Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Education in Indiana

In case I've never told you, I am not a fan of Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels or his buddy State Superintendent of Schools Tony Bennett. In fact, they both rank pretty high on my "People I'd like to Punch in the Nose" list. When it comes time to elect the next Superintendent of Schools in Indiana, I implore you to vote for whoever is running against Tony. I'm not joking. While I have long since decided to campaign for Tony's competition, today's events only added to my dislike for the man.

As part of our professional development today, we watched a speech he gave at some point in the last month. (I couldn't find the video online; otherwise I would provide you a link.) The talk he gave was about Response to Intervention (RtI) and the framework the state is creating for schools to use. RtI is an excellent way of keeping kids from falling through the cracks of public education. I think RtI will be very effective once schools are able to get some interventions in place. Anyway, I think Tony's aim with this speech was to get teachers on board with RtI and to convince educators that we need to create a culture of excellence within our schools, which was a really good idea.

The problem came when Dr. Bennett started talking. First there was the fairly significant grammatical error. During the first few minutes of his speech, Tony says that educators "are here for one word and one word only: student learning." Really, Tony? You have a doctorate. You were speaking to educators who not only understand standard grammar, but value it.

The more significant distraction to his message was his arrogance. After declaring that student learning should be the reason for everything we do as educators, Tony outlined his plan to have the best educational system in the United States. To be the best. What were his reasons for desiring the number one spot? First he cited his extreme competitive nature. He has to win. Then he added, "I want the other 49 states to look at Indiana and wonder what we have that they don't." He made it quite clear he wants the title "best." Not once did he mention student learning, achievement, or growth as reasons we should actively seek to cultivate a culture of excellence. Mostly he wants to look good.

But what really sets me over the edge about Dr. Tony Bennett is the way he implies that teachers don't care about student learning and don't set high standards for their students. He looks down his nose at classroom teachers and talks about us as if we are the laziest people he's ever met. I work my butt off to teach and serve my students. I set high standards, and I expect my students to make progress--regardless of their race, socioeconomic status, or unstable home lives. While there is definitely room for improvement in our state statistics, it wouldn't hurt the man to make an effort at recognizing the good teachers are already doing.

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