Education reform: look to Indiana?

I promised that I’d post about some of the education reform efforts going forward in other states. The American Enterprise Institute recently issued a report on Indiana’s reform efforts: Implementing Indiana’s “Putting Students First” Agenda: Early Lessons and Potential Futures.”

I admit to a special interest in Indiana: I’m a product of Indiana public schools (K-12), where my mother also taught fifth and sixth grade for many years.

So what’s happening in the Hoosier state? The underlinings are mine, by the way – just an effort to help you navigate through a lot of material.

The Indiana state legislature reformed teacher evaluation
with Senate Enrolled Act 1. Local school districts must begin implementing new teacher evaluation systems in 2012–13 that include measures of student achievement and growth, evidence from classroom observations, and other measures of professionalism and performance. . . SEA 1 requires an annual performance
evaluation that puts teachers into one of
four categories: Highly Effective, Effective, Improvement
Necessary, and Ineffective.


Unlike more assertive efforts from Republican
administrations that recently attempted to curtail
teacher collective bargaining in Wisconsin and Ohio,
Senate Enrolled Act 575 (SEA 575) managed to limit
but not eliminate bargaining rights. Specifically, SEA
575 limited bargaining to matters related to salaries,
wages, and benefits. The IDOE’s stated position has
been to support teachers’ rights to negotiate these
matters but to oppose negotiations over other topics
like the school year calendar and evaluation procedures
that traditionally have been bargained.


House Enrolled Act 1002 (HEA 1002) tries to
increase the number of Indiana charter schools and
hold them accountable for their performance.
Specifically, HEA 1002 expanded the number of
charter authorizers to include all private universities
in Indiana and a new state-level authorizer known as
the Indiana Charter School Board (ICSB). Also, HEA
1002 added accountability standards for charters’
performance, which focus on student academic
growth, increased investment in college preparatory
courses, financial performance and stability, and the
governing board’s performance and stewardship. The
Indiana State Board of Education (ISBE) also received
new powers to limit or suspend charter school
authorizers that oversee poorly performing schools.


Alongside HEA 1002, school choice supporters
also won a victory with House Enrolled Act 1003
(HEA 1003), which created a state school voucher
program. The law defined eligible students as
those between five and twenty-two years old who
have been or currently are enrolled in an accredited
school and have annual household income of no
more than 150 percent of the federal free or
reduced-price lunch income level. The student also
must have been enrolled for two semesters in a
school that did not charge transfer tuition, received
a scholarship from an organization other than his
or her school, or received a charter scholarship in
a preceding year.
Private schools must fulfill multiple requirements
to be eligible to accept voucher students. The two
most pressing are to participate in the Indiana
Statewide Testing for Educational Progress (ISTEP)
program and to submit the required data to the
IDOE. These schools also must teach a basic citizenship
education curriculum for Indiana and the
United States.

As of the 2010–11 school year,
schools received a grade from A to F corresponding
to the following levels of performance: A is
“exemplary progress”; B is “commendable progress”;
C is “academic progress”; D is “academic watch—
priority”; and F is “academic probation—high priority.”
State law allows the IDOE to take over schools
that receive F marks for six consecutive years;
options for intervention include the IDOE running
the school under a contract with a private or nonprofit
school provider.


Whew. That’s a lot of information for one post – and a lot of reforms for one state to bite off. I’ll save AEI’s thoughtful and measured evaluation of “early lessons learned” for tomorrow.

Meanwhile, any reactions? This is a lot bolder than anything Utah has tried (or at least tried and stuck with.)



  1. howard beale

    Since all these states are hell bent on driving off all these “bad” teachers, I wonder where the reserve of quality replacements are going to come from. I mean, teaching is being sold as a profession where you will be mostly criticized for everything you do, where there are low salaries and decreasing benefits. In fact, the dearth of male teaching prospects should be concerning. I think it comes from the fact that all these reforms, many on the backs of teachers, along with no promise of little or no pay increase, decrease and constant derision for their efforts, the profession sells itself, doesn’t it?

    I think more efforts should be made to make teachers feel more appreciated, more efforts to increase pay, restore lost benefits, reduce class sizes. Again, this is a major paradigm shift than education on the cheap. It takes real investment. Unlike Mary I suppose, I see most teachers doing good work, doing their best to teacher our young people under great challenges, perhaps the greatest being constant criticism and ad nauseum “reforms” that heap more work on teachers but do nothing to improve education. So I’m going to suggest some simple reforms. It isn’t the common core (that won’t work, even it is great stuff because of the climate teachers face right now). It will require serious investment though my suggestions are really simple.

    1) Put two qualified teachers in every classroom. I believe in synergy. I believe two teachers can reach most every student and learning style and personality. When one teacher has his/her back turned, the other can help manage the others. Good teachers beg, borrow, steal and adapt ideas. With this system, one teacher could run class while the other may have a chance to observe other teachers.
    2) Administrators must have at least 10 years of TEACHING EXPERIENCE and be considered a MASTER TEACHER. Peer review of all teachers to obtain this status is critical. If those two elements don’t exist, don’t apply. Too many schools are led by administrators that really don’t have the background in teaching or an understanding of what can/should happen in the classroom.
    3) Make concerted efforts to recruit and retain MALE teachers. So many of our children, especially boys, need male role models. You do this by increasing pay, increasing pay, increasing pay (did I say that already?) so a male trying to support a family might entertain going into the profession.
    4) Get teachers more involved in developing the curriculum and teacher evaluation instruments. I mean do we let politicians determine the standards for lawyers, doctors, dentists etc. There are too many cooks in the stew and the real experts seem to be ignored.
    5) Go for more meaningful ways to evaluate students. Bubble tests are stupid. Students should be producing portfolios to present before graduation, tests should be based on showing skills in a variety of ways (producing a product rather than choosing between four answers). Again, this would require some major investment.
    6) No elementary class should have more than 20 students and no secondary class should have more than 30 students. No high standards or new teacher evaluation systems will make a hoot of difference with large class sizes. The core curriculum won’t mean a hill of beans if teachers can only hope to “manage” their students rather than teach them.

    • Jeffrey Hosten

      Can you quantify the cost that you are talking about? You would at least double the amount spent on salaries by putting two teachers in every room. Setting a ceiling at 20 means likely increasing staff again (possibly to 3 or 4 times the current level) and that’s not including your pay increases. You can’t do a “cost-benefit” analysis without looking at the cost.

      • Jennifer Baker

        Sorry. I’m fairly new to this blog, so I hadn’t seen your previous postings on evaluation. I agree that the testing should not be used to “get teachers,” particularly since many subjects are not tested. Adding testing to every class would mean schools would be testing for half of the year.

        Unfortunately, most policy-makers think that standardized testing is the magic cure-all. I’m tired of being made out to be the bad guy.

    • Mary McConnell

      Two teachers in every classroom? That’s an incredibly expensive proposal, especially combined with limiting elementary classrooms to 20 students. As I’ve noted in previous posts, there’s not much evidence that the drive toward smaller classes has improved educational outcomes, and there’s considerable evidence that it has depressed teaching salaries.

      I’d also be curious to know how many teachers would welcome this proposal. I know that I wouldn’t have wanted a co-teacher in my history, government, or economics classrooms, although I would have welcomed more observation and advice. What I did love having was paraprofessional support for essay-grading (smart college students!)

      On the other hand, I completely agree that teachers should be more involved in curriculum development and teacher evaluations. As I’ve followed the debate over teacher evaluation, I’m struck that the systems that seem to be working well (Montgomery County, Maryland and Cincinnati, for example) were developed with a lot of involvement by teachers, and carried out largely by master teachers. Ditto for the strong curriculum standards adopted in Massachusetts.

      But – and it’s a big but – if teachers want a bigger voice in evaluation systems they’re going to need to get on board with the drive toward more, and more effective, evaluation. If we want evaluations that go beyond “blame the teacher” to “help the teacher grow and improve”, then teachers need to be part of the design. That means moving beyond obstruction.

      For what it’s worth, I think that’s happening within the American Federation of Teachers, more slowly and reluctantly within the National Education Association, and vigorously in a few locations.

      • Jennifer Baker

        What is your definition of “evaluation?” Standardized test scores? That’s what everyone seems to say these days when they talk about “accountability,” but standardized tests are being used in ways for which they were never intended, such as “evaluating” teachers. Students have no stake in these test scores, so they sometimes don’t do their best on the tests. And yet, my job is supposed to hinge on those scores?

      • Mary McConnell

        I’ve posted several entries about what I consider to be strong evaluation regimes. They either rely only in part or not at all on standardized test scores. Yes, I think that for many subjects and grade levels value-added scores give useful information, but this information needs to be supplemented by, and tested against, other forms of observation and analysis.

        The more important issue, to my mind, is how to tie evaluation to teacher mentoring and improvement. I have a lot of sympathy for the many commentators on this blog who worry about test scores being used as a “blame the teacher” club. But I’d like to see teachers take more of a lead in proposing and indeed pushing for sound evaluation schemes. The status quo – where more than 95% of teachers get great ratings – is neither credible nor helpful to teachers (and I believe this means most teachers) who would really like to know how they can become more effective.

  2. Jeffrey Hosten

    From what I’ve heard, the voucher program was pretty well watered down. I don’t remember where I heard it, or how it went, but someone was telling me that the voucher program was going to be used as a test case, but it wasn’t a very good test case. Anyone heard anything similar?

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