Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

March 19, 2013

HEINIG: Students deserve an equal chance in life

Increase state funding to improve our public schools

By Mark Heinig Jr.
Tribune columnist

— I have never met state Reps. Mike Karickhoff and Heath Van Natter. What information I have about them comes primarily from the Kokomo Tribune and the Kokomo Perspective. I know that they are both Republicans, and neither of them seems prone to extremist positions.

They are a bit too conservative for me, but that certainly does not condemn them. If they were U.S. congressmen instead of state legislators, I feel sure that they would strongly support conservative ideals. However, I think they would be willing to negotiate and compromise on vital issues for the good of the American people.

But they are not in Congress. They represent Hoosiers in the Indiana General Assembly. As one of those Hoosiers with a lifetime of practical experience teaching social studies, I must say that Mr. Van Natter has represented us much better on House Bill 1381 than Mr. Karickhoff has. This is the bill that would severely limit a public school corporation’s authority to determine which out-of-district transfer students to accept and which to reject. I really don’t know Van Natter’s personal opinion of the bill, but I must admire his reasons for voting against it.

A legislator who bases his decision on the feedback from his constituents deserves the respect of both his supporters and his opponents. The process that Van Natter described in the March 6 issue of the Kokomo Perspective demonstrates how representative democracy should function. If I were still teaching, I would tell my students that he has shown us government by the people at its very best.

Karickhoff’s bill survived the House and is now in the Senate. It’s somewhat unfair to refer to HB 1381 as “Karickhoff’s bill”. He had three co-sponsors, two Republicans and a Democrat: Edward Clere (R), Kevin Mahan (R) and Terri Austin (D). If the bill becomes law, Indiana public schools will lose the power to accept or deny out-of-district transfer requests on a case-by-case basis. If requests exceed available space, the selection must be made by lottery.

This would make a bad policy even worse. A lottery assumes that all students are equal. They are, of course, if we mean equal access to the best learning opportunities for every student. Unfortunately, that’s not possible. None of the receiving school districts have the space to accept each applicant. A lottery is like selling raffle tickets for a good education!

If we want to give all kids an equal chance in life, we must improve the sending school districts enough to eliminate the need for most transfers. That means spending more money. We can’t do it by moving kids and dollars around! School districts must use the new funds wisely, and we need a way to prove that.

Our state legislators think that more tests are the way, but that is more expensive than they think. Those tests cost time as well as dollars — time to prepare and teach creative, effective new lessons. About 30 years ago, I knew two elementary teachers who spent many hours of their own time creating and implementing a mini-economy program for their students. The program was so successful that they were asked to make numerous presentations to educators and business leaders throughout Indiana.

Regrettably, that was back when teachers had more control of their time and their curricula. Although the program was widely emulated then, it doesn’t exist now. There isn’t enough time for it. Teachers must now devote so much time to preparing kids to take high-stakes tests, they can’t create interesting, engaging new programs that are fun for kids and make them want to learn.

One of those two teachers grew frustrated enough to take early retirement 10 years ago. How many more children could that talented, dedicated teacher have helped in another 10 years? The other teacher remains in the classroom but is just as frustrated. She is working as many extra hours as she used to but must spend them on grading and recording assignments to get students ready for tests that they no longer care about.

We seem to be living in an era when our state leaders make us waste time and energy in a mindless pursuit of mediocrity! Will it ever end?

Mark Heinig Jr. of Kokomo is a retired Indiana teacher and principal. Contact him at markjr1708@gmail.com.