UPDATE: Teachers union tells Bennett to start over on reform

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In response to a call to start over on sweeping school reforms, Indiana public schools chief Tony Bennett fired back at the Indiana State Teachers Association on Thursday afternoon by challenging its president to declare which specific reforms the group supports.

Bennett invited ISTA President Nate Schnellenberger, as well as Rick Muir, president of the Indiana Federation of Teachers, to shares their views in a meeting in his Indiana Statehouse office on April 27. He invited the news media to observe.

“Instead of simply sharing their positions, the union leaders responded with bureaucratic rhetoric and no specifics,” Bennett said in a statement. He added, “Although our full application has been available online for nearly three months, the unions’ leaders have failed to offer any comments, suggestions or ideas to improve the plan.”

The dispute is over Indiana’s application to the federal Race to the Top competition, in which Indiana could win $250 million to support reform of public schools.

Bennett’s latest comments come after ISTA released a letter Thursday morning written by Schnellenberger to Bennett. The letter came a week after Bennett demanded support from the state’s largest teachers union for major reforms proposed in Indiana’s bid for federal funding.

“It will require a complete re-work of the original application,” wrote Schnellenberger, in the letter, which was dated April 14, but released publicly Thursday morning.

Bennett told Schnellenberger in an April 8 letter that it was lack of union support that doomed Indiana’s first application in the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top competition. He wants to try a second time to win as much as $250 million, but said he must have ISTA’s support to do it.

Bennett asked Schnellenberger to give written support for basing 51 percent of the evaluation of both teachers and principals on student growth in test scores. He also wants ISTA to support legislation requiring the use of student-growth data in school decisions about hiring, firing, promoting and paying teachers.

“Given the scoring rubric as it was applied by the Round 1 reviewers, it is clear that if ISTA will not agree to these basic principles, Indiana will fail in Round 2,” Bennett wrote in the letter. “If this is the case, Indiana will not apply.”

Last year, only 62 percent of local teacher unions signed on to support Bennett’s plan. When the U.S. Department of Education reviewed Indiana’s application, it said, “the lack of full union support raises concerns about how realistic it will be to implement the described plan.”

The two states that did win money in the first round of competition—Delaware and Tennessee—had the support of 100 percent and 93 percent, respectively, of their teacher unions.

“Therefore,” Schnellenberger reminded Bennett in his letter, “from ISTA’s perspective, your letter, which seeks our support for Indiana’s application, certainly does not speak to either collaboration or cooperation with our Association in developing a second Race to the Top application.”

When asked why his letter to the ISTA was more club than olive branch, Bennett said in an April 9 interview that he and his staff have had more than 30 meetings in the past year with ISTA leaders on the Race to the Top application as well as other issues.

“We’ve had numerous discussions with the ISTA, and we have not been able to get a clear position from them,” Bennett said. He said the ISTA wants to leave decisions on whether to change how teachers are evaluated and compensated up to discussions between each local school districts and its local teachers union.

“Well, that isn’t going to get it done,” Bennett said.

For more about this topic, go to IBJ blog NewsTalk.


  • So therefore PE teachers aren't "real teachers"

    Do all PE teachers take the same classes?

    When I was in college, I tutored people (pre-med) through [inorganic] chemistry, organic chemistry, microbiology, Anatomy & Physiology, Kinesiology, etc. (there's a reason for all of that)

    Guess which subjects (future) PE teachers sought tutoring in?

    A&P, K.

    They were sitting alongside the pre-med students. No parallel courses where pre-med got one program and the PE got an easier one. (That's what happened for Computer Science-science vs. Computer Science-business. Two different courses. the "-business" people had easier forms of Modeling & Simulation and Operations Research. We did some research. Our bi-weekly tests were tougher than their mid-term and finals.

    Imagine how PO'd they (-business) got when I started a movement to have their degrees titled, "Business Data Processing".

    Most didn't fight too much. They needed help getting through their M&S and OR, not to mention macro- and micro-economics.

    In general, teachers practically had to have a major in the subject they were going to teach, in addition to the education classes they had as their "real" major.

    There would be nothing like tossing a teacher into the system and know nothing about the subject(s) they were going to teach.
  • Bennett: Anti-Teacher
    What Bennett leaves out of his diatribe against ISTA is that he REFUSED to let the teachers' unions even SEE what was in the Indiana Race to the Top proposal, while demanding that the unions sign onto it. What intelligent person signs onto a contract without reading what is in that contract? Certainly not teachers with a solid education -- and it's certainly not what we would EVER teach our students to do. And yet Bennett tries to lay the blame at the feet of the unions for HIS shell game of hiding information from the teachers and unions.

    In the end, 62% of school districts -- including mine -- did sign onto that application, sight unseen. In our case, it was for one single purpose -- to save teachers' jobs, resulting in lower class sizes to help students. When the state cuts funding to schools repeatedly, and we have to fire thousands of qualified, experienced teachers, the school districts were MADE to be desperate for funds. And that played right into Bennett's and Daniels' plan to force the unions into signing onto a program designed entirely by the IDoE with NO teacher input, and which was hidden from the teachers to even evaluate. Seems to me that if Bennett had a proposal teachers WOULD support, he wouldn't HAVE to hide it from us and play shell games to get us to support it.

    From day one, Bennett has taken every opportunity to portray teachers as lazy and incompetent, when we are the front line in actually helping children to learn. Bennett may use all of the hot educational buzzwords he reads in education journals, but it is abundantly clear he has NO idea of the issues we face in urban classrooms.

    It is abundantly clear from Bennett's and Daniels' approach that they have absolutely no understanding of the long-run ramifications of their decisions. Massive funding cuts increase class sizes and NEGATIVELY impact student performance. Eliminating time and funds for professional development of teachers NEGATIVELY impact our ability to effectively teach students. And even more long-term, you're going to have a VERY difficult time finding young people who want to become teachers at all. The low pay, non-stop work, and constant stream of disrespect from the students, the parents, community leaders, and now even the IDoE itself discourage even the best teachers. And now Bennett's ideas to "improve" education include single-year contracts with no increments for experience or further education, pay based almost entirely on the STUDENTS' performance (REGARDLESS of the TEACHER'S performance), and the incentive for principals to simply clear the decks of their experienced teachers every few years to keep their costs down under continual state funding cuts. What college student in his/her right mind would EVER invest four years of college education toward a profession he/she is likely to be dumped out of within a few years? We already lose nearly half of new teachers within the first five years because of the workload and pressure we already face. Good luck finding ANYONE of sound mind to come into the profession under THOSE conditions. I certainly wouldn't.

    It's one thing to base a worker's pay and continued employment on the WORKER'S performance. However, it is an entirely DIFFERENT thing to base the worker's pay and employment on someone ELSE'S performance. Do we fire physical therapists based on their patients' progress? (What if the patients miss appointment after appointment and refuse to do their exercises at home?) Do we fire doctors based on who lives and who dies? (Good luck finding anyone willing to go into oncology.)

    What Bennett is creating with this system is an incentive for teachers to do NOTHING but drill, drill, drill all day long, going over the test answers again and again and again. When a teacher's very livelihood and family income is solely dependent on student scores on a test, you'd better believe that teacher has every incentive in the world to focus every moment of class time on what is needed for that single test. Life simply doesn't come down to a single test, and we're going to leave students woefully unprepared for the world around them. Further, that kind of constant drilling is likely to cause dropout rates to soar, as students become bored and frustrated.

    And one last thought. These students have NO incentive to do well on whatever standardized test the state comes up with. There are no rewards for success and no penalties for failure. And particularly at the high school level, where tests would have to be subject specific, students who don't like a particular teacher may in fact have an incentive to get that teacher fired. I have high standards for my students and push my students to their potential; some other teachers do not. Will my students purposely do poorly on a test that holds no consequence for them, so that I'm fired and "easier" teachers who don't push them will be the teachers left in the schools?

    When the Education Roundtable and the Department of Education are making decisions that are clearly against the studentsâ?? interest, ISTA absolutely WILL stand up on behalf of the students.
  • T-t-t-tony
    Once again, ISTA's position is on solid ground when compared to the latest round of nonsense out of Indianapolis. Tony Bennett is nothing more than an incompetent puppet for Gov. Daniels' anti-public education efforts... this is an obvious attempt at union busting. Nothing more, nothing less!

    Some of you really need to get a clue as to what is happening in this situation. While everyone seems so quick to bash the teachers' union as the problem, isn't it the STATE which does, and always has, controlled curriculum? ISTA has continued to fight the state of Indiana over the past ten years due to the complete and total lack of attention to improving the educational climate in this state. And now we're supposed to jump on board with "experts" brought in by Daniels/Bennett whose own plans are failing right before our eyes in other areas of the country? Give me a break. This is just more of the same in terms of Indiana's systemic lack of adequate support for the students in our public schools.

    I love it... Tony Bennett's "RttT" application, which was designed and submitted without any input from ISTA, fails due to lack of support from the union- he then blames the failure of the application on ISTA! If it weren't so obvious that he's an idiot, I'd say he was brilliant for having the chutzpah to even make this argument. It is truly comical!

    Take a moment and research what happened when Tony Bennett was superintendent of the Greater Clark County School Corporation- is this really the man we want making decisions for millions of Hoosier children?

    I vote an emphatic NO to more of the same from Indianapolis. Give ISTA the opportunity to support something VIABLE and SUSTAINABLE in Hoosier classrooms, rather than buzzword- and lingo-driven nonsense which the state will change its mind about in three to five years, and then let's see what happens. The problems with Indiana's education systems are disastrous long before ISTA even enters the conversation. Sorry, folks, find another scapegoat, and look straight to the statehouse.
  • Bennett does not understand
    I think Bennett needs to teach in a large, poor urban district before he espouses how to change IPS. He clearly does NOT have any clue as to what it is like to teach kids from a low socioeconomic status. He needs to also read the fictional book "PUSH" by Sapphire to get a glimpse of what the students and teachers are up against.

    IPS has great teachers who teach the toughest kids who come from some of the most dysfunctional families imaginable. It makes no scientific sense to treat a wealthy, upscale district the same as one whose SES status is low. It's a complete different game.

    Bennett obviously does not read the peer-reviewed, scientific literature on educational theory. He talks politics and feel-good measures to dupe the public into thinking there are magic bullets to cure the problem.

    The problems endemic to education are playing out on a national scale as an economic crisis, with poor parents working two jobs, and the stress that comes with it. Forcing lay-offs and funneling money to Charter schools and private schools should be opposed.
  • Point of fact
    Governor Daniels did not hire Tony Bennett. The people of Indiana hired Tony Bennett by electing him into office.
  • The Public is being Duped
    You folks are missing the bigger picture here. Both sides are at odds for a lot more reasons than what is being made public. Mitch Daniels hired Tony Bennett to advance his agenda and nothing more. His agenda is to close public schools and re-open them as charter schools. Charter school would mean that the state wouldn't have to play by the rules and could run them however they please, because charters are non-profit.

    No unions, no tenure, no seniority issues to deal with. They can keep teachers from gaining seniority by replacing them every few years with first-year teachers. They can also keep costs down because there are no extra-curricular activities to pay for. No football or basketball teams, nor any other traditional venue currently offered in public schools. That's why Tony went to NYC for that conference. NYC has been doing this for over 6 years with mixed results. The problem is, what happens when a charter schools fails, as has happened in NYC. It wasn't pretty.
      So therefore PE teachers aren't "real teachers". Really? I thought they had to have the same academic credentials as regular teachers. Also he has a Ph.D, do you? He also was a superintendt of a large school system. Are you or have you been? Clearly the voters of the State think he is qualified? What are you afraid of, reform to a broken system? Also didn't the State legislature give the power to him? So clearly there were several people who felt his was a good idea. Take a step back and review your position. It is obvious IPS is not working. Did you vote for change?
      • Unions are Big Business
        Unions were started so many years ago on the noble idea of protecting those who needed protection. But for about 100 years, they've been a big business, raking the membership for more money in dues. What's their product? They sell anger, separation of the people from their elected and appointed officials, and lack of ingenuity. I say this as the granddaughter, niece and cousin of coal miners, and I've read histories of business/union struggles. ISTA is following the same old union playbook. Time to get innovative. But wait, that's not in their product line. They'd have to retool, and that's not in the plan.
      • ISTA Member
        I am an ISTA member and feel I have no other choice. At a cost of nearly %700 a year on my salary, it is a big expense. Here is why I pay my dues.

        1. If some angry student accuses me of any wrong doing falsely, I have legal protection from the union I could never afford to pay on my own.
        2. The ISTa will fight to get me a 2% raise or about $700. This is huge considering I have to pay about the same amount for 1 graduate level class each year to renew my license. My petty raise does not help my $34k salary a year, it just helps me pay for the classes I need to keep my job. Bennett and Daniels new license requirements makes renewing my license more difficult and expensive.
        3. Bennett the former PE teacher has done nothing but dictate Daniels policy since being pushed into office. Has has done nothing to give or work with teachers yet demands our support. He can earn my support by collaborating with teachers.
        4. Daniels and Bennett's long term goals are to get more and more charters that do nothing but teach to the test and eventually funnel public money into religious private schools violating seperation of church and state. No thanks.
      • Racing to the Bottom?
        Bennett and the Governor seem more focused upon decreasing teacher pay and lowering educational funding than improving educational achievement.

        Do they expect to hire the best possible teachers with wages similar to working at McDonalds or Walmart?

        Do they so lack personal skills that they think ultimatums and threats will lead to a positive outcome?

        Is this disagreement more about posturing for the next election and future failures than winning an huge grant for Indiana school children?
      • Both Sides Need To Grow Up
        Both sides need to grow up, work together, and get the job done instead of playing the blame game insuring future failure.

        Bennett needs to take some responsibility for the states "Race to the Top" failure including the following and improve the grant application:

        States were scored by independent reviewers on a 500-point scale tied to specific criteria, and itâ??s tough to ignore some glaring points:

        The states that emerged have strong central education agencies. In Bennett, Indianaâ??s Department of Education has a novice leader who fired about 100 experienced employees when he took office. Indianaâ??s application is filled with references to initiatives undertaken in just the last year, suggesting improvement wasnâ??t an ongoing effort. The proposal either ignores or dismisses improvement efforts made under Suellen Reed, Bennettâ??s predecessor, even though her efforts were well regarded.

        Federal reviewers couldnâ??t have overlooked Indianaâ??s $300 million in school budget cuts. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has been insistent that stimulus dollars must not supplant state support for education.

        Unlike Georgiaâ??s Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue, whose state is now a finalist, Gov. Mitch Daniels has never positioned himself as an â??education governorâ??; slashing school funding confirmed that heâ??s not.

        Danielsâ?? comments to Dan Balz of the Washington Post last month put him in line as a potential challenger to President Obama. Louisiana, another Race to the Top finalist, might have a candidate in Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, but if heâ??s thinking of running, he hasnâ??t admitted it to a D.C. reporter.

        Charter school restrictions werenâ??t a deal-breaker. Kentucky has no charter schools; New York and Ohio rejected the federal push to lift the limits on charter school authorizations.

        One sides failure is not the others sides gain. It is just failure.
      • D.O.E.
        Does anyone else see the absurdity of States having to compete to get their own tax dollars back from the federal government? Maybe we should have State Talent Shows, the winner gets all federal tax dollars back for that year.
      • No More Unions
        You know, there have been several studies done that compare results, and as far as I know, VERY FEW public schools - with NEA affiliated unions like ISTA - manage to do as well as the lower-funded, private, non-union, parochial schools. You know, the ones that DON'T spend $5 million for a new swimming pool... This SHOULD speak volumes to anyone who's willing to listen. Mr. Bennett seems to know this; his reforms seek to achieve the same results. I agree; the unions are anti-student, anti-taxpayer, anti common sense. Note I did NOT sat the TEACHERS are anti-student; but the UNIONS are. Get rid of the unions, and their stultifying rules, and watch the schools improve. In fact, get rid of ALL the touchy-feely types that hold the kids back...
        Where would the drop outs go? Flee to the suburbs...oh wait they are.Isn't there a law about attending school until a certain age? Hmm.....I believe there is. So for those who cannot afford to move or relocate to a better performing school, where do they go? This is reverse racism. What measurement of success would you use for a school? performance?
        As in the automotive industry unions are a large portion of the blame. Under performing teachers who are union members are protected by an archaic system which everyone knows. What progressive ideas have the unions put forth? Do they recognize there is a problem? Clearly something is wrong, but since schools are tax-payer funded they know the monies will alwyas be there. Unions no longer protect workers the rip-off society. Just look at New York where some undereperforming teachers have been drawing a check for ten years while not being in a class room. Good ol' unions..
      • ISTA is correct.
        ISTA is correct. Bennett's attacks on IPS show how out-of-touch he is. If IPS didn't have as many great teachers, the dropout rate would be 85%. Let Bennett lead just one school for a year and follow the same State and Federal rules. He, (he was a PE teacher), will not do better.

        Who, outside Bennett and the governor believe that replacing the experienced teachers with state employees would improve education?

        Who, outside government, believes that ALL students completing high school is a measure of success? Is your company graded by never having to fire an unproductive employee.

        Lets measure the schools with some honesty.

        No. the Union and teachers should not support Bennett if they want better education for the children.
        • It's about time
          It's about time someone stood up to the self-serving teachers' union!
        • EAG Foundation
          The response by ISTA President Schnellenberger to Supt. Bennett's plea for union support for the state's sorely needed Fast Forward RTTT reforms should send a clear message to Hoosiers: the ISTA has no interest in improving public education in Indiana.
          The ISTA would much rather maintain the status-quo, which obviously isn't working.
          It is by the same "me first" mentality that Schnellenberger lambasted state officials recently for bringing in noted education reformer Joe Klein to speak at the state's Education Roundtable, which he didn't attend.
          What Mr. Schnellenberger doesn't seem to understand is that the state's school teachers, and some may say by extension the ISTA, work for Indiana taxpayers. It's not the other way around.
          The ISTA has proven that it is an organization that has a proven track record of poor decisions. The scandal surrounding the union's insurance trust has made that perfectly clear.
          Indiana residents want and deserve a better education system; the ability to produce smart, educated future state leaders depends on it.
          It's just a shame that the ISTA is holding the state hostage over its RTTT application, which could bring in substantial money and reforms that would be a huge step toward that goal.
          • Bennett v. ISTA
            If Tony Bennett wasn't such a bossy, accusatory person, maybe he would get more support for his ideas. He's as abrasive as Hilary Clinton, for Pete's sake.
          • REALLY?!!
            How can anyone take seriously an organization that, time and again, has actually fought for the quality of the product it provides to have no effect on funding or workers' compensation?
          • ISTA Like US Senate
            With 62% (only, which sounds like a substantial majority to me) of the ISTA membership supporting the plan, their position in opposition can and should be compared to the filibuster rules in the US Senate. I am general pro-union, but come on people, Indiana continues to rank 47th in the nation's educational rankings.

            The ISTA position is anti-student, anti-taxpayer and anti common sense.

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