To the list of four recommendations offered in a report on Indiana’s flawed A-F school grading system, add this one:
Conduct a thorough and nonpartisan review – similar to this report – before adopting any legislation regarding K-12 education. Determine the effects of the legislation on students, educators, individual schools, districts, taxpayers and communities. Involve experts and education practitioners in the process.
It took a troubling and politically charged incident for Senate President Pro Tem David Long and House Speaker Brian Bosma to call on consultants John Grew and Bill Sheldrake for an assessment of the A-F accountability system. But the legislative leaders’ response to disclosure of suspicious changes made in the school-grading formula was quick and effective. The review by Grew and Sheldrake – respected and trusted Statehouse advisers – not only satisfies concerns raised by politically compromised policymaking, but it can also serve as an example of how to set school policy going forward.
The report released Friday by Grew and Sheldrake is a satisfying answer to questions raised by emails disclosed from a public records request by the Associated Press. The emails revealed behind-the-scenes action taken by state Superintendent Tony Bennett after he learned that Christel House, a charter school founded by one of his biggest campaign donors, had received a grade of C.
Dr. Bennett expressed surprise and dissatisfaction, wrote Grew and Sheldrake. These expressions prompted an energetic response to find solutions to what was perceived to be an unfair and inaccurate result. From the emails, it is apparent that IDOE staff worked diligently in an effort to respond to the situation.
The response – two adjustments in the formula to determine Christel House’s final grade of A – was plausible, according to the report, and it was consistently applied to other schools.
But Grew and Sheldrake clearly recognize the broader issue of transparency. Their review rightly points to ways that a new accountability system, already ordered by lawmakers who were unhappy with the opaque system Bennett created, can be as simple as possible, more easily understood, and equitable.
Long and Bosma are pragmatic leaders who undoubtedly recognize the embarrassing situation in which Bennett placed the GOP-controlled legislature. They’ve been called to account for the hasty and poorly conceived policies the former superintendent pushed. They must defend their support for those policies in the next election, but they have another session to demonstrate they won’t be misled again. Reining in an executive branch working to undermine Democratic Superintendent Glenda Ritz should be their first step; adopting as standard procedure the expert and nonpartisan review of school legislation should be the second step.
Long and Bosma have restored some credibility to Indiana’s bruised and broken education policy. They can and should continue the healing.