Rather than post an update today about the little activity in the Statehouse, I thought instead that I would share an interesting column by Matthew Tully in today’s Star. MCCOY shares his concern that all of the conversations currently occuring about education reform don’t have much of a child-centered focus. Just some food for thought.
Tully: Children deserve serious debate on education reform
Being an optimist, I honestly and naively thought that by now the debate over education reform would have grown less divisive. After all, the goals of better schools and more opportunities for children should be the rare issue with the power to force a spirit of cooperation into the political debate.
No, I didn’t expect the various factions involved to cave on their core issues. But with recent bipartisan federal education debates backing up my theory, I thought this could be one issue that was battled on a higher plane.
OK, so I was wrong.
The legislative debate has been underwhelming. That’s largely because the House Democrats whose districts include many of the state’s most endangered schools have not participated in the discussion, and because Republicans insisted on wasting time this session on wedge issues that were guaranteed from the start to pollute the Statehouse mood.
Additionally, the teachers unions have used their might to tarnish reformers and the sensible and much-needed changes they are proposing.
It’s been disappointing.
But it’s not too late.
Someday, I assume, Democrats will return from Illinois and the legislature will get around to finishing the session’s education debate. Instead of more protests, poison pills and exaggerations, here’s an idea: Let’s have a debate that is worthy of the state’s schoolchildren. Let’s stop acting as if there are easy fixes, or that the status quo is even close to acceptable, and judge legislation on one question: whether it will lead to better classrooms and schools for Indiana’s children.
Along the way, those pushing for reform need to make a stronger public case for bills they support — bills that would, among other things, expand the network of charter schools, tie teacher and principal evaluations more to student performance and reduce the role seniority plays when it comes to layoffs and other teacher moves.
Legislative Democrats who insist they support these measures need to speak up now. If they don’t, if they continue to shrink in fear of angering party bosses, they will have permanently lost their credibility on the issue of education reform.
Top Republicans, meanwhile, need to begin patching the massive rift between them and teachers. In a recent conversation, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett told me he is paying for the “flame throwing” ways he displayed during the first year of his term. He spends a lot of time talking to teachers these days but must convince more of them that while he is committed to increasing teacher quality, he is also on the side of the thousands of teachers who courageously do their jobs every day.
Parents and other taxpayers have a role to play, too. It’s to pay attention to a debate that could help shape the future of the city and state — and, most important, of many students.
House Democrats will return to work eventually. When they do, the debate over education reform will resume. Hopefully the second half of this debate will be more worthy of Indiana students than the first.