RICH JAMES: Much of education reform is about politics, not kids

2013-04-03T00:00:00Z RICH JAMES: Much of education reform is about politics, not kidsBy Rich James
April 03, 2013 12:00 am  • 

What is it with the last two governors and the General Assembly’s obsession with rating and grading Indiana’s schools?

Indiana’s once proud public school system has taken on the look of a punch-drunk fighter backed into a corner.

It all started under then-Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, who was a pretty good basketball coach, but not much of an educator.

Bennett did his best to render teacher unions powerless by persuading the legislature to take away the rights of those who teach our kids.

And when Bennett had ripped away the teachers’ strengths, he wanted to get rid of those who didn’t measure up to his one-size-fits-all formula.

As if that weren’t bad enough, Bennett then turned to giving letter grades to the schools, using the one-size-fits-all formula.

Yep, Bennett wanted to judge the Munster schools and the Gary schools using the same yardstick. That’s like throwing a ball out on the court and telling Hebron High School to take on the Chicago Bulls.

So, what impact does that have?

Bennett never will admit it, but he used those measurements to help open the door to the greatest expansion of school vouchers in state history.

And all along, Gov. Mitch Daniels was on the sideline cheering Bennett’s every move.

Daniels is gone now, but Gov. Mike Pence has taken up the cause.

While the one-size-fits-all standard for elementary and secondary schools was bad enough, things could get worse for the state’s colleges.

What’s now being pushed is a funding formula to reward schools for growth in the number of overall degrees, on-time graduation rates, student retention, and the number of degrees in science, technology, engineering and math.

There are a couple of really troubling things in that scenario.

On-time graduation rates? I guess that means in and out in four years. No hanging around another semester or year for additional education. And if it takes five or six years to get a degree because the student has to work, sorry, the college gets penalized.

And what’s with the reward for engineering, science, math and technology grads? Doesn’t Purdue have a corner on those specialties? And isn’t Purdue the only state school that offers engineering? And isn’t former Gov. Daniels the Purdue president? It’s becoming clearer.

So much of all of this is about politics, not kids. If a legislator says education is his or her priority, don’t take it at face value. Ask for specifics.

And it became increasingly clear last year that the people of Indiana had the same thought.

Tony Bennett no longer is a Hoosier, and Glenda Ritz is the new superintendent of public instruction.

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. Email him at The opinions are the writer’s.

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