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May 14, 2013

Hayden: From good to great in education

On the campaign trail last year and early into his administration, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence said repeatedly that his goal as governor would be to take Indiana from “good to great.”

He borrowed the phrase from the 2001 book by the same name, by author Jim Collins, who wrote the book to share management advice from 11 companies that performed spectacularly well in the 1990s.

I appreciate the governor’s intent: The best selling book is a roadmap of sorts for how to engineer long-term success and sustainability, which is why every state agency leader was given a copy at Pence’s first meeting with his cabinet back in January.

He told reporters that day that he instructed his agency leaders to develop “good to great” plans of their own.

But that instruction assumed Indiana had already achieved the status of “good.”

I thought about that “good to great” phrase this weekend, while reading stories about college and high school graduation ceremonies going on around the state.

Are we even close to being “good” when it comes to education in Indiana?

Here are some things to consider before answering that question:

Statewide data collected by the Indiana Commission on Higher Education show almost 30 percent of Hoosier high school graduates need to take at least one remedial course in math or English when they get to college. (It’s more than 60 percent for Indiana high school graduates headed to our two-year colleges.) Those are courses that carry no credit, but cost just the same as the ones that do.

There are high schools in Indiana with much higher rates than that average. Of the 375 public high schools, 235 have more than 30 percent of their college-bound students that need this extra expensive help. Thirty of those high schools have more than 50 percent of their college-bound students in need of remediation.

In Indiana, 8 percent of high school graduates were granted special “waivers” by their schools in 2011 because they couldn’t pass the basic end-of-course assessments needed to get the regular diploma. There are schools in Indiana, in both rural and urban areas, where it’s closer to 30 percent.

Is that even close to “good?”

“Mediocre” might even be a stretch when considering our dismal educational track record: We’re one of the least-educated states in the nation, as measured by four-year college graduates in our adult population. Only about one-third of adults in Indiana hold at least a two-year degree.

The good news is that there is a lot of good work going on to address these issues, much of it lead by the tenacious Teresa Lubbers, the head of the Indiana Commission on Higher Education and a former state senator.  Under her leadership, the commission is pushing the state’s universities to help repair the disconnect between them and high schools when it comes to “college readiness.”

And a new law that will go into effect before the upcoming school year, authored by state Rep. Ed Clere of New Albany, will push high schools toward providing remediation needed before their college-bound students get their high school diplomas.

But we’re still a long way from being able to call ourselves “good” when it comes to providing the skills and knowledge needed by many Hoosiers to get good and meaningful work.

And a long way from the “great” prescribed by “Good to Great” author Jim Collins. “For, in the end,” he wrote in the book, “it is impossible to have a great life unless it is a meaningful life. And it is very difficult to have a meaningful life without meaningful work.”

Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com

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