Indiana is America's Education Reform Idol

Tony Bennett


Tony Bennett with Mike Petrilli and the Ed Reform Idol trophyEditor’s Note: This
morning, Fordham hosted Education Reform
Idol 2011
—an event that pitted Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and
Wisconsin against each other to see which state made the most legislative
gains in this year’s session. The debate was lively and the contestants
compelling. But only one could emerge victorious. The
following (which originally
on Fordham’s
Flypaper blog)
was written by the 2011 Ed Reform Idol trophy-holder, Indiana’s Superintendent
of Public Instruction Tony Bennett. Indiana’s reforms have been about
competition, freedom, and accountability. But most importantly, they’ve stayed
focused on implementation: In the five weeks since the program began, over
2,500 low-income students have gained access to schools of their choice. And there’s no
stopping this superstar state. As Bennett explained during the contest, “you
can bet your life we’re not finished.”

Curious as to where
the other states stand on education reform? Hear from the contestants from second-place
third-place Florida,
and the joint fourth-place states Ohio
and Wisconsin—or
check out the research that members of the Fordham team have done regarding
advancements made on the school-choice,
and collective-bargaining
and pension-reform

In what has been a
monumental year in education reform for many states, Indiana has seen the most
impactful and far reaching reforms passed and enacted. No one has been more
successful in providing a more comprehensive reform plan for a system that is
failing America’s children. The Indiana General Assembly passed and Governor
Daniels signed legislation expanding high-quality charter schools, creating the
broadest needs-based voucher program in the nation, and putting a dramatic focus
on educator quality and local flexibility.

New laws regarding
teacher quality require local districts to adopt compensation models based not
on teacher seniority and credentials alone—but on teacher effectiveness,
leadership roles, and the academic needs of the students, as well. Schools must
develop and implement fair, locally developed, multi-faceted annual evaluations
for teachers and principals that consider student achievement and growth. Also
included are personalized, meaningful professional-development plans and goals
for teachers and principals that are informed by these evaluations. Indiana is
even developing an evaluation tool that meets these criteria and will be
available to schools that want to adopt it.

The Hoosier State has already turned its focus to implementing these meaningful reforms.


Teacher contracts
between districts and teacher unions will now be focused only on salaries and
wage-related benefits. Discussion ensuring teacher input in school policy is
still encouraged but will not become part of the contract. And finally,
educators can no longer be laid off using the practice of least seniority first
when schools are forced to make reductions in work force.

The new Indiana
Charter School Board opens the door for more high-quality charters across the state,
and nonprofit private colleges and universities now have the ability to sponsor
great charters. Perhaps most important, the new law increases accountability
standards for charter-school authorizers, ensuring they will hold their schools
to high standards or face consequences if they do not. This directly addresses
the national call for increased expectations for charter-school performance.
The market for virtual charter schools was expanded, allowing more students to
take advantage of this innovative option. Finally, failing traditional public
schools can now convert to charter schools with community and parent support.

Parents can also now select the best possible
educational options with Indiana’s Choice Scholarship voucher program. State
tuition-support dollars follow students to schools of their choosing through a
means-tested program and participating non-public schools are held accountable
by participating in state testing and A-F grading for performance. Beyond this
opportunity, even more students can attend high quality non-public schools that
meet their needs with the current scholarship tax-credit program. The Hoosier
State has already turned its focus to implementing these meaningful reforms. In
the past several weeks alone, Indiana has signed up over 200 schools to offer
spaces for scholarship students and over 1,000 students have already been
declared eligible to receive a scholarship. And the new Indiana Charter School
Board hopes to approve its first schools before the end of 2011. There is
always more to be done to ensure our children receive the quality education
they deserve, but in 2011, Indiana has a clear claim to the title of America’s
Education Reform Idol.