Daniels’ School Reforms: Too Smart for Tea Party?

May 5th, 2011 at 2:04 pm | 31 Comments |

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Mitch Daniels is regularly held up as one of the best examples of a “serious” and policy-minded conservative. Wednesday in Washington, he gave a speech at AEI laying out his very wonk-heavy plan for education policy in Indiana. What’s surprising was that Daniels made it clear in his speech that his goal wasn’t to destroy public education but to strengthen it.

The education reforms passed by the Indiana legislature are sweeping. The slides from Daniels’ presentation can be viewed here and it’s notable how most of the reforms will improve the quality of Indiana’s regular public schools, not just offer other options such as vouchers or charters. The reforms allow for merit-based assessments of teachers, more ways to hold schools accountable, and eliminate many of the restrictions from union contracts that have hampered how schools are run.

Look at slide 5 titled “Contractual Handcuffs.”  In this slide, Daniels lists many of the arbitrary ways in which union contracts had determined how schools are run, with a mind-boggling set of restrictions ranging from what the temperature of a classroom had to be to whether the show choir Director could be fired in an emergency reduction in force to the usual union provisions which prioritize seniority over merit in granting tenure. These are the sorts of restrictions that Daniel’s reform efforts sought to remove.

Daniels reforms will make the state more friendly to charters and give more families access to vouchers, but while speaking to AEI, Daniels made clear that while members of the audience were probably most interested in the voucher program (it’s a cause for many conservatives with the D.C. voucher program a special focus for many living in the District) that vouchers are a last resort, not a first option for families:

Public schools will get first shot at every child. … If the public school delivers and succeeds, no one will seek to exercise this [voucher] choice. But neither will we incarcerate any family’s kid in a school that they don’t believe is working.

Daniels made clear that in addition to helping the small minority of students who will benefit from the expanded choice options, his main goal is to make sure that the public education system used by 90% of the students works better:

You cannot often enough affirm your commitment to the public schools. As I said, 90 percent of Indiana kids are in public schools today. I think even with the new [voucher/charter] option that’s available, it’ll always be close to that. I really believe that, I would be surprised if it’s not. Therefore there’s a huge responsibility, and we should all share a commitment, to make the public schools better all the time.

It’s language that would have been described in an earlier era as “compassionate conservatism”. Even his defense of the voucher program invoked language that would have given it the kiss of death on the Glenn Beck show saying that “From a social justice aspect, it [vouchers] is the right thing to do.”

Daniels used his speech to come to the defense of the Obama administration, giving enormous credit to Education Secretary Arne Duncan and the Race to the Top program. While he acknowledged that there has been a significant amount of spending at the Department of Education, he defended Race to the Top, and No Child Left Behind.

Daniels said he “believes in national standards” and joked that this is always hard to implement because “Republicans don’t like ‘national’ and Democrats don’t like ‘standards.’”

Yet this is not just a trivial joke. Other Republicans and conservatives, infused with Tea Party style libertarianism, are turning against many of the reforms and policies that Mitch Daniels endorsed in his speech.

Gov. Rick Perry of Texas declined to have his state participate in Race to the Top, a program designed to reward states which made their teacher evaluations based on merit and which allowed for more charter schools.

Senator Jim DeMint and other Republicans at the end of April introduced legislation to allow states to opt out of the No Child Left Behind act. The reauthorization of this signature piece of legislation is also currently in doubt.

As Kevin Carey wrote in The New Republic these Tea Party efforts to roll back national education reforms play right into the hands of the teachers’ unions who would prefer not to be held accountable to any set of standards. The teachers’ union’s continued dominance in local politics means that they are allies of convenience with the Republicans on education policy federalism.

Daniels’ education reform is a great moment for Republicans to remember why they are conservatives and not libertarians. Remember that the Cato Institute graded Daniels’ tenure as governor as merely a “B” because, among other things: “He wants the government to be efficient but he doesn’t necessarily want it to be smaller.”

If conservatives really do admire Mitch Daniels, they would admire him for making government work efficiently and for all citizens, not dismantling it as many Tea Party activists would advocate.

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31 Comments so far ↓

  • Xunzi Washington

    Most of these “handcuffs” don’t seem particularly problematic to me, with the exception of #8. Annual performance review seems perfectly reasonable to me. Perhaps also #2 – you can make all the criticisms you want, it doesn’t mean people have to listen if you are being unreasonable. If the criticisms are reasonable, they should be voiced.

    It would be helpful to know the context behind some of the more idiosyncratic ones, which are clearly included to make teachers’ demands look unreasonable and petty, but I would bet were responses to particular situations that I have no way of knowing.

    • zephae

      “t would be helpful to know the context behind some of the more idiosyncratic ones, which are clearly included to make teachers’ demands look unreasonable and petty, but I would bet were responses to particular situations that I have no way of knowing.”

      They probably were, but they look petty because in practice they are petty and ridiculous and only serve to bog down management and reasonable dialogue between administrators and the Union. These arent obscure rules either, and many union contracts hqve these types of annoying requirements; they should be streamlined and focus on the main issues instead of worrying about classroom temp because there’s only one guy with access to the thermostat (or its controlled in a different building miles or states away).

      When you make a presentation like this, you are obviously going to slant it to your side, but i didnt see anythink that looked really unfair or disingenuous there.

  • Xunzi Washington


    Somehow I doubt teachers just decided to complain about the thermostat if in fact that temperature was not too low or too high. It’s hard to teach if the classroom is 50 or 90 degrees and everyone is miserable. Is that unreasonable as a work demand? No. You call them “annoying requirements” but they emerge in response to particular work place issues, are not arbitrary, and I doubt are seen as “annoying” to the people who asked for them.

    Take another one: senior teachers should not teach more than 5 sections a day. Let’s say that this is “unreasonable”. How many, then? Six? If the contract then states “six” will that be seen as “unreasonable”? What else does a senior teacher’s workday look like? What are they expect to do?

    Etc, etc. I’m not a K-12 teacher, but I tend to get suspicious when these things get thrown around out of context in a way that tries to make teachers look unreasonable. Present the context, don’t just cite workplace rules.

  • Smargalicious

    This is indeed an example of union thuggery, but absolutely nothing will solve the problem of illegitimacy amongst public school attendees. The illegitimacy is the core problem–the source of violence and anti-White racism which drove most of the affluent folks into the private schools.

    My prediction is that if you give these fatherless thugs a free ticket to a private school, sensible parents will then homeschool.

    They’ll have no other choice.

    • think4yourself

      I know I shouldn’t bite, but which part of Smarg’s statement should we refute?

      - Are all public school attendees illegitimate? Or maybe just most of them? And apparently there must be no illegitimate children attending private school or homeschooled.
      - Illegitimacy is the core problem (of public schools?). Really? Not poverty? Not institionalized welfare mentality of parents? Not unionized teachers? (we can pick any Conservative or Liberal point you want).
      - Illegitimacy is the source of violence and anti-white racism. Really? Race violence that is in schools comes from whether or not your parents were married before they had you? Are you saying that all public schools have race violence and anti-white racism (I’ll bet there are a few schools in Utah or Wyoming that don’t have a Hispanic or Black in them – I’m sure their test scores are entirely due to anit-white racism. I can think of about a dozen conservative arguments about the causes of race violence and “anti-white” racism that hold more water than this one.
      - Drove most affluent folks to private schools. Are most affluent folks in private schools? I’ll bet most affluent folks are not in private schools, even though more private schools have affluent folks.

      - … these fatherless thugs a free ticket to private school… – does that mean you are against that Republican standard of school vouchers?

  • LFC

    #9: A teacher has the right to displace a less senior teacher in another subject area to avoid involuntary transfer.

    I view #9 as totally unreasonable. This rewards seniority over expertise and ability. I’m sorry, but I don’t want a 25 year English teacher knocking a 10 year Chemistry teacher out of their job simply because they want to “avoid involuntary transfer” while riding out their time to retirement. When seniority trumps all it is the antithesis of selecting the best person for the job.

  • Diomedes

    “Daniels’ School Reforms: Too Smart for Tea Party?”

    Title should read:

    “Are Any Ideas Developed Through Logical Thought and Lucid Scrutiny Too Smart for Tea Party?”

  • drcme

    Smarg: I’ll ask you again, since I don’t think you have the balls to answer: Why to you continually refer to your fellow human beings in such deragatory terms such as “thugs”. These are children we are talking about, who had no say as to whether or not they have a father in the home. Did you learn to be so cruel in church? Do you think Jesus would refer to children as “thugs” just because they are fatherless?

    • Smargalicious

      Before I answer, why are you avoiding the fact that Obama doesn’t put his own children into D.C. public schools?

      Did you glance at the article about the dismal situation in Detroit?

      What is the common factor in all of this?

      • drcme

        I disagree with the Obama’s decision not to put their kids in public school.

        There. I answered your question, now you answer mine; unless you don’t have the balls.

        • Smargalicious

          Why to you continually refer to your fellow human beings in such deragatory terms such as “thugs”.

          Because that’s what the majority of them are.

          Starting in the 1960s, there are generations now of people raised without the guiding hand of a morally straight father; they watch as a young child their entitlement-dependent mothers fornicate with numerous suitors giving them more misguided siblings.

          I went to school with them in Alabama during the 1970s and early 80s. When thugs are in public schools with children who are taught to respect each other, bad things happen.

          Are you a well-fed White liberal living in a gated community? Do you send your children to private schools to avoid the children that Democratic policies created, like your President does?

          And please, stop with the “man-up” reference to scrotums. I dare you to walk alone on the sidewalk of SE D.C. at anytime of the day. There you would quickly meet the model of the word.

          Here are a few articles to study:




          If you’d like some more please holler.

        • drcme

          I send my kids to public school. I live in a home recently valued at $175,000; above average, but no gates anywhere near me. I drive a car worth about $28,000-nothing fancy. I put myself through college. Mom’s a nurse, dad is in sales. My sister is the principal of a school where over 50% of the kids are so low income that they qualify for the school lunch program. I am white. I don’t consider myself liberal, but I’m think you probably would. I think welfare reform was a good thing, that welfare recipients should take drug tests before getting checks, and that English literacy should be required before granting citizenship.

          But you still haven’t addressed the central idea I asked you about: why are you disparaging children who did not make the choice to grow up in a fatherless home? Would Jesus call these children “thugs”?

  • Xunzi Washington

    LFC -

    I would agree with you on #9, if the subject areas are wholly distinct. That one should be added.

  • rbottoms

    Why to you continually refer to your fellow human beings in such deragatory terms such as “thugs”.

    Because black super criminals love teh welfare?

    Who gives a shit what he says? I have an ignore list, he’s been in it for some time. Try it.

    You know, if not single person replied to it… it would change its handle to something else to can continue to yanking everyone’s chain. The GOP’s policies are stupid and ridiculous enough, focus on that instead of a sock puppet poster.

    Daniels’ move to strip health care from the poor women of Indiana so he can boost his cred with the shrieking teabagger crowd ought to be what outrages you.

    • Smargalicious

      ^LOL!! And some of you call ME a troll.

    • drcme

      I give a shit what he says because I am naive enough to think that every once in a while, people who think like Smarg can be influenced to change their minds.

      • Smargalicious

        The thing that will change YOUR mind is being ‘thugged’ either at work, while shopping, coming home from a party, in a parking lot…

        Many, many liberals change their worldviews after something bad happens to them personally.

        • drcme

          Smarg: so you’re still not going to answer my question about calling children, who are fatherless through no fault of their own, “thugs”? Or the question about if you think Jesus would refer to children this way? Come on, Smarg, I answered your questions, why won’t you answer mine?

  • think4yourself

    One of the reasons that union membership has been falling in the private sector is the perception that in addition to being arrogant, corrupt and self-serving, they made the companies that hired the workers uncompetitive and eventually killed the golden goose (the US auto industry is a case in point). That had not happened in the public sector unions because they don’t have much in the way of competition. But many of the stifling work rules created the same environment.

    Xunzi is probably right that the first point was a response to a bad work environment (maybe a school district was mandating not using a heater in the Indiana winter to save energy costs for example), however putting it as an item part of a contract is like using a blowtorch to light a pilot light – you get the pilot lit, but exploded the stove in the process. Why not have a conflict resolution process as part of a contract that covers all of these items that is fair towards both sides.

    As a parent, I would have a problem with most of those points above. Especially #9 (I don’t want the PE teacher mandated to teach my child 7th grade math, simply because they have senority and can force not be transferred). I also think #10 is ridiculous, an administrator can only see how the teacher is doing at a time pre-agreed by the teacher? I’d like the Principal to be able to peek in on my child’s class at anytime without having to wait until we know for sure that the teacher is on their best behavior because they know the Principal is coming. And on #8, what if a teacher that has been there longer than 5 years starts exhibiting signs of instability? They can’t be checked on? What if they had something happen in their personal life that affected their ability to teach?

  • greg_barton

    “You cannot often enough affirm your commitment to the public schools. As I said, 90 percent of Indiana kids are in public schools today. I think even with the new [voucher/charter] option that’s available, it’ll always be close to that.”

    In other words, this is a handout to the 10% who put their kids in private school.

  • Graychin

    These are “handcuffs”?

    Get real. Someone just doesn’t like unions. ANY unions.

  • Xunzi Washington


    The heater issue might be seen in your way if — a big if — we’re assuming that management was responsive to the complaints. It could be that they were not, and as a result it became a contractual issue. I don’t have any problem with that. Big deal.

    #1 is completely reasonable.

    #2 is stupid.

    #3 strikes me as rooted in something idiosyncratic, so it makes no sense to criticize it without context.

    #4 is reasonable. I want my kids teachers to be evaluated on their pedagogy. Not standardized test scores, the outcome of which they are only partially responsible for. Plenty of good teachers cannot make a dent in test scores, and it has little to do with teaching. Moreover, teaching means more than taking tests, and frankly I would guess many teachers are offended by this.

    #5 and #6 are reasonable. Teaching is exhausting. More than a certain amount per day and you simply become ineffectual as a teacher. Moreover, there are other things teachers are expected to do. The point here is not “x” amount of hours, but that it is reasonable that there BE a set amount of hours, beyond which is not reasonable.

    I have no idea what #7 means, and moreover appears idiosyncratic to a position. No comment.

    #8 should be “one year”, not “three”, but would be reasonable at “one”

    #9 is bad, I agree.

    #10 is reasonable. Such interruptions are disruptive to the classroom, and moreover it is a professional courtesy to give a teacher a heads up on a drop by. The fact that this is in the contract doesn’t strike me as teachers trying to get away with anything, but rather teachers annoyed by rude and obnoxious administrators.

    I say all of this, by the way, with two children in public schools. The difference is, perhaps, that I’m not starting with the assumption that teachers are bad people always scheming to get away with things. I’m not saying you are starting with that assumption yourself, but rather just saying that it is the GOP lead-in on this issue: “teachers are bad”.

  • Frumplestiltskin

    I am a teacher so yes, improperly heated or vented rooms can be a major distraction. You try teaching with sweat poring off your brow.
    And of course the admin should not make blanket criticisms of teachers. What is the point of that? To look like a ahole? No administrator I know has ever done so so I am not sure it should be a requirement but fine that it is.
    Does it really matter if staff meetings are not on Mondays? There are 4 other days. Personally I don’t care either way, we have ours on Thursdays but I never gave it a thought.
    And no teacher should be evaluated on standardized test scores, you do that and teachers will teach the test. If I were to teach the test only I can get good scores, the students will not retain the knowledge but hey, as long as I can protect my job, right? This year I am failing more students than I ever have, I am not going to not fail them by making sure they pass tests and pass the class for my job security. I will fail them because it is in their best interest.

    And you talk for 5 classes a day on your feet and see how you feel. It is exhausting, my voice gets tired, I drink more water and soda than I should to stay hydrated. You give me more classes and I will quit and have an office job.
    The last 4 are ok. I don’t care about Choir (why is that there?) but I agree more evaluation especially spot evaluation is needed. I welcome it because I want to be a better teacher.
    I have tenure, I worked hard to get it. If you get rid of tenure than it is hard to see many young people wanting it as a career. Dealing with kids is a hard job, without some security it wouldn’t be worth the investment. People also don’t understand tenure, I can be fired, I won’t be fired because some parents or students are unhappy that I fail them and they make a lot of noise about it. I have documentation and scores to show why I fail them, and I don’t fail anyone because I want to, I do it in their own best interest. Take away tenure and teachers will teach the test and do all they can to keep kids happy. It is not a recipe for a good education.

    • abrady

      Tenure is necessary. I am a high school science teacher in a very conservative CA county (yes, there are very conservative areas of CA) and I would have lost my job years ago if the community had had its way: they did not want us to teach evolution even though it is a major portion of CA Life Science Standards.

      Also, I got involved in the Teacher Association and eventually became our Chapter Leader. I certainly would have been fired at that point based on a short-lived Principal that had an adversarial relationship with the teachers at his school.

      I was very closely monitored during my first two years of teaching (more than 20 yrs ago) and given support in areas of my weaknesses. Professional Development funding has dried up and gone away.

      I invite any one of the politicians or union bashers to come and face the 100 + students of my current classes and spend 90 fun-filled minutes with them (our school is on the block schedule) while they are “educated” and then tell me that my job performance should only be based in their test scores.

  • Frumplestiltskin

    Xunzi: I agree with most of what you wrote as I was writing pretty much the same as you were however I do disagree with this:
    Such interruptions are disruptive to the classroom, and moreover it is a professional courtesy to give a teacher a heads up on a drop by.

    The problem with scheduled evaluations is it gives me time to be on my A game. No teacher can always be on their A game, they would have no home life. I have zero problem with spot evaluations because it is honest and it is no more disruptive than a scheduled one. The students have no idea if it is a scheduled one or not they simply are aware that the admin. is in the back of the class.

    One thing you should understand, I need other teachers to be competent. Students in levels before me have to come into my class with the prerequisite knowledge, there was a previous teacher here who has since left but lord knows what he did before, so many of my students are floundering because he was not competent. Everyone liked him, he was a young teacher full of energy who decided teaching was not for him but it has pretty much killed me this year. They passed the tests but they didn’t truly understand the material. I know now he must have taught to the test.
    The idea that teachers want to protect incompetent teachers is simply not true. No one on an assembly line would want a screw up anywhere on the line since it screws up the entire process, how much more so with students.

  • Arms Merchant

    “What’s surprising was that Daniels made it clear in his speech that his goal wasn’t to destroy public education but to strengthen it.”

    Hey, Noah, who exactly in the “Tea Party” is calling to “destroy” public education? Perhaps it has escaped you that there is a big distinction between public (i.e., government-run) schools and public education. Or perhaps you are being deliberately deceptive. No, what is surprising is that an ostensibly Republican site like FrumForum advances liberal lies by carrying your drivel.

    Before you blather on, slandering the Tea Party patriots, how about some evidence for your smears? Oh, don’t have any? Then just run along and go post on HuffPo, where you belong.

  • Lonewolf

    Hey, “Goodnight, Moon” is too smart for the Tea Party. They all think “the red balloon” is a metaphor for communist world domination.

  • zephae


    I think you misunderstood the point I was trying to get across. My point about the heat issue was not that it would not be an unreasonable work demand, but rather that it shouldn’t be dealt with in the contract. At my public school, the thermostat was controlled by some company in another state and they had set dates when they switched from “summer” to “winter” settings, creating a few very uncomfortable weeks when the weather didn’t match the setting. However, these are situations where the solution should be malleable, not set in stone in the contract, because it just adds unnecessary complication due to a minor problem. The fact that these these things are included suggests that there are much larger problems that they tried to poorly fix in the contract. Taking some of your examples:

    #3: How does a scheduling issue make its way into the contract?
    #4: Missing the word “solely”

    #5, #6 and #10 are pretty standard contract agreements, but most of the stuff in here does not seem to me to be suitable for a contract and should have been resolved in a less formal manner. This does not necessarily mean that teachers are at fault, but there’s obviously some combination of union unreasonableness and administrative incompetence here.

  • Xunzi Washington


    On temperature: I have no way of knowing what the specific situation in this case was, so how can you or I comment? Perhaps in this case the thermostat is not controlled by some company in another state. I think you are assuming the situation must be malleable. It may not be. Without context, how can we know?

    #3: What’s wrong with Tu, W, Th and F?

    #4: “Solely” or “heavily” or “primarily” etc, etc. The point is the same: teaching should focus on pedagogy in the classroom, which the teacher can control, not a test score, which the teacher can not control.

    It could be that there is a combo of unreasonableness and incompetence. Who knows? There’s no context. What I do know is that the list is compiled in a way to make teachers look unreasonable. Given the standard GOP line on teachers as essentially lazy welfare recipients, let’s just say that it makes me suspicious and as a result I am not willing to give Daniels the benefit of the doubt here. Let’s see the context.

  • Madeline

    Regarding #3 – Are staff meetings typically held prior to the start of the school day? If so, saying no staff meetings on Mondays seems reasonable to me, as an early morning meeting on Monday would potentially require over-the-weekend preparation.

    Also, 1992 called and it wants its powerpoint template back. (Of course, 1997 called and it wants that joke back).