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Web letter by Michael Schmid: Common-sense cures will restore glory of public education

I read the editorial by State Superintendent Tony Bennett (“State maintains commitment to educators,” March 27), and I have issues with his comments.

First of all, Diane Ravitch is an education reform advocate, not critic. She is a critic of what Bennett believes is education reform, but that is not the same thing. She has been an advocate for a number of years. In fact, she was an advocate for the kinds of reforms that Bennett is now advocating and working to direct the Indiana Department of Education and legislature to implement. She is also a respected education researcher and historian. She was one of the chief advocates of education reform in the U.S. Department of Education under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. She was also a member of a number of conservative think tanks which promoted the kinds of accountability Indiana is now embracing.

However, in the course of her research, she has come to the conclusion that she was wrong. When she looked at the data it became apparent. What she was advocating would not bring about the kinds of improvement she thought it would. The kinds of reforms we are doing in Indiana will not improve education. These reforms, in my opinion, will in fact most likely destroy our public education system.

I will agree with Bennett on one thing. Evaluation of teachers by principals can be a very good thing. This, however, requires that administrators understand what they are evaluating. They need to understand, education is not a one-size-fits-all situation. Forcing all teachers to teach the same way, design their lessons the same way, arrange their room the same way, put the same displays up, is not in the best interest of education. I question some of the evaluation techniques the state is forcing on schools. The RISE model has some good as well as bad things in it. Allowing schools to develop their own system has the potential to help a great deal, but it needs to be authentic.

Additionally, I am very concerned that Bennett thinks merit pay is a good thing. It is not. To apply free-market competition to education is not appropriate. In that system, there are winners and there are losers. We are not making machines; we are dealing with people. We can’t afford to have failures. We do not have the option of recycling the failed machines. Teachers need to be collaborative, not competitive. Pitting teachers against one another is not in the best interest of our students or schools. Study after study demonstrates that merit pay does not work in schools. It promotes the very behaviors in educators that destroy schools. We want all students to succeed, not just the ones who get into a teacher’s class that has a “secret formula” for success.

Bennett and our legislature have listened to the wrong people on education reform. The mandates and requirements they are imposing are more likely to cause more problems in schools than they solve. These reforms seem to have more to do with political ideology than education improvement.

The efforts of Bennett, the governor, the legislature and the Department of Education seem to be having a major effect on teacher-training schools as well. In talking to the major colleges in our state that prepare teachers, they tell me new enrollment in the education departments is declining. They are trying all kinds of new programs to attract the best students. But even these programs and scholarships are not going to be enough if students continue to see what is going to be required of them as teachers, how they are going to be treated as teachers and how they will be compensated as teachers. Teachers today are prepared better than ever in our history for teaching. We know more about how to teach, and our colleges are doing an amazing job with their students.

The behavior of our governor and state superintendent, demonizing teachers just prior to this last legislative session, has had a major chilling effect. By continually working to undermine teachers, by requiring more and more useless paperwork, by claiming teacher compensation must be linked to student outcomes, by claiming teachers are overpaid as compared to other workers, they are scaring teachers out of the profession and driving future teachers away. Who would want to go into a profession where they are going to have to spend $50,000 for tuition alone and then receive a salary that will never fully compensate them for their costs?

The fight over education is not about improving education. It is about social engineering. It is about making money in the private sector. It is about destroying the middle class. It is an ideological battle that is not in the best interests of our students or our state.

Teaching is an amazing profession. I have had the privilege to teach in Indiana for the past 34 years. I have worked in three different schools systems with very different demographics in grades K-12. Each has its own unique challenges, but the one thing they all have had in common was a teaching staff that was dedicated to doing the best it could to teach their students. The schools that are recognized as the best schools are the ones coming from the more affluent areas. Poverty is the major cause of poor achievement. It has little to do with how hard teachers work.

In every school I have worked in, the teachers work hard. The additional hours teachers put in beyond their contract is never fully appreciated and usually overlooked by those criticizing them. I average more than 50 hours a week in my classroom alone. My free time and vacations are partly spent looking for ways to improve what I do in my classroom. When I look at other teachers in more academic areas, I am astounded by the amount of paperwork they have to take home on a daily basis.

With the changes in our schools that are occurring, we are spending even more time going back and documenting everything. We are doing paperwork filled with statistics and data compilation that will not help us teach any better or improve the education of our students. Requiring administrators to compile useless data and file endless reports will not improve education either.

If we want to improve education, the way to do it is simple.

Provide adequate funding for schools to fully staff programs that inspire students.

Equip schools with the equipment and materials they need.

Empower teachers and let them teach.

Provide teachers with the tools they need.

Provide the kinds of community support that encourages student success.

As a teacher near the end of his career, I am not in fear of what will happen to my job, but I am in fear of what will happen to education in the state of Indiana. On our current course, the success of public education and eventually the prosperity of the state, is in jeopardy.


Art teacher, Homestead High School