Gov. Mike Pence announced Thursday he’s appointing four new members to the state panel charged with overseeing the Indiana Department of Education, and, by extension, the nitty-gritty of the state’s school policy.
Troy Albert, David Freitas, Andrea Neal and Brad Oliver begin their four-year terms on the State Board of Education as state officials tackle issues of central importance to parents and teachers — from how to handle the ISTEP+ testing debacle to how to meet state lawmakers’ request to rewrite the state’s A-F grading system.
Among the most critical questions the new-look board will decide soon: What should Indiana do about the nationally-crafted Common Core State Standards?
In policy terms and in political terms, it’s become a touchy issue. Indiana General Assembly members voted in March to “pause” implementation of the academic standards over objections of those who argued the move would send a confusing message to teachers.
The Indianapolis Star‘s Scott Elliott points out the governor’s re-appointment of current board members Sara O’Brien and Dan Elsener to new terms likely means the Common Core is safe. (The present panel has voiced unanimous support for the standards.)
That said, the appointment of Andrea Neal could bring more Common Core opposition to the panel than the State Board has seen since adopting the standards in 2010. As Neal wrote for the Indiana Policy Review in January:
Plenty of good reasons exist for Indiana to drop out of the Common Core, the national initiative to standardize what is taught in all public schools throughout the country.
It takes away local control. It reduces teacher flexibility. It substitutes the judgment of anonymous educrats for that of expert math and English teachers. It’s too focused on career readiness at the expense of learning for learning’s sake.
But the biggest reason to oppose Common Core has nothing to do with policy considerations and everything to do with quality. The standards are inferior to what Indiana already had in place. They are hard to understand. Yet teacher training, course materials and student testing must all be based on them.
But Brad Oliver — a Republican who ran unsuccessfully against Muncie Democrat Sue Errington for an open Indiana House seat — says the standards, while worth studying, are worth further study. He writes in a Facebook post:
While I sympathize with fellow conservatives over the lack of public input into the adoption and implementation of the Common Core, I do agree with those teachers… who have actually read the standards and find them to be “well written.” The Common Core controversy is masking a more serious issue — the over assessment of our children. This unhealthy infatuation with standardized testing is robbing our children of instructional minutes where they could be learning to think creatively and critically, two skills that will be needed to compete in the creative, global economy that awaits them. While I love Glenn Beck and other conservative thought leaders, this is one time where common sense needs to prevail. Let’s take the time to actually read and review the standards. More importantly, let’s insist on an assessment system that is streamlined, reliable, and restores instructional minutes to the classroom at every grade level.
Troy Albert says the governor’s office contacted him approximately one month ago. Saying he’s honored to have been approached, Albert declined to lay out his positions on issues such as the A-F grading system or the Common Core. He told StateImpact:
I’ve got to understand the total role of the board. I need to hear all the impact of all the issues. I just feel like I’m here to serve the state of Indiana, deal with all of the communities and people that are stakeholders in education, and have an open mind on that front.
(Albert is principal of Henryville Junior-Senior High, the school a March 2012 tornado left in ruins.)
David Freitas is a professor of educational leadership at Indiana University South Bend. Per the governor’s statement:
Freitas has served as an elected City School Board Member, a State-appointed member of the Illinois Educator Preparation and Licensure Board, a State Department of Education Official in Massachusetts, a College Dean of Education for more than 20 years, a consultant for the U.S. Department of Education, and an instructor and mentor for more than 1,000 school superintendents and K-12 school principals
Following the governor’s announcement, state superintendent Glenda Ritz issued this statement:
I want to thank the four retiring members of the State Board of Education for their service. During the first months of my administration, I have enjoyed working with them to strengthen public education for all Hoosiers. I am also looking forward to working with the new and returning members. In the coming months, I will be improving school and teacher accountability, increasing literacy, and strengthening academic standards for Hoosier children. I look forward to working with the entire Board on these critical issues.
In the statement, Pence’s office announced outgoing State Board member Neil Pickett had been appointed to the Indiana Career Council. Pence appointed board member James Edwards to serve on the Indiana Works Council.