The new education chief

April 22, 2009
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Tony Bennett has been state superintendent of public instruction for just three months, but heâ??s making plenty of waves.

Bennett, who replaced longtime chief Suellen Reed after she decided not to run for re-election, has not abandoned his campaign promise of shooting for 90-percent graduation rates and 90 percent of Hoosiers students passing Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress by the time his term ends.

The Republican has riled both administrators and teachers by eliminating snow days as counting toward the required 180 days of student instruction. Heâ??s talked of performance-based pay for teachers and advocating the stateâ??s taking over failing schools. Oh, and he thinks colleges and universities are doing miserable jobs of training future teachers.

So he isnâ??t afraid to break china.

What do you think of Bennett? Is he on the right track? And if he fails to hit the 90-percent goals, should he refuse to run again or be turned out by voters if he does?
  • Bennett is on the correct track. The first thing he can do on his quest to 90 percent is make sure teachers are the authorities in their classroom. Working towards getting the Teacher discipline bill through the statehouse was a terrific success for him. Once order is restored to classrooms in Indiana then teaching may resume. 90% is a lofty goal, but if he fails to hit it then it does not mean he has failed. If he is on the right track toward the 90% then he should run again. Hell, if there is a significant increase during his tenure in graduation rates he should get to run unopposed.
  • Indiana’s K-12 education system has not performed as well as many hope and leaves Hoosiers in a less than desired competitive advantage. Too few dollars reach the classroom, overall academic results are mediocre, and special interests tend to control the process. The answer clearly is not to throw more taxpayer dollars at the problem and let the political status quo prevail.

    State Superintendent Tony Bennett is a breath of fresh air! He supports a parent’s right to choose which public school their children attend, and he supports taking direct control of failed schools.

    Yes, he is unpopular with those that are against any change. I support him because he is willing to take calculated risk to fix the problems. I’m convinced that he is not going to destroy public education in Indiana, but will help fix it. I personally support his efforts.

    Greg Wright, Member
    Board of Education
    MSD Washington Township
  • First please get the facts correctly. Schools were not allowed carte blanche to count snow days as school days. Schools that had an excessive number of 'out of their control' days off were allowed to apply for a waiver from the 180 day requirement and were sometimes granted that waiver. It is unclear whether or not that may still be the case since we have yet to have to deal with that question in practice but certainly those 'exceptions' will not get widely publicized. Secondly, many schools are already in session more than the 180 minimum requirement --our local school system goes 185 days with some of this time allocated for half day teacher inservice.
    Thirdly, Suellen Reed made the announcement she was not running for reelection AFTER Mitch Daniels announced he was supporting Tony Bennett. Unusual timing?
    Finally, Dr Bennett is burning a lot of bridges that probably should not be set on fire just yet. Some of his goals may be attainable if he changes the metric--90% graduation means he will have to change the graduation requirements for special education students who can not pass the GQE--does this mean they are 'smarter'? 90% passing the ISTEP that just recently changed its format--same question--if it is not the same test can it be compared? If you change the metric you don't have an equal situation to measure.
    Discipline in the classroom is a factor of both the teacher, the school administration and the legal process. Do I believe that legislation is necessary? No --and I suspect that 'discipline' is not going to miraculously improve because a politician said it will. A student who is termed 'special needs' can not be expelled due to behavior that is not endangering others--check out the stats on which students create many of the discipline 'issues' and you will be surprised.
    Certainly education can be improved, graduation rates increased and more--but just saying so to make the front page does not make it happen. Thus far we've seen lots of public press, lots of staff reduction at the DOE, and lots of hiring higher paid 'friends'. We have not seen progress--we've seen school system budget pronouncements of teacher layoffs( who will all be quietly rehired in a couple of months).
    Please get politics out of the classroom. My children's teachers are hardworking professionals who don't need unneccessary controversy from the politicians who are clueless as to what happens in the classroom.
  • Skeptical,

    Unneccessary controversy? Are you serious? IPS alone is a terrible school system with an average of 30% of its students graduating high school. Please, I know those teachers work hard but continuing to work hard in an ineffective system isn't going to fix this.

    Tony Bennett seems tough, passionate, and if you had read the article you'd know he's not a clueless politician; his background is in education and coaching. I think his enthusiasm, optimism, and willingness to take intelligent risks is refreshing. He's not interested in hearing excuses or why change is inherently a bad thing, so he's definitely breaking with Hoosier tradition there. I congratulate him for it.

    And I'm not one to readily trust politicians but your wink-wink insinuations about the unusual timing and hints at conspiracies and cronyism don't sound informed at all. If you don't have any positive ideas of your own about what could be done to improve education in Indiana, at least reserve judgment until after Mr. Bennett has had some time to implement his ideas.
  • The biggest concern of schools that I've heard (from talking to teachers and principals in the district where I live) are that he has pronounced that half-days can no longer be counted as days of instruction, and expects the districts to immediately be able to adhere to that rule. There are teacher contracts to amend somehow, school calendars for 1-2 years in advance that must now be reworked, and let's not forget there's a budget crisis so the schools don't have money to pay the teachers extra for the extra time that will be needed. Our teachers NEED professional development. They have to be able to get it somehow. It's just hard for districts to be quite that nimble in these economic times and with other constraints.

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