Teachers Deserve (and Need) Our Support

This column by Indiana Chamber VP of Education and Workforce Development Policy Caryl Auslander originally appeared in Inside INdiana Business.

As we near the beginning of a new school year, what better opportunity is there to celebrate the people who make such a positive impact on so many lives.

I’m talking, of course, about teachers. That makes it all the more troubling to see recent stories about a dramatic decline in education school enrollment, as well as district difficulties in finding qualified teachers for available openings.

The all-too public disputes between the Indiana Department of Education and the State Board of Education are hopefully a thing of the past. There is no worse example, or bigger drain on morale, than adult battles that can – and should – be avoided.

As a wife, daughter and sister of teachers, I see firsthand the passion and commitment they bring to their work. As someone advocating in the areas of education and workforce development, I’m in constant contact with others who share that dedication to seeing all students have the opportunity to succeed.

I’m proud that my employer has a mission that calls for providing “economic opportunity and prosperity for the people of Indiana” and leads an Indiana Vision 2025 plan that boasts Outstanding Talent as its most important economic driver.

I’m pleased that our state has opened new doors for families through the introduction and expansion of charter schools and vouchers. These schools and these programs, like all others in education, however, must continue to demonstrate proven results. There is no room for underperformance in this critical enterprise.

I’m happy that the Indiana Chamber and its allies have helped deliver alternative routes for persons holding professional degrees to share their expertise by becoming teachers. The success stories of these career changers and the lives they impact continue to grow.

I’m encouraged that full-day kindergarten options are in place and that preschool pilot programs are taking off in a few selected counties. The expedient expansion of early education, especially for low-income and other disadvantaged population, is hopefully among the next steps. The results are proven and the need is great.

But what about those teachers? They are the MOST critical factor in each student’s ability to obtain the quality education that allows them to become productive members of society. There is no doubt that more needs to be done to attract, retain and reward the best teachers. “More” includes:

  • Increasing starting pay for teachers to attract the best and brightest to the profession
  • Paying our best teachers more money
  • Directing more than the 57% (as of 2013) of every K-12 dollar that reaches the classroom
  • Providing meaningful feedback and professional development for all educators
  • Celebrating teaching successes and lifting up those who have the greatest classroom impact

While teachers play that crucial role, discussions about public education need to focus on the students. Equal access to quality education and success in school for every child is the most important social justice issue of our time. That quality education is the surest way to break cycles of poverty, transform individual lives, lift up our communities and our state, and attract the best employers and jobs.

Thousands of well-paying jobs are going unfilled today and our future ability to secure the best jobs relies on what we do now to provide educational opportunities for all. Every child, every school and every community benefits when all children are learning and succeeding.

Education is not about public versus private or unions versus politicians. It’s about parents, educators, employers, communities and all others coming together and creating an expectation, opportunity and clear path to success for every child.

State Board of Education — New and Improved?

The revamped Indiana State Board of Education met on June 1 with very little fanfare or drama compared to previous board meetings. The new board follows the passage of SEA 1, authored by Sen. Travis Holdman (R-Markle), which required a change in
the composition as well as a reconstitution of the board.

While the Indiana Chamber was happy for a productive meeting in June, only time will tell if this cooperation will last long term with a majority of the board members being appointed by the Governor and with Superintendent Glenda Ritz’s recent announcement to run against Gov. Pence in 2016. They have very different philosophies when it comes to education policy.

As a reminder, the Indiana Chamber publicly supported the House version of the legislation that simply allowed the State Board to elect its own chair, HB 1609 authored by Rep. Jud McMillin (R-Brookville). We felt this was the most simple and straightforward way to fix the problems that had been occurring with the State Board over the past two years. However, the Senate version of the bill was the vehicle chosen to move through the legislative process so we worked diligently to make sure the bill was in the best shape possible.

The legislation, signed into law by Gov. Pence on May 7, included a 2017 implementation date for electing a new chair of the State Board, the creation of a vice chair of the board that shares agenda-setting responsibilities with the chair (which we expect to be elected during the July board meeting) and changed the makeup of the board itself. The Governor’s appointees decreased from 10 to eight, with two legislative appointees added – one by the Speaker of the House and one from the President Pro Tempore.

Gov. Pence reappointed the following three new members to the State Board:

  • Eddie Melton – a resident of Merrillville (First District), Melton works as manager of federal governmental relations and community relations at NIPSCO. He was also appointed by the Governor to serve on the Commission on the Social Status of Black Males and serves as the Midwest regional director on the American Association of Blacks in Energy.
  • Dr. Vince Bertram – a resident of Zionsville (Fifth District), Bertram serves as president and CEO of Project Lead The Way, the nation’s leading provider of K-12 STEM programs serving more than 6,500 elementary, middle and high schools across the country. Bertram is the former superintendent of the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation and was appointed by the U.S. State Department to be the STEM education expert for the United States Speaker and Specialist Program. Bertram also serves on the Indiana Chamber’s K-12 policy committee.
  • Lee Ann Kwiatkowski – a resident of Greenwood (Ninth District), Kwiatkowski currently serves as superintendent for school improvement at the Metropolitan School District of Warren Township in Indianapolis. She is also a former staffer at the Indiana Department of Education where she served in such roles as director of school turnaround, director of differentiated learning and director of the Title I
    program.

The reappointed members of the State Board include:

  • Dr. David Freitas – a resident of Granger (Second District) and has served in higher education for over 30 years including time spent as a university vice provost, dean of education at four universities and dean of the schools of business, fine arts and technology.
  • Cari Wicker – a resident of Uniondale (Third District) and a sixth-grade language arts and social studies teacher at Riverview Middle School in Huntington.
  • Sarah O’Brien – a resident of Avon (Fourth District) and a fourth-grade teacher at River Birch Elementary School.
  • Gordon Hendry – a resident of Indianapolis (Seventh District) who serves as first vice president of CBRE, Inc.
  • BJ Watts – a resident of Evansville (Eighth District) who teaches in the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation.

The Governor did not re-appoint Tony Walker, Troy Albert or Brad Oliver, while members Andrea Neal and Dan Elsener (the Indiana Chamber’s current chair of the K-12 policy committee) requested that they not be considered for reappointment.

Speaker of the House Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) appointed Dr. Byron Earnest to the board. Earnest was Indiana’s 2010 Teacher of the Year, is the current head of schools for Hoosier Academies and is the former principal for Manual High School in IPS. President Pro Tempore David Long (R-Fort Wayne) appointed Steve Yager of Fort Wayne, who is the former superintendent of Southwest and Northwest Allen County Schools.

Oliver: Bucking Status Quo Critical to Education Innovation

The following is the third in a week-long series of blogs in support of National School Choice Week (Jan. 26 – Feb. 1) from some of Indiana’s leading figures in this ongoing educational effort. This is authored by Dr. Brad Oliver, associate dean of education at Indiana Wesleyan University and a member of the Indiana State Board of Education.

As our country celebrates National School Choice Week, it is important to reflect on the progress Indiana has made to create choice opportunities for Hoosier families. This year, over 20,000 children in Indiana are attending a high quality public, public charter or private school of their choosing.

Indiana’s progress has not been without challenges from those who would seek to preserve a status quo culture in schools over allowing students access to alternative choices for securing a high quality education. Preserving the status quo is not a “winning” strategy for ensuring the long-term prosperity of our students or our state.

So what should be the underlying assumptions behind Indiana’s education policies intended to result in widespread Hoosier prosperity?

  1. Hoosier families should always have the right to decide which school best meets their child’s needs. Parents and guardians make numerous decisions with respect to a child’s welfare and development from birth to adulthood. Given the correlation between a child’s education experience and their future prosperity as an adult, education policy in Indiana must expand current choice and access to innovative, high quality systems of education.
  2. Education innovation is crucial to prosperity and is never achieved by preserving the status quo. Perhaps the greatest outgrowth of education reforms in Indiana are the current conversations to find innovative solutions for ensuring Indiana graduates are college and career ready. Innovation is never the outgrowth of status quo education paradigms, but rather the natural byproduct of competitive excellence. As Indiana seeks to reduce the number of college students requiring freshman remediation and develops seamless transitions for high school graduates to enter high skill, high wage jobs, Indiana’s education reform policies will continue to serve as a catalyst for new, innovative solutions in education.
  3. Participating in responsible, constructive dialogue about education is always the best avenue for serving Hoosier students. In a world dominated by social media and instant access to news and journalistic analysis of public policy, Hoosiers must agree to be intentional in finding appropriate avenues for public discourse on education. Education policy promulgated from adult-centered agendas are polarizing and unhelpful, but education policy developed from bipartisan, student-centered conversations offer the greatest potential to finding long-term education solutions that work.

Indiana’s progress to offer Hoosier families school choice, and the emerging innovative educational solutions that come from competitive excellence, are indeed reasons to celebrate in our state. We should remain resolved to not pass on status quo educational systems of learning to the next generation, but commit to the critical conversations that result in discovering new and alternative education paradigms that contribute to widespread Hoosier prosperity.