Opportunity now to move schools forward
To the editor:
No matter how it’s spun, Indiana schools have improved tremendously by all measurable standards in the past several years due to improved teacher performance and enacted reform measures.
ISTEP scores in math and English combined went from 63.9 to 74 percent from 2007 to 2013, English 10 and algebra went from 55.3 to 72 percent from 2009 to 2014 and our graduation rate went from 77.7 to 88.3 percent.
We are being told how divisive education has become. This past year, however, there were 14 education bills passed, with eight being unanimous and 11 of 14 passed by 87 percent of both chambers. This is far from divisive and is true bipartisanship.
The main issue has been the ISTEP test. By federal regulations under No Child Left Behind, each state had to have a summative, standardized test that aligned with their state standards.
As Indiana dropped Common Core standards, the ISTEP was the only test that met federal requirements. The federally mandated test was met with multiple problems throughout the country, prompting the federal government to drop No Child Left Behind and develop the Every Student Succeeds Act, which is to be more state friendly.
As we knew there were going to be issues with ISTEP, the legislature passed a law this year holding harmless teachers and schools from any ISTEP problems. With No Child Left Behind gone, we now have a unique opportunity to move past this federal mandate.
The issue of using ISTEP as a gauge for teacher performance made sense before the federal mandates of standardized testing took over, as 97 percent of Indiana teachers are rated as effective or highly effective and each corporation could choose their own Evaluation Model: RISE, Modified Rise, Locally Developed, TAP or other methods.
The challenge is to get more dollars to the classroom. Indiana dedicates more than half (52 percent) of its state budget and more than 40 percent of property taxes to K-12, yet only 58 percent of each dollar makes it to the classroom.
Between 1992 and 2013, the number of Indiana students grew by 9 percent, but the number of teachers grew by 26 percent, and nonteaching staff grew by 46 percent.
In 2012, only 40.5 percent (59,863) of Indiana’s total K-12 public school staff (147,936) were teachers, the lowest of any other state and far behind the national average of 50.3 percent. Converting just 1 percent funding to the classroom adds about $100 million to actual teaching.
To get more control to schools, Republicans have offered many bills. The Freedom to Teach bill enabled just two teachers, with approval from their superintendent, to develop their own curriculum and receive extra funding upon state approval.
Another bill was specifically requested by several public school superintendents and was supported by the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents, giving superintendents latitude in dealing with the teacher shortage.
These, and many other bills giving local schools more control, have been offered but have been fought vehemently by public education lobbying groups.
The facts show that our schools are improving, and with No Child Left Behind eliminated, we now have greater opportunity to innovate and allow even more local control.
State Rep. Jim Lucas
Lucas is running for re-election, seeking the GOP nomination in the May 3 primary.