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Last updated: January 29, 2013 6:06 p.m.

Contrary aims in ed reform

Karen Francisco
The Journal Gazette

President Daniel Bradley of Indiana State University told our editorial board today that trying to decide what state policymakers want in terms of teacher training is the biggest challenge the university's Bayh College of Education faces.

"I don't know where we're going in K-12 education because they won't tell us what they want," he said.

He's not talking about Terre Haute-area school districts with whom ISU has a good working relationship – it's the lawmakers and state education officials tinkering with education requirements.

As he spoke, they were doing it again – this time voting in the House Education Committee to advance a bill that strips the requirement for an Indiana school superintendent to hold a superintendent's license or even a teacher's license.

Why? Because ed reformers believe that retired business people and career military officers are exactly what's needed to whip public education into shape. They also believe they will do it for less pay than licensed superintendents.

A similar effort is under way in Iowa.

The frustration the ISU president alludes to comes from the fact that state policymakers claim they want to improve schools. But measures like House Bill 1357 are contrary to those aims. New requirements for teacher evaluations, curriculum and more demand the chief administrator have firsthand experience in education.

The idea of non-educator school leaders is not untested.

But the high-profile superintendents who came from various career backgrounds later led urban districts with layers and layers of administrators -- and with mixed success. The overwhelming majority of Indiana school districts are small. The superintendent plays an integral role in instructional decisions.

The bill's supporters disingenuously insist that individual school districts can choose their own leaders and are free to select a licensed superintendent. But these same lawmakers control the purse strings. Inevitably, the pressure will be on to drive down superintendent salaries by hiring the retired banker or a local CEO squeezed out of a job in his company's merger.

The continuing effort to lower standards does serve one valuable purpose – it lays bare the true intent, which is not to improve schools, but to cut costs and sap authority from public educators.