Indiana

Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Why Bennett Will Push For Broader 'Accountability' Powers

Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

State superintendent Tony Bennett speaks to reporters backstage after his 2012 State of Education address.

If his 2012 State of Education address is any indication, look for Indiana legislators to tackle a task state superintendent Tony Bennett has been pushing for at least the past year in the upcoming session of the General Assembly:

Speed up the timeline for state-led interventions in schools with chronically poor test scores or create a parallel timeline for state-led interventions in districts where underperformance has become “systemic.”

Or, he would prefer, both.

That’s one of the big takeaways from Bennett’s address to more than 250 people at the Indiana History Center Tuesday night. The address will also be replayed for statewide audiences on public radio and television over the next two weeks.

The Republican state superintendent’s legislative plans, of course, mean little if he loses his re-election bid to Democratic challenger Glenda Ritz, who offered her own response to Bennett’s remarks.

Here’s what he said in his speech:

In our efforts to turn around the state’s lowest performing schools, it has become clear that underperformance is often systemic, with problems rooted in district-level leadership. To make a greater impact on student performance where it is most desperately needed, Indiana should begin to explore expanding accountability to the district level.

What are the qualities and practices that make a district effective? How can we determine whether a district’s financial and educational decisions are aligned to what is best for students? These are important conversations we need to start having now so that—as we did with teacher evaluations—we can build a strong, student– focused accountability system for districts that is informed by input from many stakeholders.

A similar push to speed up the school-level timeline fell short in the 2012 legislative session — a fact the Indiana State Teachers Union celebrated.

Here’s what Bennett told StateImpact afterward:

I think we should speed up the failing school timeline and I think incorporated into that should be a discussion about district accountability…

[In Fort Wayne], the school board president stood up and made this comment: ‘We took a five year improvement plan and compressed it into one year and Dr. Bennett, you blame you, and we did.’ That’s how accountability should work.

We should accelerate that timeline to give the districts more flexibility to transform themselves at the district level or at the school level. And that’s how speeding up the timeline works. It’s not necessarily so the state can get their hands on more schools. It’s to really give the local districts, under local control, more leverage and more autonomy to fix their own problems.

In her response, Ritz said she would go in a different direction if elected:

Under my leadership, there would be no A-F grading system for schools, school districts or universities as currently designed.  The current A-F grading system is based on the pass/fail tests and does not give an accurate picture of our schools. The A-F grades have devastating impacts on communities when it comes to attracting and retaining business.  The quality of public schools is always one of the top considerations in site selection.

We’ll have much more on the speeches in the days ahead. What’s your reaction to Bennett and Ritz’s remarks?

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