Implementing Indiana's "Putting Students First" Agenda: Early Lessons and Potential Futures

By Manna, Paul; Kelley, Keenan et al. | AEI Paper & Studies, August 2012 | Go to article overview

Implementing Indiana's "Putting Students First" Agenda: Early Lessons and Potential Futures


Manna, Paul, Kelley, Keenan, Hess, Frederick M., AEI Paper & Studies


Foreword

Today, a wave of states are aggressively moving forward on an array of education reforms. Louisiana, Idaho, and Indiana are among those that have enacted multiple pieces of legislation as part of comprehensive, governor-driven education reform plans that may constitute the most ambitious package since Jeb Bush's first term in Florida.

In the case of Indiana, the 2011 "Putting Students First" agenda saw major legislative changes to state laws surrounding teacher evaluation, collective bargaining, school choice, and low-performing school turnarounds. The plan, driven by governor Mitch Daniels and overseen by state superintendent Tony Bennett, has elicited widespread reaction from education reformers and pundits. And yet, while much has been said about whether these new laws are good or bad, far less attention has been paid to the looming implementation challenges. The time is ripe for a serious treatment of such issues, both for Indiana policymakers, educators, and citizens and for those in other states weighing similar reform legislation.

In "Implementing Indiana's 'Putting Students First' Agenda: Early Lessons and Potential Futures," 1 team with Paul Manna, associate professor of government and public policy at the College of William & Mary, and Keenan Kelley, a research assistant at William & Mary, to explore some of the challenges and lessons of these reforms' initial implementation. Ultimately,

although leadership at the state level is invaluable for articulating and advancing an education reform agenda, local understanding and follow-through of the reforms is instrumental if these measures are to yield more than compliance, wasted spending, or disillusionment from educators.

In particular, a few key lessons worth noting are:

* State capacity: State education agencies are often focused on rote tasks such as monitoring federal funding or ensuring that local school districts comply with an array of state and federal laws. And yet this new agenda will require the state agency to provide more significant training and oversight to the local agencies, as well as to gain expertise in such complex tasks as shutting down failing schools or hiring private operators to turn around low-performing schools.

* Local capacity: Although policy actors at the state level passed Putting Students First, local actors will ultimately implement these reforms, and questions abound about their capacity to do so. Many local school districts will need a significant cultural shift to become less compliance-oriented, as well as the knowledge and capabilities to implement new teacher evaluation plans or collective bargaining policies.

* Culture of compliance: This strong culture of compliance exists in many local school districts, which are used to merely checking off an array of federal and state mandates. The districts will likely need to be more assertive in implementing the laws and less reliant on state support going forward. For example, state-level officials designed a teacher evaluation system called RISE as a suggested, but not required, model for districts to use. And yet despite having the flexibility to design their own evaluation system, it appears that around 80 percent of localities will use the RISE model. In the words of one state official, local officials "can't grasp" that "there is not one way to do this."

When it comes to school reform, good intentions only go so far. Without an eye toward the gritty lessons of what it takes for good policy ideas to work in practice, even well-intentioned laws can go south. For further information on the paper, I can be reached at rhess@aei.org and Paul Manna can be reached at pmanna@wm.edu. For additional information on the activities of AEI's education policy program, please visit www.aei.org/policy/education/ or contact program manager Daniel Lautzenheiser at daniel.lautzenheiser@aei.org. …

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