David Hoppe

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:: Schools

a never-ending crisis

by David Hoppe

You know what? I think we like it this way.

How else is one to think about the never-ending train wreck we call education in Indiana?

Glenda Ritz, Mike Pence, Mitch Daniels, Tony Bennett, Sue Ellen Reed…Sheesh.

But stop and try to think for a minute. Can you remember a time when Indiana’s educational “system” — yes, that is what they call it — wasn’t in some kind of “crisis?”

Maybe if we go back to the 1970’s. In those days our schools were apparently doing OK. Of course that’s because in those days nobody was paying much attention to what the schools were doing.

Back then you could still get a job in a windshield wiper manufacturing plant, pull down a decent paycheck, and it didn’t matter if you read at a third grade level. As long as you showed up every day and did what you were told, no problem.

This is how it went for an awful lot of Hoosiers, many of whom didn’t even bother graduating from high school. Getting that diploma seemed like a waste of time when you could get yourself hired in a factory or a mill. The sooner you started making real money, the better.

Those were probably the last best days for Indiana schools.

Then, in 1983, President Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education published a little treatise called A Nation At Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform, in which America’s schools were chastised for academic underachievement. It only took Indiana four years to hitch its wagon to education reform, but hitch it we did. In 1987 Gov. Robert Orr and education chief Dean Evans put forward a program called “A +.”

A + aimed at being a performance-based system. It brought us ISTEP testing as a way of creating what was hoped would be a unified set of academic standards. It also developed a plan for evaluating teachers and accrediting schools. A + even added five days to the school year.

Gov. Orr called A + “a powerful piece of legislation which is going to make a significant difference.”

Remember: this was in 1987.  A Pontiac Grand AM cost $10,269. Johnny Carson was still hosting The Tonight Show.

Since that time, we’ve seen the coming of charter schools and vouchers. The performance of teachers and school administrators has been scrutinized as never before. The curriculum has been beefed up, and then beefed up some more.

Politicians, education consultants, entrepreneurs and researchers have gotten elected, padded resumes and made substantial sums of money alternately pointing fingers and expressing deep concern about what they think needs to be done.

Meanwhile, one generation of kids after another has started in school, and finished school, and guess what? The so-called education crisis continues.

We Hoosiers love talking about our kids. To hear us, you’d think there’s nothing more important in the world.

Yet here we are, almost 30 years into this crisis, and there’s no end in sight. We must like it this way.