Some new ideas on education reform

January 15, 2011

I read the debate page of your Dec. 27 Forefront issue between former House speaker [Pat] Bauer [D-South Bend] and incoming Speaker [Brian] Bosma [R-Indianapolis] regarding “What should be done to attract more young professionals to Indiana?” Bosma touches on education in Indiana. That is where the challenge begins.

We spend too much on brick and mortar and administration and too little on the classroom experience. Classrooms need to be bright, well-lit and big enough for students and teachers to feel they can “breathe” in them. They do not have to be architectural wonders. Students and teachers need to know that administrators are there for their benefit. The stronger the student-teacher relationship, the fewer support staff required.

It is remarkable that, in much of the discussion about improving education, the role of parents is ignored. Parents need to understand that teachers are there to teach, not coddle and discipline, and that administrators are there to support the pursuit of excellent education. Parents should be leading the effort, not following it.

Most discussion seems to support the notion that we must refocus our efforts on math, science and technology. What about reading comprehension and writing/communication skills? We like to test in order to assess success. We are missing a critical “test” in the education discussion. Schools should conduct tests early in a student’s journey to identify where their strength(s), and most probably their passion(s) lie, instead of cramming excessive courses down their throats. The result is a dislike for the delivery of education and most certainly a less-motivated student.

To date we have spent $218,492 on college-related costs for our four children. If Indiana wants to develop and attract professionals, it must deal with ridiculous costs to attend college. I suggest a program for Indiana residents along these lines: When each student enters school, they earn credits toward postsecondary education. Credits would be tied to attendance, grades and participation in extracurricular activities of an academic nature. The credits follow the child. The credits are then redeemed against tuition at any Indiana school. Asking a student to fund their education through college loans is unacceptable, particularly given the debt load we have placed on this generation already.

When we have implemented this environment of education excellence, not only will it be easier to retain Hoosier professionals, it will be far easier to attract employers and professionals from outside our state. It will take time, it will take commitment, it will take money and it will take cooperation. As I grow older, I cannot think of anything that is more important than excellence in education. It serves us all.

Scott Berline

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