EDITORIAL: A different education agenda for Pence

2013-12-22T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: A different education agenda for Pence nwitimes.com
December 22, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence's 2014 education agenda is aggressive, to say the least.

Rather than pause to see what comes of the reforms made so far, he wants to push for more changes.

"We have made great strides, but we cannot rest," Pence said in a Dec. 10 speech. "Now is the time to move from education reform to education innovation."

The governor's education agenda includes vouchers for pre-K programs for at-risk and low-income children. Indiana is one of only nine states that doesn't fund education before kindergarten.

Pence's sales pitch is curious, though.

"As we take on this issue, let's be honest about what the research shows. The results on pre-K are mixed," he said. So rather than offer universal pre-K programs to help all kids, he's planning to target state aid for one demographic that needs all the help it can get.

The pre-K program comes with accountability standards to make sure children are well prepared for kindergarten.

What Pence isn't calling for, but should, is making kindergarten mandatory. In Indiana, children aren't required to attend school until age 7. In this day and age, that's preposterous.

Pence's plan also includes expanding the number of charter schools because they "stir the pot." The plan also would let charter school operators shift money between schools, which could lead to students at one school being shortchanged.

Pence also wants to use state tax dollars to encourage teachers at traditional public schools to switch to low-performing charter schools.

Teachers in charter schools earn an average of about $12,000 less than their counterparts at traditional public schools, Pence said.

But why should taxpayers pay extra for these teachers, draining top teachers from the traditional schools in the process?

The goal should be to build strong public schools, not to cannibalize traditional schools to improve charter schools.

Charter schools offer good competition, but let's keep the playing field level. Skip the incentive to get teachers to switch schools.

Pence is right to want to move the needle on education, but there are other reforms he could and should pursue.

In an era of standardized tests, Indiana should devote more attention and dollars to remediation where it's needed. Scores accomplish little if they don't inspire action where warranted.

And require students to attend kindergarten. Do this for all children, not just those considered at-risk.

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