Bennett Stresses Reward for Quality Teaching Over Seniority

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett spoke to the Columbia City Rotary Club Tuesday and emphasized his hope to keep the best teachers in Indiana’s school corporations. The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette has the story; here it is in full:

Indiana public schools need to be centers for student learning, not employment agencies for adults, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett said Tuesday.

Teacher contracts need to be overhauled so that if layoffs occur, it’s the worst-performing teachers who lose their jobs, not the ones with the least seniority, Bennett told members of the Columbia City Rotary Club.

“We have to have the political courage to have any and every discussion that puts children first,” Bennett said. “We’ve built a system that really doesn’t do that. So I think we all have to have the courage to say what are the structures that will afford us the opportunity to make decisions that are best for Indiana children.”

Bennett echoed the sentiments of Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Eugene White, who told legislators this session he would be in favor of repealing the law that allows collective bargaining for teachers so he could overhaul his schools with the right people in the right spots.

Bennett offered a four-point system for how Indiana’s schools can become the best in the nation.

He compared these goals with President John F. Kennedy’s goal he outlined Sept. 12, 1962, that the United States win the race to the moon.

“I think we need to go back to Sept. 12, 1962, if we’re going to talk about education,” Bennett said. “The world our kids compete in today is very different than the world in 1962.”

Bennett is challenging Hoosiers to acknowledge that students are in a competition for jobs; change the discussion from how to get more money for education to how to get more education for the money; put student learning before assuring jobs for adults; and develop a system that recruits, trains, rewards and evaluates teachers as professionals.

“We have to take a hard look at how we expend our resources,” Bennett said.

Among the goals for the Indiana Department of Education during Bennett’s first term, he said, is for 90 percent of Hoosier students to pass the ISTEP+ and for 90 percent to graduate high school.

“If this is a fight we’re afraid of fighting, we’re in trouble,” Bennett said.

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