Increase K-12 Educational Success

The State That Works:
Educational Options for Student Success

Policy Goal: Ensure all Hoosier children have access to high-quality schools and teachers which will give them the skills they need to compete in the U.S. and global economies.

Vision Plan Goals Served:

  • Goal #3. Improving the math and reading skills of elementary students
  • Goal #4. Increasing graduation rates
  • Goal #5. Improving the quality of the Hoosier workforce

Policy Steps:

  • Support third grade reading standard and increase math skill development
  • Support quality, community pre-K initiatives and examine opportunities to increase access to pre-K for underprivileged children
  • Support expanded choice, access to quality schools and continue to ensure that Indiana is on the cutting edge of charter school innovation
  • Promote quality schools by developing talented school leaders
  • Fund excellence by increasing rewards for great schools and great teachers
  • Give teachers more freedom to teach
  • Address the dropout and remediation crisis


Condoleezza Rice framed the education issue well when she recently stated that education is the civil rights issue of our day.[1] Horace Mann said it poetically when he declared that "Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men."

In recent years, lawmakers and executive branch leaders realized that we could no longer accept a system that didn’t prepare our children to compete with their national and global peers. Expectations were set high for student performance. And high expectations were set for the teachers and leaders responsible for educating them. From there, Indiana adopted policies that would support both students and educators by promoting flexibility and accountability and establishing a system that encourages excellence. School choice options were increased for all families and steps were taken to make sure those options were of the highest quality.

What results have we seen so far from these efforts? Students are showing better results on math and reading.[2] Graduation rates are up.[3] Over 9,000 students from low- and middle income families will attend a school of their choice this fall. Teachers are now evaluated based on their students’ achievement and not on how many years they have been a teacher. Indiana is attracting some of the most effective and innovative charter school operators to open schools here in Indiana. Finally, recent studies and data have ranked Indiana number one for teacher effectiveness[4] and second highest two-year gain in AP success,[5] with our African-American, Hispanic, and Native American students showing some of the biggest gains.[6] These results show what we can achieve for our kids when we put their needs first.

But there is still much work to do. In 2011, nearly 20 percent of our schools were placed on academic watch or probation – the lowest two ratings – by our Department of Education.[7] Nearly 50 percent were rated mediocre or worse.[8] The math and reading proficiency of our 2011 graduates, while competitive with other U.S. states, still seriously lags those of students in countries like China, South Korea, Japan, Canada, Germany and France.[9] In the class of 2011, 4,600 kids didn’t complete high school at all and now face the prospect of living life without a high school degree.[10] For each year that passes, we fail the thousands of children that drop out of our schools or graduate without the skills to enter the workforce or college. These issues are urgent, and they deserve a resolve to confront the barriers that impede success for our children.

Therefore, to make Indiana the state that works for our kids, our schools and our teachers, we need the courage to set big goals and develop strategies to achieve them. We will specifically focus on achieving the goals of improved math and reading skills for our elementary students and increased graduation rates for our high schools. These two goals will assist our efforts to achieve another stated goal, which is to improve the quality of the Hoosier workforce by increasing the educational attainment level of Hoosiers.

Our strategies to achieve these goals will include efforts to improve freedom for schools and teachers, expand school choice, access to quality schools, and parent freedom, and improve school accountability for reading and math skill development. We also will continue to see that Indiana is on the cutting edge of charter school development, and to ensure that every high school graduate is college or career ready by increasing our efforts to bring career, technical and vocational education back to every high school in Indiana.

Here are a few strategies that we will be pursuing in year one of a Pence Administration that will help make Indiana the state that works for our school children.

Support third grade reading standard and increase math skill development

Indiana must have highly visible, ambitious, yet achievable goals in place for key academic indicators. Superintendent Bennett and the Department of Education (DOE) have set out and will continue to set out crucial metrics and benchmarks that will continue to push Indiana further in the right direction, and those efforts should be fully supported.

One key academic indicator that must be supported is reading. Reading is the most important skill students develop in elementary school, and Grade 3 is recognized as the point by which that skill must be developed.[11] Students reading below level when leaving the third grade suffer permanent challenges and restrictions to their academic success and future economic opportunities.

In 2011, new legislation required DOE to create a plan that would do as much as possible to ensure grade level literacy by the end of third grade, with retention only used as a last resort. Moving forward, the third grade reading standard needs to be supported and enhanced where appropriate. Up until third grade, our kids learn to read, and then for the rest of their academic career, they shift toward reading to learn. We fail our kids, and the taxpayers of this state, if we don’t ensure that third graders have the reading skills they need to be successful in the rest of their academic careers and their careers after school.

Another key academic indicator is math. We suggest the creation of a benchmark to ensure academic proficiency in math similar, but not identical, to the third grade reading policy. The objective of the new policy will be to:

  • Increase the number of students demonstrating proficiency in math
  • Give students the math skills they need to be college or career ready when they graduate high school
  • Provide accurate academic proficiency information to students, parents, and practitioners to inform instruction, course placement and progression or the need for remediation
  • Hold schools responsible for preparing students for success in crucial classes like Algebra 1
  • Ensure that our students are prepared to enter the growing STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers that are producing high-demand, high-wage jobs across Indiana
  • Identify the critical math skills and pathways that support Indiana's CTE Technical Honors Diploma

DOE should identify a subset of the current standards in grades three through eight that serve as “leading indicators” of math readiness and success and will measure and report proficiency on these key standards to schools via the already established statewide assessment system. Based on a student’s proficiency on these standards, schools will select appropriate remediation, up to and including retention. This allows for more flexibility to incorporate expected levels of mastery and appropriate remediation into the course scope and sequence adopted at the local level.

Support quality, community pre-K initiatives and examine opportunities to increase access to pre-K for underprivileged children

High-quality early education programs can have immediate and long term positive effects for our communities. That’s why many communities are already launching efforts to provide pre-K programs, especially for at-risk and low-income children. One of the best examples is the Busy Bees Academy in Columbus, which serves at-risk and disadvantaged children in that community with top quality pre-K programs.

This is exactly the kind of innovative, community-driven pre-K effort that the State of Indiana should be supporting. We should explore opportunities to support efforts like this that expand pre-K access for at risk and underprivileged children.

Promote Quality Schools by Developing Talented School Leaders

Research has shown conclusively that the quality of our children's education is tied to the quality of their schools’ leadership.[12] The academic success of Hoosier students should not be left to chance. Successful schools that provide positive, productive, and vibrant teaching and learning environments do not occur by accident. Instead, the most effective schools are led by leaders who are equipped with the skills and possess the attitudes required to be exceptional school leaders.

Therefore, we propose to create a School Leadership Academy, modeled after the successful Woodrow Wilson Scholarship program for teachers, which will be open only to highly-talented future school leaders who attend programs which demonstrate excellence in preparation. Details of the fellowship will be worked out in consultation with DOE, our universities, other leading educators, and the General Assembly.

Rewards for Great Schools and Teachers

At 55 percent of our state’s general fund, Indiana spends more of its budget on education than anything else.[13] Spending more money does not guarantee better results, as we discovered in the past several years, as student performance increased when school funding was flat. Instead, we must efficiently manage the money we already spend.

Rewarding Indiana’s great schools and great teachers comes from simple, Hoosier common sense. Much attention, regrettably but necessarily, is paid to our state’s lower-performing schools. Just as we currently have a process in place to turn around our failing schools, we need a process in place to consistently reward our best schools and teachers.

We know that financial rewards are always appreciated by our state’s educators. A recent proposal would give schools an additional $500 per pupil if they achieve ISTEP+ passage rates of 85 percent or higher.[14] This is a great starting point in the discussion about how we can reward great schools and great teachers.

Teachers should definitely share in the performance-based awards. DOE recently awarded 28 "Excellence in Performance for Teachers" grants. These grants were established to help schools recruit and retain effective teachers. Going forward, we will look for ways to tie the school performance awards to an increase in “Excellence in Performance for Teachers” grants. Teaching is an honorable profession and, as with any other profession, we need to provide rewards for our highest-performing teachers.

Give teachers more freedom to teach

Bill Gates recently said, "The remarkable thing about great teachers today is that in most cases nobody taught them how to be great. They figured it out on their own."[15] Therefore, we must give teachers choice, freedom, support and respect, and hold them accountable for results. We want Indiana to be a place where “teacherpreneurs” can live, work and thrive.

Therefore, we propose:

  • Calling on district leaders to restructure their salary schedule to pay highly effective teachers more for increasing student learning and also to have them coach their less effective peers in master or mentor teacher-type roles
  • Continue to benchmark dollars in the classroom and where necessary to work to increase the dollars we spend in the classroom
  • Bring the best science, math and technology teachers together to plan strategies for attracting new STEM talent in the classroom, and to develop best practices for STEM teaching in our schools

As of 2011, gone are the “last-in, first-out” policies that based teacher layoffs and re-hiring on seniority. In their place are new rules on tenure, new stipulations that personnel decisions be based on performance, and new requirements that teacher evaluations be more rigorous and the ratings be tied at least in part to student academic growth. The traditional single salary schedule, one in which teachers have been compensated based on years of experience and degrees earned or graduate hours taken, is being replaced: those two factors will now account for one-third, or less, of pay increases.

We need to ensure that not only quality teacher evaluations are being given, but that salary increases follow those highly-rated teachers. Districts should publish this data so that parents and educators see how a district incentivizes educators. Furthermore, we need high-quality teachers to come alongside their peers to pass on effective learning methods and experience. Just like every successful high school athlete needs a good coach, our teachers, particularly our new teachers, could use good coaches too.

Since 2006, funneling more education dollars into the classroom has been an explicit policy goal of the State of Indiana. This policy ensures that lawmakers continually look for more ways to push our resources toward the activities which actually educate our children, such as direct interactions between students and teachers. Without at all diminishing the importance of activities outside the classroom, this policy has highlighted the need to support teacher freedom through supporting more resources in the classroom. We will need to continue vigilance on this policy.

Finally, we will promote teacher freedom by asking our best math and science teachers to help recruit and train new math and science teachers. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education represents the wave of the future for U.S. companies and the students who will work for them, and to upgrade our schools’ ability to provide sound STEM education, we need top-notch math and science teachers in particular. We will organize the top math and science teachers in the state and ask them to develop best practices in math and science education and the top qualities to look for in math and science teachers, and share those results with school leaders across the state.

Address the Dropout and Remediation Crisis

Finally, we must address the two most serious threats to the lifetime success of our Hoosier students: the dropout crisis and rise in the percentage of students that require remediation before college.

We propose endeavoring to double the amount of students in the Jobs for America’s Graduates Program (JAG). JAG is a cost-effective dropout prevention, school-to-career, dropout recovery solution to serve young people who are at greatest risk of not: 1) staying in school through graduation or completing a GED, 2) pursuing a postsecondary education; and/or 3) securing a quality entry-level job that leads to career advancement opportunities. JAG Indiana students had an 88 percent graduation rate for 2010-2011.[16] Its proven track record is a testament to the program structure. To double the number of schools that have the program, we will seek dedicated funding sources and/or the repurposing of existing federal grants to the State of Indiana.

We will also engage our K-12 and higher education leaders toward a common understanding of the skills and competencies that high school graduates must have. The need to remediate our high school graduates is a failure for our students. With a common understanding of "college ready", our K-12 schools must have the burden to produce qualified graduates and our higher education institutions must be ready to accept these students and provide the instruction and degrees that they demand.


[6] Id.
[7] Calculations based on data from the Indiana Department of Education, located at
[8] Id.
[9] See Peterson, et al, Globally Challenged: Are U.S. Students Ready to Compete?, Harvard Kennedy School (August 2011), locate at
[11] See Lesnick, et al, Reading on Grade Level in Third Grade: How Is It Related to High School Performance and College Enrollment?, Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago (2010), located at
[12] See Leithwood, et al, How Leadership Influences Student Learning, The Wallace Foundation (2004), located at
[16] See Childhood Poverty: Indiana’s Emergency Report and Recommendations, Indiana Commission on Childhood Poverty (December 2011). This report also noted that African-American males in the JAG program also had a much higher than average graduation rate.