Virtual Voices

Indiana Republican supports national educational standards

Education

Tony Bennett is officially running against Glenda Ritz for superintendent of public instruction in Indiana.

He's the southern Indiana incumbent Republican candidate, and she's the Democratic Party challenger. She's a library media specialist and teacher at Crooked Creek School in Indianapolis and generally supports the traditional teachers union position on public education.

But Bennett also has been battling critics of Common Core, a national effort to establish minimum academic standards.

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Critics see Common Core as part of a federal plot to take over education, which belongs in state and local hands. They also argue that previous Indiana standards were some of the best in the nation and should not have been tossed aside.

They cite studies by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Pioneer Institute for Public Policy Research to make their case.

"Common Core would deprive students of the intangible benefits of studying classic literature," says a Pioneer white paper. "A student who learns to love great books learns to understand great principles that endure throughout human history."

As part of his reelection campaign, Bennett has been going to Tea Party forums to remind voters of his impressive reform record and winds up answering lots of questions about Common Core.

He contends for national standards on grounds that plenty of Indiana students will leave the state, and others will move here. A national test does not equal national or federal government control-SATs and ACTs already are national, along with Iowa and Stanford achievement tests. He also contends that common core standards will boost reasoning skills.

The standards read reasonably well at 66 pages. Jargon creeps in here and there, but less than in other educational literature.

Fourth grade expectations include: "Use combined knowledge of all letter-sounds, correspondences, syllabication patterns, and morphology (e.g., roots and affixes) to read accurately unfamiliar multisyllabic words in context and out of context."

Bennett won't have trouble getting reelected. He leads in fundraising and in polls. Mitt Romney is well ahead of Barack Obama in the presidential race in Indiana, and U.S. Rep. Mike Pence is ahead of Democrat John Gregg in the race for governor.

Bennett's reform record should be especially impressive to conservatives and advocates of academic excellence. He's been the driver behind charter school expansion, private school vouchers for low-income families, and merit pay for teachers and accountability.

"Competition in education works," he told a recent Tea Party gathering. No other recent state superintendent has done so much to boost educational performance and get teacher unions out of the way of reform.

Bennett might have expected a stronger push back in this race from his union critics, but the teachers union has lost its traditional strong political influence. Maybe it is a tribute to Bennett's accomplishments that so much of the fireworks in his campaign are coming from the right side of the political spectrum.

Russ Pulliam
Russ Pulliam

Russ is a columnist for The Indianapolis Star, the director of the Pulliam Fellowship, and a member of God's World Publications' board of directors.

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