Bennett: No Slowing Down on Education Reforms

If you haven’t heard Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett talk about education, you’re at a disadvantage. Reading the words here, in a newspaper story or on a web site do little justice to the passion he brings to what is not only his current job, but his mission to improve opportunities for all Indiana students.

Bennett spoke to Chamber members earlier today in our monthly Policy Issue Conference Call. (The next round is June 4 at 9:30 a.m. EDT, the topic is infrastructure and the guest is INDOT Commissioner Michael Reed. Registration details will be available here soon). Bennett, by the way, will receive an honorary degree and speak at Marian University’s commencement ceremony on Saturday.

Just a few of his key points from Friday’s discussion:

  • Bennett says you generally need "either a legislative framework to make bold reforms or union buy-in. And we don’t have either." While that may have kept the state from being a contender for federal Race to the Top funding, the implementation of the reforms will move forward under the Department of Education’s Fast Forward program
  • Annual teacher and principal evaluations are a necessity, with student growth data being part of that process
  • A barrier that needs removed are some collective bargaining laws that keep the lowest-performing teachers in the classroom simply because they have been there the longest
  • Bennett sees many opportunities for municipal and school partnerships to maximize services that are offered
  • The General Assembly has given the State Board of Education broad authority to establish a third grade reading proficiency program. He is hoping for board approval by the end of the summer
  • Looking ahead, Bennett says work will continue on the student growth model, grading of schools (on a letter grade scale, as approved earlier this week), evaluations of teachers and schools, teacher tenure, additional options for children and more. "Indiana students can’t wait for us to act," he closed, emphasizing the need to move forward quickly and effectively


Sing a Song, Save a School (and Students)

Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett would admit he has more in common with his namesake who is the new basketball coach at Virginia (Washington State through the 2008–2009 season) than the 82-year-old crooner who is among the most admired entertainers of our time.

After all, Indiana’s Tony B. served the dual role of principal and basketball coach while at Scottsburg High School. But now education is his full-time game and he’s stirring things up with these radical notions of improving schools and ultimately the futures of our young people.

Nevertheless, the Fordham Institute, in its weekly Education Gadfly newsletter, put together an entertaining collection of "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" Tony Bennett songs to go with education proposals from Bennett that it fully endorses.

Indiana state superintendent Tony Bennett is crooning an aggressive school reform tune these days. Alas, he may not have the much-loved silken voice and silver hair of our favorite "King of Broken Hearts," but he certainly has plans to take Indiana schools and students from the "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" to the "Good Life." For starters, he wants to transition to value-added student assessment, something that’s sure making us "Smile." Bennett explains: "If a child enters fifth grade and is reading at second-grade level and that fifth-grade teacher gets that child to read at fourth-grade level, I don’t think it’s fair to call anyone a failure." He hopes to turn districts from "Rags to Riches" with his plans to update the teacher seniority system and end the practice of last hired-first fired; when district leaders wonder "Who Can I Turn To?" [sic], the answer will be talented, not tenured, teachers. He also wants to enforce 180 full-day instructional time requirements, which means no more shortening school days "Time after Time" for teacher conferences and professional development. Plus, he’s a fan of charters and improving the teacher preparation programs at his state’s universities. Props to Bennett; we need strong leaders who aren’t afraid to say no to "Anything Goes." In fact, he might be "Just in Time."

Bennett outlines his recent thoughts in a Lafayette Journal & Courier story; earlier this year, just prior to taking office, he participated in a Q&A with Chamber members (captured here in BizVoice magazine).