By Greg Morris
Education is on my mind this week.
There’s been a lot of progress made in education reform during the past few years, and now I fear we are at risk of moving backward.
I’m worried the defeat of Tony Bennett as state superintendent of public instruction puts this state’s education reforms at risk.
An Associated Press headline this week read, “Teacher wrath boosts Ritz to upset in state education race.”
In the article, Glenda Ritz, our new education chief, pledged to roll back many of Bennett’s changes, including a reading test that third-graders must pass to advance to fourth grade.
Teachers and administrators don’t like the A-F grade system they are subject to.
They don’t like the move toward private takeovers of public schools that repeatedly fail.
Many educators don’t like the expansion of charter-school access, limitations of their collective bargaining rights and pay raises based on annual evaluations.
Well, accountability does come with some cost and sacrifice.
Gov. Mitch Daniels dedicated about half of his State of the State address in January 2011 to his education reform agenda. Daniels recapped the early achievements of reform in January of this year.
Governor-elect Mike Pence is poised to pick up the education-reform baton and run with it.
However, now it’s possible he has a potential adversary to work with instead of a partner.
Obviously, not everyone agrees more charter schools or other proposed reforms are a good idea.
Do you remember the raucous scene at the Indiana Statehouse last year?
More than 1,000 teachers came from across the state to rally and voice their objections to Daniels’ education reforms and the specifics of the House Bill 1002, which they feared would drain resources from traditional public schools.
Daniels and Bennett have often been demonized because they’ve forced change in an attempt to fix a failing system.
Isn’t that the way it always is?
A system is failing, and everyone says they want to improve it. But when significant change is finally proposed and executed, all the individual and special interests scramble to fight it.
Nothing happens, and the cycle repeats itself.
Change does not come easily. Education reform is a topic that brings out passion – and rightfully so.
Our children are our future. It’s tough to take the lead and criticize some teachers, administrators and school systems when there are good things happening in many schools.
But the numbers don’t lie. Indiana students as a group have been underperforming, and schools as a group have been failing for years.
Yet there are excellent school systems that consistently perform at a high level.
These high-performers don’t like a lot of the reforms because they want to be granted more local control and take their game to an even higher level.
They don’t want to be saddled with state mandates they say will hinder the success they are already achieving.
Yet those voices have to be careful their message does not blend in with the underperformers who are loudly complaining to protect their own self-interest.
Everyone would like to see more consensus on what changes are needed.
However, it has been obvious for decades that consensus is not at hand. The change we need has to be forced.
Daniels has forced change, and I applaud the effort.
Bennett has forced change as well, and that didn’t make him popular with many. As a result, he paid the price in his re-election bid.
So why am I on my soapbox talking about this issue?
I don’t believe there is any better catalyst for positive change in education reform than what can be fostered in every newspaper in every community in this great state.
As newspaper publishers, we have a responsibility to facilitate the discussions that provide positive solutions for our kids. And we need to continue to hold responsible parties accountable for their actions or inactions, as the case may be.
Maybe Ritz has better solutions, and she’ll work with the governor and the legislature as partners for positive change.
But no matter what side of the aisle you’re on as to which changes need to take place, I hope we can all agree that we can’t return to the status quo.
We can’t go backward.
Thanks for doing what you all do best – taking the lead in your individual communities on topics like education reform.
Greg Morris, HSPA board of directors president, is president of IBJ Media and publisher of Indianapolis Business Journal. His column appears in the first issue of each month.