Bennett: Get more education for our money
Thursday, September 23, 2010 11:00 AM
Even if more money was available for Indiana's public schools, money isn't what will reform education, the state superintendent said Wednesday in Madison.
The days of asking how to get more money for education are long gone, Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett said. The new question should be, "How do we get more education for our money?" he said.
"I don't think it's about how much money," Bennett said. "I think it's about the structures we set up and how we spend it."
Bennett, speaking at the Economic Development Partners' eighth annual economic summit, told about a teenager who wrote a book at the age of 17 that he said Bennett inspired him to write. The book, "Fierce Urgency: Education and Future Global Competition in the Eyes of a Young Chinese Immigrant," was written by Xiuzhe William Zhao of Kokomo, who now is a Wells Scholar at Indiana University.
In the book, William, as Bennett referred to him, called education "the great chess game." In his native China, he wrote, they are "playing chess to win," Bennett said, but in the United States they are "playing chess not to lose."
"If we don't radically change the way we view education," Bennett said, William's warning is that "foreign countries will run our economy."
Bennett said that education reform is "not anti-teacher."
"I'm not anti-teacher," Bennett said. "I'm anti bad teacher."
The seniority system for teachers should end, he said.
"We should quit having to pay people because they have been in a seat longer," Bennett said. He said there is no relationship between teacher competency "and seniority or holding a master's degree."
Personnel decisions, he said, shouldn't be based on duration but rather on competency.
"I think it's short-sighted if we don't address the seniority thing," Bennett said.
A person in the audience asked whether getting rid of incompetent teachers would result in a teacher shortage. Bennett said the state is taking steps to have new crops of teachers by opening new pathways for people to be classroom teachers without going through the traditional education-degree process, such as training non-teacher professionals looking for a second career. The seniority policies can thwart this because someone who comes in from another career field could be out of a job soon, he said.
"Why would a retired pilot want to go into education when he knows it's last in, first out?" Bennett said. "Why don't we reward and recognize people so they want to be there?"
Teachers who mark time also were criticized by Bennett. "It is sad that the financial highlight of a teacher's career is the day they retire," said Bennett, a native of Clark County who taught there and was the school superintendent before being elected in 2008.
Teachers should be evaluated annually and be judged by how much each child in their class grew, or didn't, and the results should be publicly posted, Bennett said. Parents should be allowed to choose their child's teacher, he said.
Bennett linked education and economic development at several places in his speech. If Indiana wants to attract industry, he said, then it needs to resolve how 23,000 children passed third grade but couldn't read.
In answer to a comment from the audience that Bennett shouldn't "downplay" that the socioeconomic status of parents might make education unimportant and cause them to be apathetic.
"Great schools motivate parents," he said. "Parents want to be part of successful schools."
Bennett said he believes in "holding parents and kids accountable for truancy."
"If we have a culture of high success, they want to be there to succeed," he said.
He said a Brookings Institution study found that "four consecutive years of a truly effective teacher in a disadvantaged school closes the achievement gap."
Bennett said his goals for Indiana schoolchildren include having 90 percent pass the standardized tests, which 60 percent pass now; and having 25 percent graduate with dual credits, Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate degrees, up from 10 to 15 percent now.
One way to achieve the goals and instill a culture of learning is to have more schooling, he said.
In China, children are in school from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays, and they go to school 300 days a year, Bennett said. In Finland, children go to school 195 days a year. In Indiana, the school year is 180 days.
Over the course of a 12-year school career, Finish children have almost a year longer of education, having 2,340 school days compared with 2,160 in Indiana, he said.
"I'm for a longer school day, a longer school week, a longer school year," Bennett said. "We have that obligation for our work force."
He also touched on school choice.
"In our life, kids are required to go to school in their geographic area," Bennett said. He questioned whether it is fair to limit students to schooling based on ZIP code.
Whether a school continues to exist should be based on whether it meets needs, Bennett said.
"When the first school closes because it cannot meet the needs, we will be successful," Bennett said. "What a beautiful day that will be."