Recent editorials published in Indiana newspapers

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Times, Munster. Aug. 19, 2013.

Remember reason for Common Core standards

The review of Common Core State Standards, as applied to Indiana, has begun. It is a familiar battle, having been fought once before.

The state Board of Education had already approved the Common Core standards in 2010, and Indiana’s schools have been working to implement them in their curriculum.

These standards aim to make sure students at each grade level are making progress toward becoming college- and career-ready.

They also allow students across the nation to be compared with their peers. That makes sense, for they will be competing with the same group for college admissions and for jobs.

The Common Core standards have been criticized as another example of the federal government trying to take over a state responsibility, but that’s just not true. The Common Core standards are not guidelines handed down from the federal government, but those agreed upon by nearly every state.

Even within those national standards, there is room for adaptation to address issues within the state. Indiana should not shy away from that option, as long as the larger goal of being able to compare scores with peers in other states is not forgotten.

Earlier this year, the Indiana General Assembly passed a law calling for a one-year pause in implementation of the new standards while the legislators second-guess the state Board of Education’s decision to adopt them.

Complicating the issue are two factors — the computer glitch that hampered widespread standardized testing in Indiana and a few other states this spring, along with the scandal involving former Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett ordering school accountability grades to be changed. Bennett, a Republican, recommended adoption of the Common Core standards, and now all his actions are being scrutinized.

What must not be lost in this debate, however, is that standardized tests and accountability are needed to ensure Hoosier students are learning what they need to succeed in life.

Common Core standards can and should be adapted to include Indiana-specific goals. Even the critics should agree with that.

But don’t just scrap this movement because of the Tony Bennett scandal or the ill-conceived notion that comparing students on a national basis is a bad idea. Indiana students need the Common Core standards to ensure they are well prepared for the future.

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The Journal Gazette. Aug. 18, 2012.

State hasn’t gained, but for once, that’s not such a bad thing

The most recent “fat” report — the annual measure by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, shows that Indiana has managed to hang on to its spot as the eighth fattest state in the nation.

Ha! That’s nothing to be proud of.

At least we’re skinnier than seven other states, even with almost a third of Hoosiers classed as obese.

In other good news, if one can call it that, the report, released last week, shows that as a nation, most of us haven’t actually gotten fatter over the previous year. In 49 of 50 states, the percentage of the population classed as obese remained unchanged from 2011 to 2012, with Arkansas the only state to grow its waistline.

Looking for any light, we see that as a positive, given the frightening climb in America’s obesity rate over the last three decades. That differential is truly scary. In 1980, according to the report, no state had an adult obesity rate above 15 percent. In this latest report, the rate in Indiana and 12 other states tops 30 percent. And 41 states have rates of at least 25 percent. None are lower than 20 percent.

We shouldn’t have to be convinced. Just seeing is enough. In any crowd (which, just in passing, would include many of us), you can see lots of people — both kids and adults — who’d describe themselves as a little chunky, or with a stocky build or who are generously proportioned. Many of those people — that is, many of us — are likely to fit into that class that’s labeled obese, even if we don’t think so.

It’s been a gradual creep upward over the years, insidious in its slow but relentless pace. You’d certainly know it and be alarmed if you gained 30 or 40 pounds in six months while as you turned rubenesque, everyone around you kept their svelte figures. But if it’s whole generations over decades, it’s just too easy for excess poundage to be seen as the norm.

State Health Commissioner William VanNess talked to the area business people last week. He tailored his message to his audience, talking dollars. And what better way to grab attention than to talk bottom line? He was selling the concept of wellness programs, pointing out that employer medical costs fall by $3.27 for every wellness dollar spent, and absenteeism costs fall by $2.37. Spending a dollar to make three is a good return in anyone’s books. VanNess said we have too many smokers and too many of us are obese.

Like smoking, fat kills. It’s imperative to turn the trend around. There are encouraging signs. We at least didn’t “grow” wider last year. Programs targeting kids seem to be having an effect. But bottom line, it’s a job each of us must take on.

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Journal & Courier. Aug. 16, 2013.

School accountability on the ropes

In the same week that the board of Fort Wayne Community Schools, the largest district in the state, rejected the notion of Indiana’s A-to-F grading system for schools, Tippecanoe County’s biggest district hedged its bets in a different way.

Both, though, show flagging confidence in how the state is putting high-stakes measures on public schools at a time when districts have the most at stake.

This week, the Fort Wayne Community Schools board passed a resolution saying the district wouldn’t recognize the grades the state hands out and uses as a hammer for schools deemed to be failing. The resolution follows allegations that former state school Superintendent Tony Bennett manipulated the A-to-F system — an accountability measure he helped create — to make sure a charter school he held up as a model could go from a C to an A in 2012.

The Indianapolis Public Schools followed that by demanding Indiana Department of Education records to see what kind of communications Bennett shared when an IPS request to review a school’s grade was rejected. Of note: The IPS request was for similar reasons Bennett demanded his unsolicited, helpful review of a political donor’s charter school in Indianapolis.

While Fort Wayne’s resolution might not amount to much more than a protest vote, it shows a level of discontent and distrust felt statewide about the foundation of Indiana’s aggressive school reforms.

This week, Tippecanoe School Corp. didn’t take up anything similar to Fort Wayne’s resolution. But the board did agree to adjust how the state’s standardized ISTEP scores will factor into teachers’ evaluations. Less emphasis will be put on the test scores this year, after a series of computer glitches caused problems on several testing days. A state investigation indicated that the computer problems likely had little effect on overall results. But doubts remain, as TSC’s action makes clear.

It’s worth noting that the A-to-F grades also depend heavily on ISTEP results.

Gov. Mike Pence came to the defense of the A-to-F grades, saying there’s time to review and save the system he insists is a good accountability measure for Indiana’s schools.

Let’s just say he has his work cut out for him and the state Department of Education.

Because faith in the system is beyond slipping.

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The Tribune, Seymour. Aug. 16, 2013.

Shrinking funds limit tourism’s potential

Tourism is not exactly the first category that comes to mind when discussing the most important industries in Indiana, particularly when the list of attractions is put alongside those in such neighboring states as Kentucky, Illinois and Michigan.

Nevertheless, the hospitality and visitor trade does play a pretty significant role in the economy of Indiana. More than 257,000 jobs in the state are related to hospitality and tourism, producing more than $6.74 billion in annual wages.

Those numbers alone should suffice to further exploit the state’s potential, but Indiana officials appear to be drawing purse strings tighter on budgets that might be used to promote areas that could be of interest not only to people from other states but Hoosiers themselves.

Mark Newman, Indiana’s new tourism director, alluded to this cost-cutting when discussing how much money is dedicated to promotion and development at the state level. According to the Indianapolis Business Journal, the office of tourism development has seen its budget shrink from $3.9 million in 2009 to less than $2 million today.

To put that number into perspective, consider that neighboring Michigan shells out $27.4 million on its iconic Pure Michigan campaign and Illinois more than doubles that outlay.

Admittedly, some past efforts at promoting Hoosier tourism opportunities have left something to be desired. One only has to think back to the Wander Indiana program of several years past to understand why budget-conscious legislators might be leery of spending much on ad campaigns.

Nevertheless, there are a number of tourism pockets in Indiana that could be attractive to visitors from outside the state.

Our neighbors to the north, Columbus, should serve as an example of how effective promotion can result in significant earnings. Before the opening of the Miller House to visitors two years ago, the Indianapolis Museum of Art launched an aggressive public relations campaign in various national media outlets.

That, coupled with national television exposure through the CBS “Sunday Morning” program, resulted in a flood of reservations not only for tours of the home of the famed Columbus philanthropist but for the architectural tours offered by the Columbus Area Visitors Center.

Here at home, area businesses, including Larrison’s Diner in downtown Seymour, report customers stopping by to check out the local haunts of Rock and Roll Hall of Famer John Mellencamp. Our region also attracts lovers of the outdoors with the Hoosier National Forest, Jackson-Washington State Forest and the Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge.

The Indiana General Assembly did offer individual communities the opportunity to raise their own tourism funds through an innkeeper tax, and that has certainly been critical to the work of Jackson County tourism. However, many counties either did not avail themselves of the opportunity or had insufficient resources to benefit from such an effort.

Brown County, for instance, has had a long tradition of being a tourist mecca, but that reputation can dim as we pass from one generation to another. There must be a constant reminder of the assets that exist within the state.

The less than $2 million that is currently spent on the tourism development office doesn’t leave a lot of opportunity for self-promotion.

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