Monday, November 8, 2010

Thoughful Moderator in Education Reform

An editorial from the Indy Star unusually offers a bit of a voice of reason in the fervor to "reform" Indiana's schools.  Good cautions here but if you've been following the Daniels/Bennett agenda, "a thoughtful moderator" doesn't seem likely.

Strike balance in push to better educate children- Indy Star

Gov. Mitch Daniels and the Indiana General Assembly need to move quickly but also thoughtfully to overhaul Indiana's educational system.  Last week's election results gave the governor and his Republican allies in the Statehouse a clear path to pursue reforms they've long desired, including merit pay for teachers, less rigidity in union work rules, and more freedom to open charter schools.

Much of Daniels' agenda makes sense, at least on paper.  But the governor, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett and legislative leaders still need to show how ideas such as bonus pay for top-performing teachers will work in real-life schools.

And although the push to provide parents with additional options for educating their children is certainly welcome, the track record for charter schools is mixed. Some charters, like some traditional schools, are outstanding [19%, that's one in five people]. Others are mediocre at best. [and some are criminally negligent]

Teachers unions in Indiana have long brandished too much power in the General Assembly. Year after year, they've persuaded allies such as outgoing House Speaker Pat Bauer to kill good ideas and to promote measures that favor adults' interests over children's. Curtailing the unions' power is long overdue.

Yet, a balance must be struck. Veteran teachers need enough job security to ensure that they're not driven from classrooms because of the failure of others, including administrators and parents. Accountability is a vital concept, but it's critical that results are measured accurately and rewards and demerits are meted out fairly.

On Tuesday, the governor and the state superintendent were given a clear opportunity to move aggressively. They can't waste it.  But every reform-minded leader needs someone who is able to moderate excesses and promote accountability.

With Democrats reduced to the point of irrelevancy in the Statehouse, and deservedly so because of their absolute refusal to confront Indiana's educational problems, others must emerge to vet ideas driven by Daniels and Bennett.

It wouldn't be disloyal but prudent for Republican leaders such as likely House Education Committee Chairman Robert Behning and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Luke Kenley to take the lead on ensuring that reform measures aren't rushed through the legislative process.

Educators in the state's public and private universities also can help evaluate the flood of new proposals, including one that would provide financial incentives for some students to skip their senior year of high school to start college early.

Is the status quo acceptable in Indiana's schools? Absolutely not. But not every reform idea has merit.

Daniels and Bennett clearly understand the task ahead of them. They will be aggressive agents of change on behalf of the state's children. The key job of thoughtful moderator, however, is for now vacant.


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