[The Brazil Times nameplate] Fair ~ 70°F  
High: 74°F ~ Low: 49°F
Friday, May 6, 2016

Aggressive education agenda spurs war of words

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Gov. Mitch Daniels
INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels' sweeping education agenda has spurred angry protests, hours-long legislative hearings and some of the harshest rhetoric the Statehouse has heard in years.

An Indianapolis newspaper headline proclaimed a "war" over Daniels' idea to expand charter schools. Teachers say they are "under attack" from the Republican administration. And House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, caused some jaws to drop when he said on the House floor last month that teachers are being "Mitch-slapped" by the governor's aggressive agenda.

The language surrounding the fight over Daniels' proposals -- including teacher merit pay, limited collective bargaining and vouchers that send taxpayer money to private schools -- reflects how passionately both sides feel about the major changes on the horizon.

In one corner is Daniels, with outspoken state superintendent Tony Bennett by his side and GOP leaders in the House and Senate shepherding his agenda through the legislative process. In another corner are teachers, their union representatives and Democrats, who have virtually no power in the Statehouse this year after big GOP gains in November elections.

The two sides have sparred over the policy implications of Daniels' proposals, but there's plenty of bickering about the words surrounding the debates as well.

For example, Daniels and Bennett say their agenda is aimed at improving Indiana schools, recognizing and rewarding the best teachers and giving families more options. They named the education agenda "Putting Students First." Even the name offends teachers who say they are already focused on helping children.

Sen. Tim Skinner, a Democrat from Terre Haute who is a teacher, said Daniels' calls for "reforms" and "putting students first" are the least offensive words they could find to hide what he calls the true nature of the "Dr. Kevorkian" proposals.

"It's the assisted suicide of public education," Skinner said, adding that Daniels "brilliantly" framed the issue to put teachers on the defensive.

A recent e-mail circulated in the Statehouse shared a teacher's description of a Statehouse chat with Daniels and some other teachers. The teacher claimed Daniels called Indiana education "horrible" and said teachers are overpaid, but the Daniels' administration wrote an e-mail response to lawmakers saying the account was "malicious and full of falsehoods" and that Daniels holds teachers in the highest regard.

When Daniels argued that teacher collective bargaining should be limited, he said contracts "go too far when they dictate the color of the teachers' lounge." One district -- the School City of East Chicago -- does state that its teachers' lounge should be "attractive, comfortable and spacious." But Skinner said Daniels exaggerated an anomaly to vilify collective bargaining before setting out to erode it.

Teachers and Democrats -- now backed into a corner with no legislative power -- are baring teeth. More than 1,000 teachers denounced Daniels' proposals at a rally Tuesday, and Democrats made fiery speeches against his plan to expand charter schools. Many at the rally held signs criticizing Daniels for wanting to privatize or destroy education.

Daniels and other Republicans took shots at teachers unions after the rally, saying unions care more about their organization than young people.

"Their special interest domination of education policy from the local level to the State House has hurt Indiana children for too long, and this year, change must finally come," Daniels said in a statement.

Robert Dion, who teaches politics at the University of Evansville, said it's not surprising that the rhetoric on both sides is heating up now that one party has all the power in the Statehouse. Republicans and Democrats know that this year, anyway, they don't have to eventually make up and work together to get legislation passed.

"It gets personal," Dion said.

Surprisingly, the outspoken Bennett -- who has been a lightning rod for education issues since taking office in 2009 -- has tried to be a calming influence of late. He and the president of the state's largest teachers union pledged earlier this year to keep the debates civil.

Bennett has traveled the state to hold public forums with teachers and holds "Breakfast with Bennett" events to visit teachers in a casual setting. Bennett's office claims he has traveled more and spent more time with teachers than any other superintendent.

Bennett says the state has many great teachers and that he doesn't have negative words for them, but he acknowledged that in his effort to fix problems with some Indiana schools, teachers and schools that excel may have felt caught up in the rhetoric.

"I do regret that good teachers have been lumped in," he said.

Daniels said in his January State of the State address that he expected to take some heat for his proposals.

"Advocates of change in education become accustomed to being misrepresented," Daniels said. "If your heart breaks at the parade of young lives permanently handicapped by a school experience that leaves them unprepared for the world of work, you must be 'anti-public schools.'"

Skinner said teachers are the ones who feel under siege. He said Republican lawmakers are advancing Daniels' agenda without pause and morale is plummeting in Indiana schools.

"The pride is no longer there," Skinner said. "Teachers have been reluctant to stand up. Now it's too late."

Note: The nature of the Internet makes it impractical for our staff to review every comment. If you feel that a comment is offensive, please Login or Create an account first, and then you will be able to flag a comment as objectionable. Please also note that those who post comments on thebraziltimes.com may do so using a screen name, which may or may not reflect a website user's actual name. Readers should be careful not to assign comments to real people who may have names similar to screen names. Refrain from obscenity in your comments, and to keep discussions civil, don't say anything in a way your grandmother would be ashamed to read.

"Advocates of change in education become accustomed to being misrepresented," Daniels said. "If your heart breaks at the parade of young lives permanently handicapped by a school experience that leaves them unprepared for the world of work, you must be 'anti-public schools.'"

This statement captures the whole debate.

-- Posted by seventyx7 on Sun, Feb 13, 2011, at 10:31 PM

Maybe we should judge the governor based on his job performance. Upon taking office the governor inherited an unemployment rate of 4-5% and a $1 billion budget surplus. Seven years later unemployment rates has more than doubled to 9% and the budget surplus has disappeared twice to a $1 billion budget deficit. He signed over $100 million contract for with the FCS with an incompitent company. Now here's the funning thing, I actually don't dislike the governor, but his miscomings haven't been 100% his fault. He could not have controld the demise of the US economy, the virtual colapse of the American Auto Industry (which Indiana plays a big part). Just like teachers, who cannot control the enviornment their students are raised. Whether their parents support education. Teachers should be judged as the govenor, what have they done to ensure that their students could reach their full potential. Teachers should be judged on how well they manage their classrooms and how they are meeting the needs and challenges of their students not soly based on test scores.

-- Posted by Partrosie on Mon, Feb 14, 2011, at 7:03 PM

While the Democrats and the Republicans can sit and bandy words and the Governor can make speeches, the classroom teacher is the front line of education who, other than family, influences the student's educational experience the greatest. A great teacher is worth their weight in gold while one bad teacher for a short period can ruin a student's educational experience for the rest of that experience by affecting the student's motivation to learn. Actually, that can happen with the greatest teacher on a bad day for either the teacher or the student but we are all human so there is no way to prevent this from happening. We, as parents, students, teachers and administrators, must then work to overcome the aftermath.

Teachers do not pick the students that come into their classrooms, they must strive to teach the students that come in. Some come prepared beyond the teacher's expectations, some are simply not ready. One thing, it is not how educationally prepared the student enter a classroom that should be the determining factor as to what happens or how long the educational experience in that classroom continues; the question that should always be asked before moving a student to the next level is "is the student prepared to learn what is being taught at the next level." To move the student before you can answer that question with a "yes" affects not only that student and the teacher at the next level but also every other student in that class as the teacher must spend more time teaching at a lower level.

Are there poor teachers? Undoubtedly. But there is another factor, too, that of matching the best teacher to the student. Some students will learn better with one teacher of a subject than they will with an equally qualified teacher who presents the same subject matter differently. We all learn differently.

How do you identify a poor teacher? It cannot be from student's test scores alone, it must be from a combination of student performance when entering the teacher's influence compared to the student's performance as they prepare to exit that influence, the teacher being evaluated by the administration as to if and how well they perform what they are assigned to accomplish, and both positive and negative input from parents that must be documented and retained. There should also be documentation and retention of rebuttals by the teacher of any negative remarks noted by administrators, parents, and even students.

Will vouchers improve or "kill" public education? Competition always leads to improvement, but putting public schools into competition for educational dollars will certainly transform public education. Until public education can adjust to the change, that will impact public schools and their students and unless the schools are prepared for that to happen, it will most likely be a negative effect.

-- Posted by Leo L. Southworth on Tue, Feb 15, 2011, at 10:41 AM

Consider the following: currently in Indiana 21 of the lowest 25 school corporations (schools with less than 1/3 of 3-8th graders passing the ISTEP test in math and english) are charter schools. Of the top 100 schools, based on the same criteria, only two are charter schools. Why should we put more money into failing private schools? Educational research shows that providing more career paths for students improves overall educational outcomes (students graduating high school). Under a voucher system more of these classes will be cut, classes such as building trades and welding among many others, because of lack of funding. Where is legislation to address this?

You say competition will only make schools better, however, in Minnesota (the state with the largest voucher program) studies have shown no increase in overall student achievement - public or private. Not to mention, as a parent, I don't want my child in competition with other students in other schools because in competition, there has to be a winner at another's expense. Education should be collaboration for the betterment of all. About a community of shareholders coming together to do what's best for ALL of our students, not competing for money!

Here are some facts about Indiana's "failing" schools: Indiana teachers rank first in the nation for being certificated in the subject matters (content) they are teaching. (Education Trust State Report, 2009). Charter schools are not required to hire certified staff members.

Indiana teachers were the 2nd best educated in the nation in 2007 with 56% having a masters degree or better. (National Center for

Educational Statistics)

More Indiana Public Schools than Private Schools Offer Advanced Placement (AP) Courses! More than 83% of Indiana public high schools offer AP courses, while only 4% of Indiana's private high schools do.(IDOE, 2007)

Indiana's graduation rates have steadily increased under the tough new graduation rate criteria. Indiana's graduation rate increased from 73.3% in 2005-06 to 84.5% during the 09-10 school year. (IDOE).

If Indiana were considered a country, Hoosier 4th and 8th grade math students ranked 7th highest of 48 countries in the world- ahead of Germany, England, Norway, Australia,Saudi Arabia, Egypt, US Average and the International mean scores.

(Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study tests - TIMSS).

We should always be striving to make education better for our students. The current system is not perfect and there are reforms that need to be made. However, the bill on Charter schools that passed through the house is not based on research and will only hurt our community and our schools.

-- Posted by kphillips on Tue, Feb 15, 2011, at 10:31 PM

Competition is good. If you are tired of losing, try harder! If you are trying your hardest and still losing, comfort should be found in that "competition" forced you to achieve at your highest level. The best way, in my opinion to improve performance, is to make winning worthwhile. When everyone gets the same prize, mediocre is the goal. When did we stop giving F's when they are deserved, and when did we start taking the responsibility to learn away from the child and placing a responsibility to make sure a child learns on the state? If coursework is presented plainly, and consistently, it is the individual student's responsibility to learn. The state's responsibility should be no more than to present the material in a manner which it may be learned.

-- Posted by almostfootballfree on Wed, Feb 16, 2011, at 12:36 PM

The community does hire and fire teachers. We the voters elect the school board. Under the new bills, school boards will have almost no say in our schools.

If Indiana were a country... we are talking about student achievement as compared to other students around the world. This is the exact argument Mitch Daniels makes for charter schools, that we are falling behind other countries in science and math.

Being a certified teacher or having a masters does not necessarily make you a good teacher. However, being certified is more likely to make you a good teacher. If you think anyone can walk into a classroom and be a good teacher, you do not understand children or education.

I'm not supporting the status quo. There are bad teachers out there. Name me a profession that doesn't have unqualified people. I'm saying, we need reform that makes sense and privatizing schools does NOT make sense. Especially when there are so many other areas we could change and improve. Is charter schools and vouchers really the best we can do?

-- Posted by kphillips on Thu, Feb 17, 2011, at 12:05 PM

Did anyone go to the Saturday Crackerbarrel? Sounds like getting rid of the ISTEP and letting teachers teach again is the first step. How much money DOES the state spend on testing anyway? Istep, NWEA, Acuity, GQE, etc., etc., etc.

We are developing a world of test takers. The kids know that the word screwdriver is a compound word, but none of them know what to do with one! What a shame!

-- Posted by wiseupnow on Mon, Feb 21, 2011, at 11:13 AM

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: