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Top Indiana lawmaker suggests big education changes should start with small steps

Meghan Mangrum

A top Indiana lawmaker thinks the way to solve to some of the state’s recent education woes is to start with small steps, rather than tackling the entire problem at once.

Rep. Bob Behning, a Republican from Indianapolis, recently worked with a group of lawmakers from across the country to advise states on how to create schools modeled after some of the world’s best-performing education systems, including Finland, Singapore and Ontario. The report makes the familiar argument that U.S. students lag behind their peers across the world.

The report he contributed to, from the National Conference of State Legislatures, recommends making sure kids come to school ready to learn, attracting and supporting high quality teachers and building out challenging options for kids who seek to go to college or enter the workforce. But making all of that happen isn’t easy, which is why Behning, the influential House Education Committee chairman, says Indiana should continue trying new ideas on a small scale before spreading them statewide.

“We’re going to have to do more piloting to try to get more to show the rest of the state that some of these changes will have an impact on student learning,” Behning said. “The one thing we’re trying to say is that there’s no silver bullet — you kind of need to look at this as a systemic change.”

So far, recent state pilot programs — most notably for preschool and dual language immersion schools — have remained just that. The argument from lawmakers is that programs must prove they are successful before the state should put up more money to expand them.

The report offered valuable ideas for how Indiana could increase the number of students becoming teachers and show teachers how they can move ahead in their careers without leaving the classroom, Behning said. He suggested the state could consider developing pilot programs for teacher career pathways, better mentoring for new teachers, longer student-teaching periods and subject-level certification for elementary school teachers — all methods that other countries have embraced.

But Behning’s suggestions for pilots aren’t new — state Superintendent Glenda Ritz and a large group of educators made many of them last year, but lawmakers ignored them during the legislative session.

In fact, Behning and other GOP leaders have butted heads constantly with Ritz, up for re-election this fall, especially over issues pertaining to teachers. Their tension has contributed to a lack of progress on improving teaching in the state.

To read more of the report, view the attached PDF document.

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