Report Card Coming for Teacher Prep Efforts

19293579Teacher preparation programs have been the subject of much scrutiny in recent years. It appears Washington agrees with the need for some evaluation and measurement.

Governing reports:

The federal Department of Education announced preliminary rules requiring states to develop rating systems for teacher preparation programs that would track a range of measures, including the job placement and retention rates of graduates and the academic performance of their students.

In a move that drew some criticism, the Education Department said the new rating systems could be used to determine eligibility for certain federal grants used by teacher candidates to help pay for their training.

Critics have long faulted teacher training as inadequately preparing candidates for the realities and rigors of the job.

In a conference call with reporters, Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, said that far too many education programs set lower requirements for entry than other university majors.

“The last thing they want or need is an easy A,” Mr. Duncan said. “This is nothing short of a moral issue. All educators want to do a great job for their students, but too often they struggle at the beginning of their careers and have to figure out too much on the job by themselves.”

The proposed rules will be subject to public comment for 60 days. If they are adopted, states will be given a year to develop the rating systems, with alternative programs like Teach for America also subject to the rules.

Deja Vu for School Accountability

SIt’s only been a couple of years since the uproar over Indiana’s school accountability measures. To be sure, there were a lot of reasons for the pushback from educators and eventual legislation invalidating the current system. But one of the leading reasons was the decision to base “student growth” measures on comparisons of students to other students with similar starting points rather than measuring their progress toward the state’s academic standards.

But a year after legislative leaders, the Governor and the state superintendent convened a panel to construct a new accountability system, nothing has changed and the majority of the panel is set to recommend the same approach that is already in place – the same “growth” measure that has already been forbidden by the state Legislature.

How could this happen? Well, there are lots of factors.

Most importantly, the staff of the Department of Education and the Governor’s Center for Education and Career Innovation have simply worn out the panel. After 11 all-day meetings, committee members have been given none of the data that has been requested (and promised at the first meeting) to help develop alternatives; and the staffs have provided no outside experts other than people who developed Indiana’s current accountability model.

The staffs have also played games with terminology, suggesting most recently that they have accomplished the law’s focus on “criterion standards” because their peer-based growth measures create a new target performance level.

But the law doesn’t call for that. Rather, it is quite a bit simpler – as stated in the 2013 legislation:

“The new standards of assessing school performance: (1) must be based on a measurement of individual student academic performance and growth to proficiency; and (2) may not be based on a measurement of student performance or growth compared with peers.”

The final proposal must still be reviewed by the Legislature and approved by the State Board of Education. But if passed as currently drafted, it’s hard to imagine how a school that’s unhappy with its grade wouldn’t have solid standing for challenging it.

The state superintendent has been an outspoken opponent of school accountability, generally, and Indiana’s accountability system, specifically. But why the Governor’s staff would support this re-adoption of a failed and outlawed accountability system is baffling.

Tony Bennett: DOE’s New Sheriff

After spending about 90 minutes with Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, I think it’s fair to call him a "gunslinger." He admits that he will likely get himself in trouble at times with what he says. But as long as he feels he’s speaking the truth about improving the state’s subpar K-12 performance, so be it.

Bennett brings an energy that was definitely lacking. You can read a Q&A in the next BizVoice magazine, available online February 27 and in the mail to 15,000 print subscribers the same day. One subject not included in that story was full-day kindergarten.

He says although "the governor and I feel very strongly the need to finish the job (fully funding the program), we can’t write a check we can’t cash." Regarding the effectiveness of such programs thus far, Bennett notes, "As school corporations, we’ve not been ahead of the curve on articulating a curriculum based on full-day kindergarten. We made the shift from half day to full day, but did we articulate our curriculum for first, second and third grades based on full-day kindergarten? In many cases, I’m afraid we didn’t."

What do others say? From our roundtable discussion in the same issue on a variety of K-12 issues, Evansville superintendent Vince Bertram claims, "I think we’re going to see a major culture shift in the Department of Education from a strictly compliant culture to one of service and support for schools. So, if we call the Department of Education, it’s not that the answer is, ‘No, we can’t do this,’ it’s ‘Let’s find a way to get this,’ and that’s going to be very helpful for schools."

David Shane, a member of the State Board of Education, adds that deregulation will be a major theme for both Bennett and the board. Like Bertram, he calls it a transition from a "controlling environment to a supporting environment."

Read the latest from the DOE and check out the BizVoice stories at the end of the month.

Bennett Offers Straight Education Talk in First Friday Call

Tony Bennett officially becomes Indiana’s new superintendent of public instruction today. Three days earlier, he offered Indiana Chamber members participating in the First Friday Conference Call a preview of things to come. And he didn’t mince any words.

A few of the highlights (with a more extensive report to be included in the March-April BizVoice magazine’s focus on education and workforce development):

  • The old question of "how do we get more money for education?" needs to be changed to "how do we get more education for our money?" Bennett says the Department of Education that he will oversee can operate with 10% less funding
  • Consolidation of smaller school districts is not just a financial argument, but primarily a way to increase learning opportunities for students
  • Although just elected in November, Bennett strongly believes the superintendent position should be appointed. He hints at how long he might serve in that role (see the BizVoice article in March)
  • He terms it a great injustice to lower expectations based on an individual student’s background. "The excuses stop at the schoolhouse door," Bennett claims

As a spectator for this First Friday call (Chamber education expert Derek Redelman served as host), I can confidently offer the following: Bennett will hit the ground running and all involved in the education community better be prepared to keep pace.

Indiana Chamber VP Serving on Bennett Transition Team

Indiana’s Superintendent-elect Tony Bennett has tapped Indiana Chamber vice president of education and workforce development policy, Derek Redelman, as a member of his transition team. Redelman is advising Bennett on a variety of issues, but has been asked especially to help review the Department of Education center that includes Title I funding, school choices, adult education and ELL/Migrant learning programs.

Redelman worked previously as a policy analyst for the Department of Education and as an advisor to then-Superintendent H. Dean Evans. He sees great opportunity with the incoming superintendent: "It is exciting to work again with a superintendent who recognizes our state’s challenges and who brings fresh ideas for improving the education of all children."

Bennett is scheduled to take office on January 12, 2009. Three days prior, he will participate in a First Friday Conference Call (9:30-10:30 a.m. on January 9) with Indiana Chamber members, discussing his priorities for the department and the state’s education future.

Gingrich Shares Education Ideas: “Education System is Dead”

"Our education system is dead. It’s propped up by unions, bureaucracy and schools of education."

That’s the take of former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who will be the keynote speaker at the Indiana Chamber’s 19th Annual Awards Dinner on November 6.

At a speech before local and state elected officials earlier this year, Gingrich also offered:

  • An automatic college scholarship for each year that a student graduates early from high school
  • Dual credit programs. In Selma, Alabama, 32 of 65 high school graduates also received associate degrees along with their high school diplomas. Gingrich: "That is the beginning of the future."
  • Abolish state curriculums and get rid of departments of education
  • All states should have an outside review panel look at the costs of higher education
  • The current system will "never fix the pile of federal bureaucracy on top of state bureaucracy on top of regional bureacracy on top of local bureaucracy."

Gingrich is coming to town. You don’t want to miss him.

New State School Chief to be Chosen in November

After 16 years, Suellen Reed’s reign as superintendent of public instruction is nearing the end. Voters will choose this November between a new Republican nominee, Dr. Tony Bennett, who is currently the superintendent of the Greater Clark County Schools, and the Democrat nominee, Dr. Dick Wood, who just retired as superintendent of Tippecanoe School Corporation.

Over the next several months, we can expect to hear at least some debate on which of these gentlemen will best carry on the 16-year legacy of Reed. School leaders, who are largely happy with Reed, will be looking for someone who can continue on her role as chief defender of all that is good in public schools. Meanwhile, those of us interested in reform will be looking for a candidate who can return leadership and new ideas to the office. 

It is difficult to say what Reed and her supporters will tout as her accomplishments. She opposed most of the leading reforms that occurred during her tenure, including: revision of our state standards, reform of the ISTEP test and establishment of Core 40 as a graduation requirement. She was also largely silent during consideration of charter school legislation and then nearly killed the movement in its infancy with her administration of charter school funding. 

In the absence of other leadership, Gov. Daniels has tried desperately during his first term to provide substantial deregulation for our schools, to force greater financial efficiencies and to raise the dialogue on teacher quality. As Reed has been painfully silent on these issues, many of us are hoping that a new superintendent will help lead on these and other issues that are critical to the future of our schools. 

Perhaps most importantly, many — both in education and outside — are looking forward to a much improved Department of Education. Multiple stories by the Indianapolis Star and others have highlighted the dismal job the department has done on managing critical data such as high school graduation rates. But as highlighted by outside reviews by independent groups like Crowe Chizek, the problems with data are just the beginning of a management overhaul that is long overdue. 

The Indiana Chamber does not endorse candidates in the state superintendent race, but we will be watching carefully what each of these candidates has to say. Nobody can question the passion with which Reed has performed her job for the last four terms, but for the sake of our state, the next superintendent needs to transform that passion to ideas and leadership. 

Let us know your thoughts in the comment section.