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EYE ON THE PIE: Governor gets his priorities right

March 17, 2008

Mitch Daniels has done many controversial things as governor. He leased the Indiana Toll Road. He got rid of the state employees' union. He convinced the Legislature to switch to daylight-saving time. He proposed a property tax package that has many popular features. He also has advanced various ideas, some good, and some less good that went nowhere.

Now our governor has come forth with the most positive and important initiative of his administration: awards for academic excellence. As Daniels said, "Every spring, we celebrate with excitement the selection of Mr. and Miss Basketball. It's past time that we hold academic achievement in the same esteem and emphasize the decisive importance that ability in math and science will play in Indiana's future."

Not all the credit should go to the governor. The award was developed with input from the Indiana Science Technology Engineering Mathematics Network, the Hoosier Association of Science Teachers Inc., the Indiana Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents. But the governor has made it his own and he deserves credit for doing that.

This is not a new idea. For years, critics of Hoosier education have bemoaned the excessive emphasis on high school sports. Just look in most newspapers for evidence of this obsession. Look at the trophies in our high school corridors for our misplaced sense of importance.

Good high schools are not those that win state tournaments. Good high schools graduate students with good skills that prepare them for living a good life as contributing citizens. How fast you can swim is not as important as how fast you can think. How far you can throw a ball is not as consequential as how well you can propel an idea. But to this point Indiana has given little recognition to these skills.

Now the governor has focused attention on math and science skills. The idea is for students, teachers, councilors and administrators to nominate the best and a committee will pick the state champions. But why shouldn't we have champions from each school? Let's give our best the opportunity to be recognized locally, to have their pictures in the school corridors and community newspapers.

We don't want to cheapen the state awards. So let's make the granting of these awards into an event, a dinner that raises funds for our schools that becomes the place to be seen. Regional dinners could recognize regional winners, but the really big event might be black tie at the Indiana Convention Center.

While we are at it, let's think about broadening the awards to include other competencies beyond math and science. Students who achieve excellence in music, history, literature, and yea, even the social sciences could be honored. If we can support the insufferable Indiana High School Athletics Association, why can't we find ways to honor those who will help our state's progress?

High schools are the most important aspect of Indiana's economic infrastructure. People want to live in places with good high schools. Students in good high schools are role models for their younger brothers and sisters.

They become the heart of the local work force. The governor's new program is worthy of extensive support. For more details, go to secure.in.gov/apps/mathscienceawards/.



Marcus taught economics for more than 30 years at Indiana University and is the former director of IU's Business Research Center. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at mmarcus@ibj.com.
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