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Mitch Daniels: Education Reformer

10:25 AM, May 3, 2011 • By RYAN STREETER
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·      Encouraging private sector support of choice. Like Florida, Indiana offers a tax credit to those who donate money to organizations that provide choice scholarships to students. The new Indiana law raises the credit amount and aims at expanding overall participation.

Classroom performance. Central to the reform efforts in both Florida and Indiana is the notion that student performance and incentives for teachers should be meaningfully linked. While discussions about “performance” during the era of No Child Left Behind often focus on schools, districts, and states, reformers understand that performance at the micro level of the classroom matters most. Florida and Indiana have based their reforms on this idea.

Florida introduced a merit pay system under Bush, which has culminated in a new law that Governor Rick Scott signed in March linking merit pay to student test scores.

Indiana’s new laws chart a similar course but go farther, mainly because Daniels and his new Republican majority in the state house have enjoyed a more favorable political environment.

·      Paying teachers by what they do, not who they are. The Daniels reforms end tenure for new teachers, establish merit rather than seniority as the basis for pay increases, and include objective student performance as one element in evaluating teacher performance. In this way Indiana’s and Florida’s new laws are similar.

·      Instituting a rigorous evaluation model. In order for the first point to work, the schools need a solid teacher evaluation process. Indiana’s new laws establish yearly evaluations for teachers and principals, require student achievement to be one component of the evaluations, assess how rigorously teachers use the best tools, and give teachers a score on a four-point scale.  

·      Limiting collective bargaining. The evaluations would matter a lot less, however, if collective bargaining were unchanged. The new Indiana law limits collective bargaining to teacher pay and wage-related benefits and removes all other extraneous matters (curriculum, class size, pedagogy, and a host of other provisions) from the bargaining process. Together with the first two points, this allows flexibility in focusing resources on the classroom, rewarding good teachers, and removing the underperformers. Adding the bargaining provision to the first two gives Indiana an advantage over the otherwise excellent merit pay bill Florida passed in March.

Taken together, these reforms have a simple objective: keep the focus on the students. By limiting bargaining, heightening evaluation standards, and instituting merit pay, Indiana has made the classroom – and the students comprising it – the center of its reform agenda.

When you roll Indiana’s reforms together, you find yourself looking at a state that offers vouchers to all who need them, has made creating new charter schools easier, erased boundaries between districts, delinked teacher pay from seniority, limited collective bargaining, and made student achievement a central measure of teacher evaluation. Back when school reform efforts began in earnest in the 1980s, this combination of reforms would have seemed a utopian dream.

And, as if they aren’t enough, Daniels has used the state budget to institute all-day kindergarten and a scholarship system for students who graduate from high school in three years.

The ink is still drying on the new reforms he has just signed, but Daniels already seems to be cementing his legacy as one of America’s leading education reformers.

Ryan Streeter is editor of ConservativeHome.com, a distinguished fellow at the Sagamore Institute, and an adjunct fellow at Hudson Institute.

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