FEIGENBAUM: Lawmakers press ahead on education issues

No snow days for your lawmakers as they continue to address sundry legislation, including education measures aimed at improving workplace skills and making Hoosiers more competitive in the global marketplace.

The business community has turned a keen collective eye to a passel of bills that seek to improve education, including measures that would improve access to preschool education; authorize Indianapolis Public Schools to enter into an agreement with a school management team to establish innovative network schools; allow charter school support to be distributed at the organizer level; create a career and technical education diploma; and more.

At the grass-roots level, one concept has stirred considerable fervor across Indiana over the past 18 months. Relevant legislation was reviewed Feb. 18 in the House education committee as the panel, chaired by Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, took a close look at Senate Bill 91, authored by Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis, and Senate Committee Education and Career Development Chairman Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn.

That legislation, as originally drafted, would have immediately voided the controversial Common Core State Standards for education.

The Common Core standards were supported by a diverse coalition of state and national education leaders, including U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan; former Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, a Republican; and a large group of governors and former state chief executives including Jeb Bush, a Republican from Florida, and Mitch Daniels, also a Republican. The business community nationally also coalesced around the standards as a catalyst for improving economic competitiveness.

As critics emerged on the far left and far right, the business community and middle largely held firm.

Gov. Mike Pence avoided an unequivocal tilt toward either camp until January’s State of the State Address, when he cited high Hoosier expectations for schools as “why Indiana decided to take a time-out on national education standards,” then assured all that Indiana’s standards “will be written by Hoosiers, for Hoosiers and will be among the best in the nation.”

State education officials opened a process to draft those new standards, and the business community provided significant input. The State Board of Education is on track to adopt new standards before July 1, with a draft released last week. While the amended Schneider bill would void Common Core after July 1, that should effectively be a moot point, because that would be the practical outcome once the state board approves the new standards.

That’s also why you didn’t see business interests object to the Senate bill: They perceived it as harmless.

In the education committee last week, Derek Redelman, the state chamber’s vice president of education and workforce development policy, told lawmakers the chamber has no concerns over SB 91 because it doesn’t change the process the General Assembly triggered a year ago. Pressed about the July voiding date, Redelman framed it as “frankly, just a gun to the head of the State Board of Education that they get done the process you set in place a year ago.”

Corporate reformers believe Common Core offers a rigorous set of standards, and are confident it will survive scrutiny and emerge largely intact following the evaluation that began in September “by Hoosiers” including K-12 teachers, higher-education subject-matter experts, and business and community leaders.

The corporate community understands the new standards won’t retain Common Core language verbatim—some pieces will be removed, some pieces will be added, the sequence of how standards are taught could be rearranged, and there will be other massaging.

Business leaders are, nevertheless, confident the standards will remain true enough to Common Core that: (a) Indiana students can be compared to students in other Common Core states; (b) Indiana schools can use textbooks based on the Common Core; and (c) Indiana students will be prepared to succeed on the SAT and ACT, exams that are being aligned to the Common Core.

Any changes to the standards will likely be minor, but they will have received the Pence-prerequisite Hoosier input. That won’t likely assuage the philosophical issues that the current critics on both ends of the spectrum express, but their attention will probably be redirected to new test development this summer.•


Adam VanOsdol, editor of Indiana Education Insight, contributed to this column.
Feigenbaum publishes Indiana Legislative Insight. He can be reached at edf@ingrouponline.com.

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