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Last updated: Thu. Nov. 08, 2012 - 10:18 am EDT

EDITORIAL

Will education in Indiana return to the backwaters?

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In another column on this page, longtime teacher Andrea Neal of the Indiana Policy Review notes that “The Weekly Standard” credited Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels for “taking Indiana from the backwaters of education reform in America to the forefront.”

Daniels, through point man Tony Bennett, the superintendent of public instruction for the last four years, pushed through the General Assembly the most aggressive, far-reaching school reform package in the nation.

Bennett wrote on this page last week, “Schools once considered chronically failing have taken the new accountability measures as a call to action. The number of persistently underperforming schools has reduced dramatically, from 24 in 2009 to four in 2011. This year just one school faced state intervention. I especially am proud of teachers in these struggling schools who have doubled-down their efforts to drive student achievement.

“We should celebrate this remarkable success made possible by high expectations, increased accountability, and good, old-fashioned hard work. School leaders and teachers across the state are creating a newly energized culture of student learning that focuses on the individual needs of students, and their efforts are paying off.”

But the voters apparently didn’t agree. Bennett will be replaced in the next term by Democrat Glenda Ritz, who survived Tuesday’s election — what an Associated Press analysis called “a referendum on education policies that are endorsed by conservatives across the country.”

The nation was watching Tuesday to see what our voters think of the reforms. And those who voted for Bennett were approving the performance and accountability measures and the programs that give parents more choice, such as charter public schools and a voucher program permitting public money to be used at private schools; tougher standards for measuring the effectiveness of teachers and schools; a system that ties teacher pay to student performance and limits what unions can bargain for.

Those who voted for Ritz were voting for different reforms or no reforms at all. Ritz will give more authority to teachers, who feel that the state unfairly blames them for all of public education’s failings. She will probably ease back on accountability standards.

Because public education has for so long been falling short, there need to be reforms. Are the Daniels-Bennett reforms the right ones? It takes time to find that out. But abandoning them before they even take hold because the stakeholders are upset by change would be foolish and wasteful.

Ritz has pledged to roll back many of Bennett’s changes. She says parents as well as teachers disliked Bennett’s changes, particularly a move toward private takeovers of public schools that repeatedly fail performance grades based largely on standardized tests.

Many educators have opposed changes under Bennett, and Ritz’s victory was no doubt fueled by teachers striking back at the imposition of those measures.

Let’s just hope their decision to put Ritz in office doesn’t return Indiana to the backwaters of public education.


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