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Tony Bennett Urges More "Aggression" in State-Level Policy Moves

When judging the pace of signature education policy shifts in various states, some might say that Florida and Indiana, to use a couple of examples, have done enough that the pace of reform has necessarily slowed, and that advocates of things like school choice and digital learning assume the heavy lifting is largely done in such states. But Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett disagrees.

I spoke to Bennett a story for our print edition about vacant state chiefs' jobs that you can read here that deals with states including Mississippi, Utah and Ohio. He said that role models for the new mold of aggressive chiefs should include Hanna Skandera (the education commissioner-designate in New Mexico), Chris Cerf (New Jersey) and John White (Louisiana). Not surprisingly, all of them are members of Chiefs for Change, a group of state chiefs affiliated with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's Foundation for Excellence in Education.

Bennett acknowledged that some may believe states such as his own have done enough in various areas that the pace of change will naturally slow down. From school choice programs to A-F school grades based on student performance, the Hoosier State can lay claim to big changes since Bennett was elected to the superintendent's post on 2009. But he said the pace of change should not slow down and that state chiefs should utilize "aggression" in pushing for new policies.

Bennett also stressed that the new chiefs should move out of the gate quickly, and with a lot of fanfare.

"You have to go in with a very clear agenda, and you have to be willing to communicate that agenda on every front," Bennett said of new state chiefs' top priorities. "We didn't sneak up on anyone in terms of what we wanted to get accomplished."

Now, Bennett's comments don't mean that his previous efforts are immune from reversals. Just this month, an Indiana judge struck down a portion of the teachers' contract that limits collective bargaining concerning the number of hours teachers work. The Indiana State Teachers Association argued that the portion of the contract in question would have allowed districts to increase those hours unilaterally without consulting the union. How this issue will be resolved is unclear: The Courier-Press reports Indiana's department is considering an appeal.

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