Failing grades
03 Jun 2021 — Journal Gazette
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In a visit with The Journal Gazette's editorial board early in his second term, Gov. Mitch Daniels marveled at advertisements he saw in Florida airports touting A-rated public schools as relocation enticements. He pushed to replace the labels of "exemplary," "commendable" and other terms used to rate Indiana schools with the same A-F labels.

It was part of a larger effort to institute Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's education program as Indiana's own K-12 school policy.

"If we had progressed at the same rate Florida did, we would be national leaders instead of muddling around in the middle of the pack still," Daniels said in 2009. "We cannot wait another day in this state to begin achieving the kind of progress our kids are going to need to win in life."

Twelve years later, with Florida's so-called reforms long in place, Indiana is "muddling around" at 31st in the nation for student chances for success, according to Education Week's 2021 Quality Counts survey. And Florida? It ranked 32nd.

Yet, Indiana's GOP policymakers are sticking with the A-F grading scheme, even as they once again muddle with the formula for assigning grades and remove consequences for poor academic performance now that the state's private-school voucher program has been greatly expanded. An intervention program for "failing" public schools has been discontinued after unsuccessful turnaround efforts at five schools in Indianapolis and Gary. It turns out the privately owned turnaround companies didn't have the expertise required for the job.

"I would say we have moved from an era of accountability to an era of transparency," Rep. Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, told The Journal Gazette's Niki Kelly last month.

"We are walking away from consequences, but what we are saying is choice is the consequence," the longtime chairman of the House Education Committee said. "We are giving parents the information they need to make their decisions."

Another new law, House Enrolled Act 1514, directs the State Board of Education to recalculate the A-F formula. The board last fall held public hearings, gathered public comment and will now work on the formula. Once a proposal is created, more hearings are required before the new grading guidelines are adopted and put in place in about two years.

The result will be the same worthless labels, minus the small measure of accountability placed on charter and voucher schools and with the addition of another "choice": education savings accounts. The debit card-like accounts have been at the center of fraudulent schemes in other states.

Behning and his colleagues finally have managed to establish parent "choice" : not student achievement : as the ultimate value.

But education historian Jack Schneider, in a Zoom session Tuesday with the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, said there was never a discussion in which the public agreed choice was the goal. It is not even what the public wants, he argued.

"What they want is fully funded neighborhood schools," said Schneider, an assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell and a public-school parent in the state (ranked No. 1 on the Quality Counts 2021 survey). "In no case are people actually saying, 'What I want is to be able to play consumer with regard to schools.' No, what they want is a good school in their neighborhood."

He said choice creates a "false scarcity" of good schools and makes parents compete, even as those students who need the most services are set up to lose.

"It's a con : an absolute con : and people should be ashamed of themselves when they talk about advancing choice for the people who most need it when, in fact, those are the people who are going to be most harmed by it," Schneider said.

Voters in 31st-ranked Indiana should take a critical look at the ineffective education policy Statehouse leaders have delivered over the past decade and a half. As Gov. Daniels said 12 years ago, Hoosiers can't wait another day to begin achieving the kind of progress our kids need to win in life.

This story is provided free courtesy of The Fort Wayne Newspapers.
"Failing grades" Journal Gazette 03 Jun 2021: A4