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Editorial: Measure to loosen reins on high-achieving schools

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When students are doing especially well in a class, teachers occasionally will let them strike out on their own intellectually, free of the usual course of study.

The result often is a burst of creativity and deeper learning.

A state Senate bill would do the same for high-performing schools. Select schools would get a break from state requirements and provide them with more flexibility.

Senate Bill 189 would allow for continually top-performing schools to have freedom to develop their own curriculum, to create their own teacher evaluations and career and technical training, and to organize classroom time based on instructional minutes instead of the current 180-day school year requirement.

“We’re trying to reward performance with additional freedoms to allow the next step or the next generation of academic innovation to take place in the classroom,” said the bill’s author, Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel.

School systems would have to be certified as a performance-qualified school district to get flexibility in their administrative and instructional organization. Some of the requirements include a districtwide graduation rate of at least 90 percent and SAT scores higher than the statewide average.

After becoming a certified performance-qualified school district, the district would have to meet certain requirements each year to continue in the program. Those rules would be developed by the Indiana Department of Education.

Newly elected state Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz said through a spokesman that she supports rewarding high-performance schools, although she thinks the rewards should be individualized by school district.

House Speaker Brian Bosma said the House of Representatives will work on rewarding high-performing school systems this session.

“If they’re doing a good job and we as a state recognize it as a good job,” Bosma said, “they ought to have the opportunity to have a little bit more flexibility in a lot of different areas.”

Giving particular schools the ability to adapt or alter their programs not only would serve as a reward for high performance, it would offer ideas and models that, if successful, other schools and school districts might be able to adapt to their own circumstances.

Pilot programs can foster positive change. Successful programs offer examples other schools can follow.

For instance, the Columbus Signature Academy is pioneering new approaches to curriculum and teaching methods that can be adopted and adapted not only in other local schools but across the state.

A pilot program at the academy requires every freshman to take pre-engineering and geometry courses. By 11th grade, those students will be able to take college credit courses through Ivy Tech Community College, IUPUC or Purdue College of Technology. By the time they graduate high school, the students already will have completed one year of college classes.

It has become increasingly clear that the traditional education system has not been completely successful in training potential employees for today’s increasingly technological workplace. As it stands now, we don’t know what other strategies would succeed where other efforts have come up short because there is no way to test them.

By giving already-successful schools the opportunity to try new methods, we might find new and more successful ways to prepare tomorrow’s workers.

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