Letters and Opinion

Education bills deserve scrutiny

March 5, 2011

In “Tough love for public education” [a column in the Feb. 14 issue, Greg Morris makes] several excellent points. The educational challenges are complicated, high-performing school districts want to continue current programs and there’s always the risk that opposition will be misinterpreted as complaints from “underperformers.”

Regarding consensus and change, there’s considerable consensus locally on what needs to be done to improve education (e.g., targeted preschool and all-day compulsory kindergarten). Where it’s lacking is on the top-down state initiatives that seek to pit teacher against teacher and school against school.

Forced changes generally fail. Consensus cannot be achieved through force. To be effective, changes must have everyone’s ownership. Successful schools like ours embrace change by using the statutory discussion requirement to gain and share knowledge, interest-based collective bargaining to reach agreements, and comprehensive contract language to ensure compliance by both parties. Banning corporate discussion and collective bargaining of working conditions, as currently proposed, thwarts improvements and complicates acceptance of changes.

I don’t agree that the governor and state superintendent are being demonized, but I will agree that many teachers view them as adversaries of public schools. It hasn’t always been that way. The Indiana State Teachers Association supported [Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony] Bennett’s predecessor, [Suellen] Reed, and not only embraced the school-improvement changes in Public Law 221 but worked actively to gain their acceptance locally.

The public school system is not failing. The vast majority of public schools are meeting students’ needs well. Backed by supportive parents and community leaders, these schools are demonstrating that the solution to today’s education challenges is total community involvement that addresses societal as well as education shortfalls.

The Indiana Department of Education stresses the need for differentiated instruction to meet varying student needs, but the state superintendent wants to subject all school corporations to one-size-fits-all programs that diminish or eliminate local control, undermine corporation fiscal stability and discourage talented teachers from remaining in the profession.

Furthermore, the Daniels administration’s apparent “union-busting” efforts and initiatives to cut public schools to channel tax dollars to discriminatory, for-profit and/or parochial schools (in direct violation of the Indiana Constitution) will damage, not help, public schools.

I encourage all Hoosiers to challenge their legislators to clarify how new education bills will directly benefit students. If they divert funding from public schools, undermine teacher input to decisions, create a “Me Tarzan, You Jane” administrator-teacher relationship, remove recourse against unscrupulous supervisors, deny employee due process and interfere with efforts to attract into and retain major wage-earners in the teaching profession, they should be defeated.

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Wayne Shipe
Teacher
Westfield Washington School Corp.

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