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Daniels pushes education reform

POSTED AT 11:51 PM ON Jan. 13, 2011 

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Gov. Mitch Daniels has big plans for education reform, and it’s causing local educators
concern.

In Daniels’ State of the State address Tuesday, the governor emphasized the need for education reform and urged legislatures to take advantage of the Republican majority in the Indiana General Assembly to push the initiative forward.

Daniels outlined a plan that may soon affect the financial needs of Monroe County Community School Corporation and other local schools.

“In no realm is our opportunity larger than in the critical task of educating our children,” Daniels said in his address. “The need for major improvement, and the chance for achieving it, is so enormous tonight that opportunity rises to the level of duty.”

Daniels’ proposed agenda includes a voucher system that will allow children to use state dollars to attend a private or charter school rather than a public school in their district.

Doug Waltz, principal of Summit Elementary School, said he was concerned with a plan allowing children to take taxpayers’ dollars outside the district.

“This really worries me in a time of funding issues,” Waltz said. “The Title 1 project already does this with federal dollars, and I’m not sure this is what Indiana public education needs right now.”

Don Wilson, principal of private school Lighthouse Christian Academy, said he supports what the voucher system will do to reduce expenditures for the parents of his school’s students but still has his concerns.

“Right now, our parents are essentially paying double by paying taxes to public schools as well as paying to send their children here,” Wilson said. “But I am still reluctant to accept money from the government because that then allows them to control our educational standards.”

Wilson said Lighthouse Christian Academy holds its standards high and school officials try to make the internal system better instead of using the government for help.

Waltz, on the other hand, said the collaborative efforts of the professional community within MCCSC are taking the system in the right direction.

In addition to the voucher system, Daniels hopes to provide scholarships for high school seniors graduating early, implement pay-for-performance for teachers based on year-to-year test scores and limit the strength of unions’ collective bargaining ability.

While Waltz said he believes accountability is important, he is  apprehensive about such an emphasis on test scores.

“All students do not learn at the same rate,” Waltz said. “To tie performance only to a measure of test scores is unfortunate because there are lots of things teachers value more than the almighty dollar in education; just take a look at teacher morale and what makes people want to stay in education.”

While Waltz said he did not like everything he heard in Daniels’ address, he has other worries.

“What wasn’t said is sometimes a greater part of the agenda than what was said,” Waltz said. “Daniels didn’t speak of the role of public education, and I’m a nuts-and-bolts kind of guy. I need to see a plan that is palatable to the people.”

Drew Frey, who has been teaching mathematics at Bloomington High School South for nine years, also noted important changes Daniels did not mention in his address.

“I think Daniels should be focusing on fixing the funding formula,” Frey said. “He should make sure all schools are equitably funded and also make sure money is specified for staff and students.”

Although Frey said Daniels did not talk about some of the more important issues, he still supports parts of the agenda such as providing benefits to early high school graduates and collective bargaining reform.

“I don’t disagree that it’s something they maybe should do,” Frey said about limiting the strength of unions. “It’s just going to be hard for them to do. How do you say art just isn’t as important as math? I don’t see how you can put a curve on that.”

Even in the face of state education overhaul, Waltz said he is optimistic about where
MCCSC is headed.

“This professional learning community is the best thing I have been a part of,” Waltz said. “We really know what we want the kids to have and what the kids need.”

 

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