Five reasons to question mandatory computer science

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce wants Indiana to be the first state in the country to make studying computer science a requirement for high-school graduation. Here are reasons to be skeptical:

It’s an extreme idea. No other state makes computer science a diploma requirement, according to Jennifer Zinth, high school and STEM director for the Education Commission of the States. (Mississippi requires one unit of computer science or technology; Utah requires a semester of “digital studies.”) As far as I can tell, the primary supporters of tech education are not seriously proposing it.

The big national push for more computer science in the schools is coming from Code.org, an advocacy group backed with more than $60 million from Microsoft, Facebook, Google and other powerhouse donors. Its goals include having all public schools offer computer science and to allowing computer science courses to count toward high-school math and science graduation requirements.

Thanks to savvy marketing and celebrity support from the likes of Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Barack Obama, it’s had some success. But Code.org doesn’t advocate making computer science a requirement graduation, co-founder Hadi Partovi says. Continue reading

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Should schools chief be appointed? Let the voters decide

So the Indiana Chamber of Commerce wants to make Indiana’s superintendent of public instruction an appointed position. That isn’t necessarily a bad idea. There are reasonable arguments for and against the approach, as the IU Center for Evaluation and Education Policy explained several years ago.

And to be fair, the chamber took this position before Hoosier voters elected a Democrat, Glenda Ritz, as state superintendent in 2012. The rationale is that the governor and the schools chief should be on the same page when it comes to education. Chamber President Kevin Brinegar says the governor “is seen as the true leader on education policy” and should have a superintendent who will implement his ideas.

Indiana is one of 12 states that elect their chief school officers, according to the National Association of State Boards of Education. In another 12, the governor appoints the education chief. In 23 states, the chief is appointed by the state board of education.

But even if you think Indiana’s superintendent should be appointed, there’s a wrong way and a right way to go about making the change.

The wrong way is what the chamber is proposing: Having the Republican-controlled legislature rewrite the law to remove Ritz from office before her term is up. Continue reading

Common Core debate: Be careful what you pay for

It’s often noted that the politics of the Common Core State Standards make for odd bedfellows. Disagreements over the standards may also be putting a chill on some intimate political relationships.

You could watch this play out on Twitter as Derek Redelman, vice president for education of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, commented during a recent hearing of the legislative study committee evaluating the Common Core.

The chamber supports the standards, which Indiana adopted in 2010. But a lot of Republicans in the legislature have swallowed the tea party line that they are a federal takeover of the schools – or worse. Early this year, the legislature voted to “pause” the implementation of the standards and study their effectiveness and cost.

On Tuesday, the study committee was supposed to be considering a report by the state Office of Management and Budget on the cost of implementing the standards. But testimony veered off into the usual anti-Core rhetoric, and some lawmakers followed.

Redelman was tweeting his frustration.

Rep Rhoads trying to downplay OMB testimony. Consistently, the only info she finds credible is from CommonCore opposition. #closedminds.

Rhoads is Rep. Rhonda Rhoads, R-Corydon, who in 2010 ousted long-time Democratic House member Paul Robertson thanks in part to at least $23,000 in campaign contributions from Indiana Business for Responsive Government, the chamber’s political action committee.

Sen Schneider now joining Rep Rhoads in questioning OMB findings on CommonCore. Apparently, OMB report does not fit their storyline.”

Schneider is Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis. He edged Democrat Tim Delaney in one of the closest Senate races of 2012. According to campaign finance reports, the chamber gave at least $15,000 to Schneider and nothing to Delaney.

Former Rep Cindy Noe encourages state to “walk away from CommonCore.” Funny. Voters did that to her last fall.

Indeed, Noe, a Republican, lost her 2012 re-election bid in an overwhelmingly GOP year — despite nearly $30,000 in contributions from the chamber.

One conclusion to draw is that, whatever their faults, Indiana legislators aren’t bought and paid for. They don’t seem to feel a need to, as the saying goes, dance with who brung them.

But for the chamber, the lesson might be that it’s time to be a little more discriminating when it comes to backing candidates. If the business group is serious about supporting education, it ought to be looking for credible allies on both sides of the aisle.

Next step in Indiana’s war on unions

Credit the Indiana Chamber of Commerce with being the first to remind us, this legislative season, of the immortal words of Henry Adams: “Politics, as a practice, whatever its professions, has always been the systematic organization of hatreds.”

How else does one explain the chamber’s current push to ban the practice of deducting union dues from the paychecks of Indiana school teachers? The Indianapolis Star reports Sunday that the business group has made the issue a top priority for the legislative session that starts in January.

Chamber President Kevin Brinegar tells the Star that government entities, such as school corporations, “shouldn’t be in the business of collecting union dues or, particularly, political contributions.” Maybe or maybe not, but isn’t that a decision that local elected officials can make?

No one is forcing school districts to deduct dues from the paychecks of teachers who voluntarily choose to join the Indiana State Teachers Association or the smaller Indiana Federation of Teachers. If districts are offering to make the deductions, it’s because local school boards have agreed to do so.

And teachers can’t be required to join the union or pay representation fees, even though the unions must represent all teachers covered by local contracts, whether they’re union members are not. That “right to freeload” was written into law Continue reading