In a legislative session that saw puzzling attempts to move the state backward on issues such as smoking cessation and public transportation, the success of Gov. Mitch Daniels’ education agenda stands out as a bold step forward.
Reasonable people can disagree on whether such tools as merit pay for teachers and private school vouchers will have the intended effect, but there’s almost unanimous agreement that the status quo in education isn’t working.
The governor’s legislative victories at least—and at last—provide a variety of tools that can be used in an attempt to boost student achievement.
The most common-sense tool is merit pay for teachers. Teachers, like other working folks, should be eligible for higher pay tied to meritorious performance.
The merit pay law doesn’t eliminate all obstacles standing between good teachers and better pay. Local school districts can squander the opportunity if they do a poor job of setting up—and administering—methods for teacher evaluation. We hope the administration of Indianapolis Public Schools, which isn’t known for its openness or effectiveness, gets this one right. IPS’ best teachers surely deserve to be rewarded for succeeding under difficult circumstances.
Adding to the challenge, schools in urban districts such as IPS often see huge turnover in their student population from one year to the next. That makes it difficult to measure achievement and evaluate teachers.
None of this destroys the broader argument for merit pay. Teachers deserve incentives, even in a profession where the richest reward is the satisfaction that comes from seeing a student succeed.
The governor’s other big education victories—an expansion of charter schools and a private school voucher program—are controversial but will give families more educational choice.
Charter schools—public schools that operate free of much of the bureaucracy that weighs down traditional public schools—count among their ranks some of the most innovative schools in the city. We’re all for creating more of them, provided they are held accountable according to the performance measures spelled out in their charters.
And we like the provision in the new charter law that would allow charters to buy surplus public school buildings at a discount. IPS, in particular, has a history of closing schools without any regard for the blight an empty building can create.
Among the governor’s legislative successes, we are least supportive of vouchers, especially the provision that would allow families to use public money to attend private, religious schools. We are not, however, offended by the basic concept of vouchers. Parents who live in struggling districts need options for their children.
If only all parents were as involved as the ones who will surely take advantage of this new opportunity. Parents who fail their children by not participating in the education of their children remain our biggest concern.
Absent a remedy for that complex problem, the reforms the governor asked for and received make sense. Even those who fought the reforms should hope they work.•
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