Brian Howey Column: Education ‘reforms’ come at an unstable time | Opinion

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Here’s a pop quiz: What do Richard Lugar, Joe Donnelly, Mike Braun and Todd Huston have in common?

Early in their public service careers, they served on local school or parish boards. This is notable because there is legislation in the Indiana General Assembly — House Bill 1182 — that will politicize school board races, which are currently held on a nonpartisan basis.

“I think you can tell the difference between fiscal responsibility and moral character,” said state Rep. JD Prescott, R-Union City, which is sponsoring the bill. “Having this on the ballot will help voters know a bit more about the candidate.”

Newly elected Hamilton County Republican Chairman Mario Massillamany explained, “We will get involved in school board races. Democrats have fielded candidates for the past six to eight years because they are nonpartisan races. They help candidates behind the scenes. Those days are over.

And there’s Bill 1134, which would require teachers to publish by August 1 each year an outline of classroom materials, including textbooks, articles, and surveys that teachers plan to incorporate, as well as course programs. This is the so-called “critical race theory” legislation that became de rigueur in Conservative politics in the last year.

State Sen. Linda Rogers, R-Elkhart, on Wednesday proposed an amendment that would cut from eight to three a list of concepts lawmakers want banned from the classroom, removing one that would ban teachers from teaching only students should feel guilty or uncomfortable. their personal characteristics such as race or national origin.

A similar bill – Senate Bill 167 – was withdrawn after its author, State Sen. Scott Baldwin, R-Noblesville, said “we need to be impartial” when it comes to to teach Marxism and Nazism.

Baldwin quickly backtracked after being whipped into late-night shows: “Nazism, Marxism, and Fascism are a stain on our world history and must be seen as such, and I haven’t sufficiently articulated that. in my comments during the meeting.

Indiana Democrats see HB 1134 as key in what they call the culture wars and politicization of school politics. Party executive director Lauren Ganapini said: ‘It is imperative that the Hoosiers know that Indiana Republicans will do whatever they can to use conspiracy theories and misinformation to politicize our classrooms just to influence the elections.

Although the Hoosier school board races have been non-partisan, there is a long history of school boards seeking social change in politics. When Richard Lugar joined the Indianapolis School Board in 1964, he urged the board to pass federal funding for school lunch programs, something conservatives widely oppose.

The future mayor and senator also introduced and passed the “Shortridge Plan”, which voluntarily desegregated public schools. It was quickly canceled, leading to a federal bus desegregation plan that spanned three decades and caused white flight from the center of the township to surrounding suburbs.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020, school boards have become a hotbed of unrest over masking, social distancing and online classes. Several boards have had to end public comment portions of their meetings.

These bills being considered by the General Assembly come at a critical time.

The pandemic has negatively affected millions of students. According to a 2021 analysis by McKinsey & Co.: “The impact of the pandemic on student learning in K-12 has been significant, leaving students on average five months behind in math and four months behind. falling behind in reading at the end of the school year. High school students have become more likely to drop out of school, and high school seniors, especially those from low-income families, are less likely to pursue post-secondary education.

USA Today reported that 60% of the current class of freshmen are women. This prompted Purdue President Mitch Daniels to ask in his annual letter to the university on January 5, “Where are all the men?

“There is nothing new in the phenomenon; it goes back at least three decades,” Daniels continued. “What was new was the dawning realization that, in a knowledge economy where degrees and the skills they confer (theoretically) are increasingly essential, leaving half the population behind would be a problem for society.

“How ironic if, after half a century of historic and belated progress integrating women fully into the economic, social and political life of the nation, we have returned the immense societal gains of this rise because men have ceased to hold their end.

And, according to an annual Indiana State University survey reported by the Terre Haute Tribune-Star, 96.5% of participating Indiana school districts reported teacher shortages, the highest of all. seven years of inquiry into school corporations.

According to Terry McDaniel, Professor of Educational Leadership at ISU, “As a result, we are seeing educators burnt out, scared, disappointed and no longer enjoying the profession. We are also seeing fewer people entering the profession.

Lewis Cass school board member Amy Miller has resigned, telling the Logansport Pharos-Tribune: ‘There has been increasing pressure on the board to take a more partisan stance, and that concerns me. .”

Reuters recently reported that “local school officials across the United States are being inundated with threats of violence and other hostile messages from anonymous harassers across the country, fueled by anger over culture war issues.”

There is great volatility in our education sector, and these reforms are about to intensify that volatility.

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