INDIANAPOLIS – Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett called for lagging school districts to be held accountable and funding flexibility in his third annual State of Education speech Tuesday night.
“Already, we have seen the type of steady gains in student performance that are encouraged by a system that sets high expectations, enforces accountability and increases freedom for educators and parents,” he said. “But we must not waver in our commitment to Indiana’s students.”
Bennett is seeking another four-year term, and if re-elected said one item he would focus on is district-level leadership. The state has taken over individual failing schools but currently doesn’t have such powers with regard to districts.
“It has become clear that underperformance is often systemic, with problems rooted in district-level leadership,” he said. “To make a greater impact on student performance where it is most desperately needed, Indiana should begin to explore expanding accountability to the district level."
Bennett also said Indiana should examine the funding of more early education opportunities, like pre-school. But he didn’t advocate more money for K-12 education.
“As we look for better ways to fund our schools, we should not just focus on ways to give schools MORE money. As a former school leader, I know from experience that what a lot of districts really want is more freedom to use the money they ALREADY receive to advance their most effective programs,” he said. “Indiana should find ways to reward successful districts with more funding flexibility and regulatory freedom.”
Much of the address was spent revisiting strides Indiana has made in test scores, graduation rates and other key indicators.
Bennett also touted a host of education reforms passed – from changing teacher evaluations to include student performance, granting vouchers for kids attending private schools, increasing the number of charter schools and limiting collective bargaining for teachers.
“Our great teachers and principals are leading an era of progress, supported by a transformed system that is focused squarely on helping all students find pathways to success,” he said. “And while ours is one of many states across the country to take up efforts to transform our schools in recent years, no one, and I mean no one, has done it better than Indiana.”
He also singled out Fort Wayne Community Schools for pairing North Side High School with Fort Wayne Metals to be one of eight schools in the Conexus Advanced Manufacturing and Logistics pilot program this year.
North Side will align its curriculum with industry demands and use Ivy Tech to let students earn dual credits and industry certifications before they graduate. The experience gained through this program will make them competitive for jobs at companies such as Fort Wayne Metals, Cummins, Subaru, Honda and Toyota.
For more on this story, see Wednesday’s print edition of The Journal Gazette or visit www.journalgazette.net after 3 a.m. Wednesday.