Now the state's best schools can go their own ways.
The next phase of the education reform movement came out of the Indiana General Assembly almost unnoticed earlier this year. A new law, which will be in effect next school year, will allow individual high schools that earn a top rating in the states A-to-F scale the flexibility to disregard some state rules and design their own classes, schedules and professional programs for top students without approval from the State Board of Education.
Some top schools are already taking advantage of their new options. Carmel Clay and Zionsville high schools, for example, are planning to develop college-level courses for students and retool the school-day schedules for some. The schools don’t even have to adhere to the 180-days-a-year of instruction imposed on other schools, and hours in the school day may fluctuate.
This is a welcome addition to the recent trend giving educators more local decision-making power and parents more choices for their children’s education. Students are no longer doomed to stay in poorly performing schools. They might be able to opt for a charter school, publicly funded but with greater ability to experiment. Or their parents might use a state-provided voucher to send them to a private school
And now the best students will benefit from the same flexibility available to the most at-risk ones. Educators can find new ways to keep them engaged and make their good educations even better.
All these reform innovations need the support and encouragement of all of us because, unfortunately, there is an equally strong competing movement that goes in the opposite direction of more centralized control and a uniform approach. It’s always been known that power tends to accumulate and concentrate, so it should be no surprise that education is also susceptible to the phenomenon.
At the state level we can see this trend in the growing importance of the ISTEP tests and the increasing pressure on educators to “teach to the test.” And look what happens when there is a “glitch” in the online portion of the testing. The education department has hired an outside consultant to determine if this year’s results are even valid.
And at the national level there is the Common Core, a set of standards developed by the states but now mostly co-opted by the federal government. Kentucky has complained of deep declines in academic performance since adopting the standards. Expect similar complaints from other states.
Education has traditionally been a mostly local function in this country. The forces moving us away from local to more state and national control might ultimately be too strong to resist. But it’s still worth nurturing and celebrating the local efforts while they last.