The controversial leader of Indiana public schools was in our area after telling teachers in Bloomington he has “fences to mend.”
Superintendent of Public Instruction, Dr. Tony Bennett, met with students at teachers in both Union Mills in LaPorte County and LaSalle Intermediate in South Bend.
The main reason for Dr. Bennett’s meeting at LaSalle Intermediate was to talk with South Bend teachers about a new teacher evaluation model the legislature passed during its last session.
The model will assess teachers on student achievement and progress. But after the meeting, South Bend’s NEA President Jason Zook and ISTA Uniserv Director Marie Giese told WSBT they needed to hear more specifics about the evaluation model and exactly how it will work.
They said the nature of the changes and lack of details have been frustrating up to this point. Both Zook and Giese also questioned how the model will fairly assess all school subjects – from math and science to arts and music.
Dr. Bennett has come under extreme scrutiny from educators across the state who say they’re disappointed with how he’s handled his sweeping education reform since he was sworn in as Indiana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction in January 2009.
“There’s not enough wire to mend those fences,” Zook said. “He’s belittled teachers. Teachers are professionals and they don’t feel that way, the way it’s come across from his office. What we need in office are politicians that are education friendly and that’s not what we have had this last legislative session.”
Dr. Bennett told WSBT addressing those concerns is a two way street. He said part of the collateral damage of the education reform debate means sometimes our best teachers feel lumped in with those who have underperformed.
“I think it’s fair to say sometimes on the other side of the debate it’s turned personal and people will immediately think that because I have different views than they have that I’m anti-public education. I think we all have to think for a minute that this is about our children and the debate among educators should be a debate among adults but it shouldn’t filter in what we’re doing with our students.”
Giese is among those in the public education system who dislikes Bennett’s sweeping changes to education reform.
“[It’s] teacher bashing, just a way to get back at the teacher unions who support the teachers,” she said.
When asked if she thought the relationship between Bennett and teachers could be repaired, she said she doesn’t know.
“I think he’s got to stop bad-mouthing teachers,” Geise replied.
Bennett called that statement a “very rash generalization.”
“I do think it’s fair to say that sometimes we haven’t differentiated like we should. But I don’t think anyone can find examples, concrete examples where my office has engaged in teacher bashing,” he said.
In response to educators’ recent disapproval of the state’s annual student count day in conjunction with the recent implementation of the voucher program, Bennett said he plans to present state legislators with a proposal to change the number of count days from one to three days state-wide.
Count day is done one day each year in every public school. The number of students in class on that one day plays a large role in how much funding school corporations receive from the state. The new voucher program now allows catholic schools to count those students who are attending school on a voucher and receive money for those students.