. Spradlin noted that Gov. Frank O’Bannon and Superintendent of Public Instruction Suellen Reed made a big push for FDK in 1999. The first grants were awarded to schools in 2001, but it wasn’t until last year that the program was fully funded.

“Hopefully it will not take 13 years” to fund pre-K, Spradlin said. “The evidence is there – 39 other states are doing it and we know from those states what’s working and what’s not working.”

Vouchers

Indiana has one of the most expansive private-school voucher programs in the country, but Pence and House Republican leaders want to be even more liberal in directing taxpayer dollars to private schools. Continue reading

Indiana legislators are up to their usual mischief

Will Rogers famously said that “it’s better to have termites in your house than the legislature in session,” and the Indiana General Assembly looks to be well on its way to proving him right again, at least when it comes to education. Among the bills that have been posted in advance of the 2013 session:

// SB 102 bans release time for union activity by public employees, including teachers. Like right-to-work and the forthcoming effort by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce effort to bar schools from collecting union dues with paycheck deductions, it’s another attempt by the state to dictate what employers and employees can agree to. Authors are Sens. Jim Banks, R-Columbia City, and Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn.

// SB 120 requires public and state-accredited schools to teach cursive handwriting as part of the curriculum. Author is Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg.

// SB 189 allows high-performing schools districts – i.e., those serving mostly students from upper-income families – to be exempt from many state rules and regulations. Lead author is Sen. Mike Delph, R- (where else?) Carmel.

// SB 191 bars schools from starting the academic year before Labor Day or extending it past June 10 (with exceptions for year-round school and balanced calendars). Lead author is Delph.

// SB 193 would force Indiana to withdraw from the national Common Core Standards initiative, which the State Board of Education agreed to join back in 2010. Author is Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis.

The bill that’s been getting a lot of attention is SB 23, which would let schools require students to recite the Lord’s Prayer at the start of the school day. Continue reading