Column: Education reform must be at right pace

(Lafayette) Journal and Courier

Tony Bennett, Indiana’s superintendent of public instruction, is nothing if not aggressive about school reform. On Sept. 25, during his annual State of Education address, Bennett was true to form.

After championing a host of new forms of school accountability — teacher evaluations based in part on student performance, A-to-F school grading, private school vouchers and tests to make sure third-graders are ready for fourth grade — Bennett came armed with a new goal: Take building-level standards to the district level.

“In our efforts to turn around the state’s lowest-performing schools, it has become clear that under-performance is often systemic, with problems rooted in district-level leadership,” Bennett said during his speech. “To make a greater impact on student performance where it is most desperately needed, Indiana should begin to explore expanding to the district level.”

Bennett, a Republican, was promptly criticized by his Democratic challenger, Glenda Ritz. She took broad aim at Bennett’s push for reform and whether it was really best for Indiana — a popular theme in many circles.

But Ritz’s criticisms are a bit off the mark. The bigger question is whether the sea-change in Indiana’s education system needs a breather that Bennett seems determined to skip. How well teacher evaluations — something that was overdue, in some form, in Indiana — work is yet to be tested. And whether vouchers and Bennett’s insistence on more school choice pays off will take time to realize. And there’s more.

Indiana’s schools deserve a chance to work through the latest batch of reforms before the state starts taking aim at entire districts. Reform, sure. But at the correct speed, please.

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