Editor’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 appeared 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 Illinois, 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, teacher-effectiveness, and collective-bargaining and pension-reform fronts.
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.