Schools chief Tony Bennett makes the case for Indiana as the "reformiest" state in this pitch for the Fordham Institute's Education Reform Idol contest.
The right-leaning group has Florida, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana vying for the title. Each has enacted legislation with broad repercussions for public education; Illinois seems to be the only one that has done so with even a modicum of bipartisanship. The high-profile Democratic walkouts in Wisconsin and Indiana attest to the controversial nature of education bills there.
I'm not sure exactly how the Ed Reform Idol contest works, but if there's an opportunity for the judges to question the contestants, I hope Ed Sector's Richard Colvin asks Bennett why Indiana is a lone holdout among the group in offering no state-funded preschool. Any questions about preschool funding are dismissed by the state superintendent as something nice to consider if and when the state has some money. Gov. Mitch Daniels even dismantled his predecessor's early learning commission.
When I participated a few years back in a Hechinger Institute conference on early childhood education at Columbia University, Colvin asked me what the problem was with Indiana, one of just 12 states without a preschool program. I was at a loss then to explain why the Hoosier state was so backward and am even more so now, given that Bennett and his team at the Indiana Department of Education tout their reliance on research-based strategies.
In fact, research-based strategies have little to do with their approach. Their success at passing so-called reform bills comes from total GOP control of the governor's office and the General Assembly, where generous contributions from the likes of the "Madoff of the Midwest" helped deliver a Republican House majority last November.
Given the competition, however, Indiana probably stands a good chance to win. After all, how could any Idol judge overlook a contestant named Tony Bennett?