To anyone following the news, it may seem that education reforms in Indiana are the cause of nearly every educational challenge we face.
Most recently, some have even suggested that education reform is to blame for fewer young people entering the teaching profession. Even worse, some believe these reforms are harming our students. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In 2011, thanks to the leadership of Gov. Mitch Daniels and key legislators in both houses, the Indiana General Assembly passed a far-reaching package of reforms aimed at improving student learning and supporting an environment in which teachers can thrive. These reforms have been strengthened over time, putting a strong focus on early literacy, changing the way we evaluate and compensate teachers and raising the bar on accountability for student learning.
Unfortunately, the Indiana State Teachers Association has fought these reforms from the beginning. Now they are blaming the reforms for the 18 percent dip in the number of new teachers.
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But while they have worked to dismantle accountability with disinformation and untruths, Indiana’s student achievement has increased steadily by every measure, a fact that gets too little attention in the media.
Since 2011, students passing both portions of the ISTEP+ exam rose from 72 percent to 75 percent. The creation of the IREAD-3 exam, which ends social promotion and ensures a focus on literacy by grade three, boosted the number of kids reading on grade level by 6 percent.
In our high schools, End of Course Assessment pass rates have gone from 72 percent to 73 percent, and the state graduation rate has increased. Overall, the number of A and B schools in Indiana has increased by 31 percent, and nearly 90 percent of Indiana teachers are rated effective. In 2013, the National Assessment of Educational Progress released data ranking Indiana second in the nation for gains in student achievement.
Opponents of reform, perhaps better described as the forces of reaction, always like to point out improvements in education, but they like less to acknowledge when the improvement started or admit that the passage and implementation of education reforms was a key catalyst for improved student performance.
Changes in education policy have also created improvements in the teaching profession. Reforms that increased accountability also afforded flexibility and fairness to effective teachers so that they can be compensated appropriately. How can anyone argue that we should not regularly evaluate and provide performance feedback to the professionals we entrust to teach our children every day?
Fewer effective teacher candidates is a problem. But this problem is not unique to Indiana and is certainly not the result of education reform. In California, where nothing about the education system has been reformed, first-year teacher licenses have dropped 53 percent. Similar trends are being reported in New York, Illinois and other states where reforms have been modest or non-existent.
It is nonsense to blame education reform for any of Indiana’s challenges. We must continue to insist that all Hoosier children have access to an excellent education and thus gain opportunities to succeed in life and work. We must continue to demand improvements in our children’s performance, while giving full credit when improvements result from the changes we introduce. Hopefully, one day the forces of reaction and the defenders of the status quo will join us in this fight.