GUEST COMMENTARY: Dems' views on education merit consideration

2013-01-24T00:00:00Z GUEST COMMENTARY: Dems' views on education merit considerationBy Vernon Smith, Kreg Battles, Sue Errington and Shelli VanDenburgh nwitimes.com

As the House Democratic members of the Education Committee, we are privileged to serve as the standard-bearer for new Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz.

Although we are members of the minority party, we believe there is an opportunity to offer common sense solutions to guiding policies that affect the lives of our children.

First, we need to restore the state support cut from our public schools these past few years and make educational opportunities whole. Through the years, we have talked about the price paid as a result of the cuts, particularly in reduced programming and the loss of valuable instructional expertise. Gauging the size of the state surplus, we have the financial capacity to restore our schools.

Now that we have started to make kindergarten available to more children, this is the time to make the next investment in educational excellence – preschool programs that can prepare our children for long-term academic success. At the very least, we should begin a dialogue about expectations and possible strategies for making this goal a reality. A good starting point would be a pilot program that would provide preschool services to as many as 15,000 3- and 4-year-olds across the state through local matching dollars.

We also need to evaluate the time and money spent on high-stakes testing. Gov. Robert Orr offered standardized testing as part of the A-plus program to help identify individuals who need help in the classroom. Since then, it has morphed into becoming the standard means of determining the performance of schools and teachers, with penalties in place for those who do not make the grade on these pass/fail tests.

The time has come to analyze the financial burden of large quantities of student testing. Money going to test vendors could be better allocated elsewhere, such as remediation, instruction and professional development.

Beyond the financial issue, how many instructional days are we willing to lose to the administration of high-stakes tests, and what is their true value?

While we recognize and accept that our state has become a welcoming environment for charter schools and voucher programs, we urge our legislative colleagues as well as constituents to ask for, and carefully review, evidence of their effectiveness before we allow further expansion. The same levels of accountability should be expected from charter, public and voucher private schools.

The educational experience does not begin when a child enters kindergarten, nor does it end when that child receives a high school diploma. Our children deserve the chance to expand their knowledge through higher education, whether they select two-year schools, four-year institutions or vocational schools.

Those who lead the Indiana House have stated we will have a voice this legislative session. We think policies supported by the newly elected Superintendent of Public Instruction deserve full consideration.

State Reps. Vernon Smith,D-Gary, Ranking Democrat; Kreg Battles, D-Vincennes; Sue Errington, D-Muncie; and Shelli VanDenburgh, D-Crown Point, are on the House Education Committee. The opinion is the writers'.

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