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Excerpt from Symone C. Skrzycki's article.
The reforms passed under Bennett’s leadership drew praise in some education circles and criticism in others, especially from teachers. Changes he advocated involving teacher evaluations, for instance, most certainly played a role in his defeat in the November election.
Park, who teaches reading remediation at Riverview Middle School in Huntington Community School Corporation, contends that misinformation and the rapid pace of the reforms that took place exacerbated teachers’ frustration.
“There were many teachers that struggled with that amount of change in a short amount of time,” she reflects. “I think that the election was a response to that.
“When I was out in the field, a lot of the frustrations that I heard were particularly with the new teacher evaluation system. (I think there was) a misunderstanding sometimes as to how the policymaking works. Many teachers tended to blame one person, not understanding that it was a law and also not understanding that school districts had the opportunity to make choices as far as the teacher evaluation system that they would use.”
Adding to teachers’ frustration was a sense of helplessness. Many lamented the lack of
opportunities to become engaged with the changes taking place.
Park’s yearlong sabbatical working with the Department of Education to “celebrate teaching” (she travels to schools and universities throughout the state to uplift the profession) is revealing that opportunities for engagement do exist; teachers just weren’t aware of them.
“Teachers are so busy; it’s hard to even realize that those opportunities are available,” she observes. “Many teachers in the field felt like they didn’t have a voice, but I have found in the last few months that really they could have – we just weren’t able to make that connection.”
Marshall, a former history teacher, stresses that keeping the reform momentum going is
more important than ever in light of Bennett’s defeat.
“In terms of the pace of reforms, I think that there’s a lot of opportunity we still have right now,” he emphasizes. “It would be a tremendous disservice to Indiana if we were to backpedal in any way because we are in a really good place in terms of the amount of appetite for really making great progress towards that goal of having great teachers in front of our students.”
Chubb, whose nonpartisan research organization covers issues in K-12 and higher education, agrees.
“If we don’t have leaders like Tony Bennett who are trying to push the pedal to the metal, so to speak, we’ll never get there,” he declares. “The system has plenty of checks and balances and opportunities to make sure that we’re not going too fast. I think all the danger is on the other side of going too slow.
“My guess is that Tony Bennett paid the price for outspoken leadership, but I think it would be unfortunate if other state chiefs looked at his example and thought, ‘Well, I
guess we’d better slow down...’ ”