Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Governor Daniels' State of the State Speech: Refreshing Honesty About Indiana's K-12 Schools

During late 1995 and early 1996, I worked on education issues for the Rex Early for Governor campaign. In the process of developing a education agenda, I had the opportunity to talk to scores of educators across the state. As someone who teaches mostly introductory political science classes at the college level, I was seeing first-hand what Indiana's K-12 schools were producing. The professors and instructors would, and still do, complain about having students arrive at college woefully unprepared. In particular, students' writing and grammatical skills were astonishingly bad. When it came to my area - government - few students knew the basics about how our government operates.

During the course of preparing a position paper, educators told us repeatedly that the No. 1 issue was discipline in the classroom. Teachers told us they were not allowed to be educators, and felt more like babysitters. It was a situation I witnessed first-hand when I would substitute in some of the Pike and Wayne Township schools in Indianapolis. While 90% of the class was well-behaved, as a teacher you spent almost all your time dealing with the 10% of the students who were allowed to remain in class disrupting the teacher from doing his or her job.

On another point, we noted the amount of money tied up in administrative and non-teacher salaries that were not reaching the classroom. I recall in 1996 learning that over the two previous decades spending on K-12 had increased by almost 50%, after inflation. Yet the public school lobby always would claim that the legislature was "shortchanging" education. No, the problem is that Indiana keeps pouring more and more money into K-12 education and it never reaches the classroom.

Governor Daniels' deserves an A+ for his comments on education in his State of the State speech. (The Indianapolis Star has a link to the video.) His proposal for immunity for teachers disciplining students in the scope of their employment was one Rex Early had advocated in 1996. One of the problems is that administrators won't support teachers on discipline issues because they fear lawsuits. If the threat of litigation is removed, administrators will be more likely to back teachers.

Governor Daniels' also proposed flat-lining K-12 spending. Another good proposal. In this budgetary crisis, even K-12 schools should have to tighten their belts. Again, the problem is not a lack of dollars going to schools, but the failure of those dollars to reach the classroom.

Governor Daniels' appears to have a strong grasp of the problems in K-12 education. Hopefully, the legislature will receive the same A+ when the General Assembly adjourns in April.

1 comment:

varangianguard said...

I agree, Paul.

Last evening my (fairly apolitical) wife was watching the speech on TV. To hear her (from upstairs) I thought she was watching a Colts highlight tape, or something.

She was expressing her appreciation for the Governor's comments about education.