Opinion and Education reform and Viewpoint

TEASLEY: Whew! Tap the brakes on school reform

November 26, 2011

Kevin TeasleyMany Hoosier education reformers are salivating over the fast pace of school reform in recent years. For years, Hoosiers were notorious for moving too slowly to improve schools. Today, education reform is moving at warp speed. Gov. Daniels, Speaker Bosma and State Superintendent Bennett deserve much of the credit, too. And so it may sound strange to suggest it’s time to slow down, but so be it.

Indiana has now fully embraced school and parental choice. We have no-cost cross-district choice, within-district school choice, vouchers to access private and religious schools, online schools and charter schools.

Charter authorizers are trying to not only learn their roles but authorize new schools at the same time. School leaders are trying to start new schools. Parents are trying to learn about their many new options. And regulators are trying to keep up with the warp speed at which choice is being implemented, too.

Given all the new options, mistakes will be made by all. School leaders won’t be able to assemble their schools properly in such short time frames and may actually make some mistakes as a result. Some parents will choose the wrong school for their children. Some regulators will make bad calls on the effectiveness of schools. Dollars to support the new choices may not arrive on time, either. The list of potential mistakes is endless.

As a parent, I fully understand the urgency of the need to improve schools, but reforms must be given a chance to take shape. Authorizers and regulators need time to structure their new processes and to fully communicate the expectations and procedures to school leaders and parents. School leaders need time to adjust their processes to meet the expectations of regulators and parents.

Ten years ago, Indiana approved charter law. Today, there are 62 charter schools.

This year, the state approved vouchers. According to the state, more than 250 private schools are participating in the first year of the voucher program. The state has effectively increased the number of school options parents have throughout the state by about 20 percent in the past 10 years. Surely the number will continue to grow too.

During these same 10 years, accountability has changed to include the federal government’s annual yearly progress and then the state coupled AYP with public law 221. The annual yearly report will be decoupled from PL221 this year, and the state is currently revamping its “grading” system for schools (details are expected in the spring and then schools are going to be graded right away).

Funding formulas and the timing of cash flows have changed during this time, the state has taken over tuition support payments, ISTEP testing moved from fall to spring, high school graduation rate calculations have changed, high school tests changed from the graduating qualifying exam to end of course, and more. Common Core Standards are on their way. Clearly, there is a lot going on.

It’s safe to say that all these changes have created a bit of chaos at all levels as well as a bit of unpredictability. Each change affects enrollment, retention, school programs, academic achievement and results, cash flows and more. All these efforts are worthy changes but they need time to settle in and everyone involved—schools, parents, students and communities—needs time to assemble their best efforts.

Now, it’s time to provide every player the opportunity to think through each change and to be more deliberate about their next move. Indiana’s education reforms are indeed on the right path. Let’s not derail progress by continuing to move at warp speed just for the sake of moving. Move deliberately and judiciously and Indiana’s school reforms will continue to make progress.•

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Teasley is founder of the Indianapolis-based Greater Educational Opportunities Foundation.

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