Tag: Indiana Commission for Higher Education


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Evan Bayh’s School Reform Legacy: His Name is Stan Jones


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Given the array of plays on the Indiana U.S. Senator’s name — including some of my own reports — I’ll shy away from the pile-on amid his decision to end…

Given the array of plays on the Indiana U.S. Senator’s name — including some of my own reports — I’ll shy away from the pile-on amid his decision to end his re-election bid. But Bayh’s exit does give one pause about the role he has played, not only in American politics (and especially in the Hoosier State), but in helping to re-shape how the nation measures academic performance and emphasizes rigor and data over guesswork and academic failure.

For the most part, Bayh’s role in this was incidental. Save for championing some odd policy or two, education was an afterthought for him. The earliest school reform efforts came before Bayh’s tenure as Indiana Governor in the late 1980s thanks to a group that included then-state superintendent H. Dean Evans and future state House Republican leader Brian Bosma.  The most direct impact he had on education wasn’t even on  policy itself, but on a move back in the mid-1990s to address the state’s perpetual deficit in its teachers pension. Although Bayh and his main successor, Frank O’Bannon, helped decided to use funds from the Hoosier Lottery to pay down those deficits and fully fund the pension, it didn’t work. Indiana’s teachers pension is currently $10 billion under water.

One indirect legacy lies not with Bayh himself, but with his onetime chief of staff, Bart Peterson. After becoming Indianapolis’ first Democrat mayor in four decades, Peterson struck a blow for school reform and school choice when he successfully battled his fellow Democrats in Indiana’s statehouse to become the first mayor in the nation to authorize charter schools. Whatever Peterson’s other flaws as a politician (namely a lack of focus on quality-of-life issues), he remains a pathbreaker in education reform through his founding of the Mind Trust, one of the leading incubators of education reform solutions in the nation.

Bayh’s most-important school reform legacy was rather incidental. It came during his last two years  in the governor’s office when he appointed one of his aides, a former state legislator (and onetime candidate for state schools superintendent) by the name of Stan Jones, to the state’s Commission for Higher Education. At the time, the agency did little more than serve as the sounding board for the state’s higher ed policymaking and presenting budgets to the legislature.  What Jones managed to do over the next 13 years set the path for how education policymakers — both in the Hoosier State and throughout the nation — should approach systemic reform.

Even before the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, Jones was among the first to call for reform of the state’s high school graduation rate calculation, which had been so inaccurate for so long that perpetual failing school districts such as Indianapolis Public Schools were allowed to post graduation rates of 95 percent and higher (even when it was more likely that they were graduating a mere 50 percent of freshman in four years). Not only did Jones call for replacing the old graduation rate calculation with a new one, with the help of one editorial board (on which I served) and a smattering of state leaders, Jones spent much of his tenure battling school districts, his fellow Democrats and even the state’s longtime education superintendent (and longtime foe) Suellen Reed to make it happen.

More importantly, along with the state’s Chamber of Commerce and Derek Redelman (a once-and-future Chamber executive who once, oddly enough, helped Reed beat Jones in winning the superintendent’s job), Jones began rallying state officials — including Bayh’s successor, Frank O’Bannon, Joe Kernan and Mitch Daniels — and business leaders to begin addressing Indiana’s most-pressing educational issues. He helped transform a politically-driven state college into a network of community colleges where high school graduates who weren’t ready for the rigors of Indiana University and Purdue could get prepared.  He began addressing the reality that the Hoosier State — home to the university that hosts the nation’s second-largest foreign student population (and another whose international tentacles extend into Asia) — couldn’t even assure that more than a quarter of its high schoolers were attending college.

These days, Jones is working with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to address the nation’s problems of low college attendance and completion. But his past work has an impact far in Indiana and beyond. These days, state schools superintendent Tony Bennett — who may be the most-successful state schools chief executive in the nation — has to thank Jones for paving the way for Bennett’s own efforts to address teacher quality and end social promotion. Outside of Indiana, the work on graduation rates — along with the pioneering research of Jay P. Greene, Robert Balfanz and Christopher Swanson — is the underlying reason why President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top effort is gaining traction.

Bayh hasn’t exactly done much since on education policy. He hasn’t even been much of a presence in the debate over No Child or Race to the Top. But let’s give him credit for picking the men who cared about school reform and improving the lives of America’s children.

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