Fact-checking the Indiana State of Education speech

Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett mostly told the truth in his State of Education address last week, but not always the whole truth. There were no pants-on-fire whoppers – just the fact-bending you expect in an election year.

A few examples, with Bennett’s claims in italics:

(More students) are taking and passing challenging Advanced Placement exams. In fact, Indiana has the second highest two-year AP pass rate gains in the nation. In four years, the number of Indiana students taking advanced classes and exams has increased by almost 50 percent, and their success rate has jumped by 48 percent. This is news worth celebrating.

It is, but according to the College Board’s AP Report to the Nation, Indiana remains in the middle of the pack for most measures of AP test performance. Indiana’s percentage of graduates who took an AP class and scored 3 or higher on the exam is below the national average. Its rate of improvement in passing scores between 2001 and 2011 is right at the national average.

Beginning this school year, all districts will use locally designed teacher evaluations. These new evaluations must consider students’ academic performance and growth, but local schools have full flexibility to determine the other factors to include in the overall evaluation of teacher effectiveness.

It would be accurate to say that “most school districts” will begin using the new evaluations this year. However, some districts, like the Monroe County Community School Corp. in Bloomington, are operating under multi-year teacher contracts that specify how teachers are to be evaluated. Continue reading

Bennett calls for school district accountability, says little about pre-K

What would a second term in office for Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett look like? Bennett didn’t give a lot of clues during his 2012 State of Education address on Tuesday.

Bennett suggested expanding Indiana’s accountability system to include school districts, not just schools. And he said the state needs to better align its K-12 education with the expectations of colleges and employers.

Other than that, there didn’t seem to be a lot of new ideas in the speech, which included what some would consider fulsome praise for outgoing Gov. Mitch Daniels and claims that improved high-school graduation rates and tests scores have resulted from “Hoosier values” and the reforms adopted under Bennett’s watch. It seemed more like a victory lap than a look ahead to the next four years.

Bennett gave only a lukewarm endorsement to expanding state-support preschool, a cause that the Indianapolis Star and others have begun championing. Continue reading

State of the superintendent: triumphant

Scott Elliott in the Indianapolis Star used the right word to describe Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett’s State of Education address last week. “Bennett was triumphant about the state’s once-lagging education reform accomplishments in an emotional second annual State of Education address,” he wrote.

And why wouldn’t Bennett feel victorious? The Republican-controlled state legislature gave him and Gov. Mitch Daniels all the education reforms they asked for this year: the nation’s most far-reaching school voucher program, more charter schools, mandatory merit pay and performance-based evaluations for teachers and strict limits on teacher collective bargaining.

So Bennett was in a position to boast a little. And he could afford to be gracious, giving Indiana’s teachers some of the credit for improved test scores and better school grades under the state accountability system.

One problem with triumph, though: What do you do next? Bennett quoted Republican icon Ronald Reagan on the importance of painting with “bold, unmistakable colors.” But his proposals for future action seemed a bit, well, pastel.

Require every student to take an online course to graduate from high school. Give letter grades to school districts, not just to schools. Shorten the time frame for the state to take over schools that keep getting failing grades. Add multiple “count days” throughout the school year for the purpose of determining school enrollment and state funding.

They’re all ideas that are worth talking about, but nothing there seems likely to make a huge difference in the state of education.

The real issues, going forward, have to do with implementing the changes that the legislature passed this year. Where will schools find the resources to carry out fair and meaningful teacher evaluations? Will the state really start holding charter schools accountable for their performance? Will vouchers pull needed resources away from public schools? Will the voucher law hold up against a court challenge?

Most importantly, how will we know whether Indiana’s education reforms will do anything to help Hoosier students?

That said, Bennett’s passionate cheerleading for education in Indiana is something to applaud. And it’s noteworthy that 200 invited guests showed up for the speech to hear what he had to say. If nothing else, the state of education in Indiana is: closely watched.

‘State of education’ speech – what would Martin think?

The high-minded idealism in Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett’s “state of education” speech was almost enough to make a person shout amen. But you have to wonder what Martin Luther King Jr., whose words Bennett invoked, would have thought of the superintendent’s assertion that school funding doesn’t matter. Or his argument that schools will compete their way to excellence.

Bennett spoke Monday at Creston Middle School on the east side of Indianapolis. The speech will be broadcast at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday on public TV stations, including WTIU in Bloomington. You can read the text on the Indiana Department of Education website.

Citing Democratic U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s statement that education is “the civil rights issue of our time,” the Republican superintendent went further: “It’s the civil rights issue for every generation.”

Bennett talked about visiting Indiana schools where most kids come from low-income and minority households. “While there are some exceptional educators in these schools, research tells us these students are least likely to have great teachers and leadership,” he said. Continue reading