Recent editorials published in Indiana newspapers

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Journal Gazette. Aug. 26, 2013.

Schooling politicians

The primary question Americans have about the Common Core State Standards isn’t whether they are a good or bad thing for U.S. schools, it’s “what are they?”

The well-respected Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll finds that 62 percent of respondents have never heard of the new academic standards. Of the 38 percent who have, many wrongly believe they cover all school subjects and have been forced on the states by the federal government.

The poll’s directors attribute the Common Core results to confusion, but survey results regarding standardized testing – the linchpin in the standards’ program – suggest Americans might not be as confused as they are displeased with the direction of so-called education reform measures. The results, interestingly, indicate U.S. views on public education stand in direct contrast to measures approved by the Indiana General Assembly and State Board of Education:

—70 percent of survey respondents oppose allowing students and parents to choose a private school at public expense, up from 55 percent in the 2012 poll. Indiana has the largest school voucher program in the nation.

—Only 22 percent believe increased testing helps school performance. Indiana’s four-year ISTEP+ contract with CTB/McGraw-Hill has grown to $95 million.

—58 percent oppose using student test scores to evaluate teachers. Indiana law requires test scores to be used in the performance evaluations.

—Lack of funding was cited as the biggest problem faced by public schools, identified by 35 percent of respondents. The next cited was lack of discipline, at 9 percent. Indiana public schools continue to feel the effects of a permanent $300 million reduction in spending, combined with property tax caps that have reduced support for transportation, technology and more.

The showdown over Common Core playing out in Indiana and elsewhere is a clue that changes in education have gotten ahead of public support. It’s time for policymakers to back off and allow a sound debate over the direction schools should take – not just with standards, but with testing, charter expansion, vouchers and more. Elected officials at both the federal and state level might be surprised at what they learn.

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The Herald-Times, Bloomington. Aug. 25, 2013.

IU provost asks right questions to guide campus

Indiana University should be a place for deep thinking, which is what IU-Bloomington Provost Lauren Robel is looking for on a few central questions she’s putting to faculty members:

—What is the most compelling case for a residential, research-intensive campus in 2020?

—How does IU Bloomington make that case in a powerful way among all residential, research-intensive campuses?

—How can the campus best facilitate and support a continuing commitment to excellence as a residential, research-intensive campus?

While they may seem broad and lofty, they are crucial questions to address now. Not thoroughly evaluating the potential of technological advances and cultural changes could push IU on an unchosen course driven by external forces.

Not even the best planning can ensure the future, but Robel has touched on the right points as she’s put together teams on campus to look at a variety of elements that define IU today and will in the future. The goals she’s set out are broad, but those on the ground reaching for them will be expected to come up with some sound directions to follow.

One goal is to “create a compelling statement of the value of what we do for each of our constituencies and audiences.” The more people in an organization who understand fully what value it is offering the better.

Another is to “sharpen the mission of each of the campus offices in support of academic excellence and the principles of excellence.” It’s a call to get better.

A third is to “identify and engage the next generation of campus leaders.” With the dizzying pace of change, “next generation” campus leaders will need different skills from current and former generations.

A fourth is to “develop interdisciplinary connective tissue” — a drive to make it more efficient and effective for different academic disciplines to work together for the benefit of students.

A fifth is to “inform the campus in a deep way about the political and national environment for higher education.” This work can’t be done without awareness of what’s happening now and how necessary it is to anticipate, adjust and change for what’s coming next.

Robel’s initiative dovetails with the New Academic Directions reorganization plan of the greater university. It comes down to something IU President Michael McRobbie has said many times, including in an H-T story a year ago: “… If you were given a budget of $3 billion, which is our budget, and told to go and invent a university system for … Indiana, would it look like it looks today? Would it be identical to what it is today? I’ve yet to meet a person who says yes. And given that, what are some things we’re doing that we shouldn’t be doing and what are some things we should be doing that we’re not?”

The provost’s goals for the Bloomington campus will drill deeper into that. The findings will be important.

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The Indianapolis Star. Aug. 23, 2013.

Same-sex marriage fight is expensive, divisive — and unnecessary

The battle over marriage in Indiana has ramped up with the launch of a bipartisan, business-backed coalition that will work to stop House Joint Resolution 6, the proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex unions.

We wish the Freedom Indiana campaign well, but still hope that Hoosiers will be spared the “expensive and very divisive” ordeal that an Eli Lilly and Co. executive predicts will unfold if the General Assembly insists on pushing the constitutional ban.

Same-sex marriage already is forbidden under state law. That statute has withstood court tests and is not susceptible to legislative repeal in the foreseeable future. To go further, to carve the ban into the state constitution and subject the state to a bruising referendum process in doing so, would serve no good purpose.

Indeed, in the eyes of many business, political, academic and religious leaders, stamping Indiana as unfriendly to gay people may do harm in many ways.

That harm includes to the state’s economy. Lilly and Cummins Inc. have funded the coalition at $100,000 each, a sure sign of just how seriously they take their warnings about the potential loss of talent and investment if the amendment drive prevails.

The high-profile role Lilly and Cummins have staked out on this issue should capture the attention of state political leaders, from both major parties. When two major employers — and major drivers of innovation and growth in the state economy — speak out so strongly about their concerns for Indiana’s future, it would be foolish to ignore them, especially in a state where good jobs are still far too scarce. Both companies deserve praise for their leadership in this debate.

Also of note is the bipartisan nature of the Freedom Indiana effort. Both Republicans and Democrats attended the kick-off event on Wednesday. And a Republican, Megan Robinson, with experience working for Sen. Dan Coats and U.S. Rep. Luke Messer, will manage the campaign. Old notions about a liberal-conservative split on this issue are no longer necessarily true.

A Ball State University poll taken last year showed Hoosiers were evenly split on same-sex marriage, but 54 percent opposed the amendment and 55 percent favored civil unions. The legislature and governor should heed the people, let HJR6 die and move on to far more productive work.

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The Tribune, Seymour. Aug. 22, 2013.

Support needed to curb infant mortality

In 2011, Indiana ranked 47th among states for infant mortality rate, with 7.7 of every 1,000 children who were born alive dying before their first birthday, according to provisional data.

This figure is largely unchanged from a decade earlier. In 2009, the rate was 7.8, and in 2002 it was 7.6. At that time, the state set a goal of reducing the rate to 4.5 per 1,000 births in 2010. Clearly, we still have a long way to go to reach that level.

Indiana’s top health official called the rate a “horrible” situation. State Health Commissioner Dr. William C. VanNess II said lowering the death rate among the state’s youngest residents is one of the State Department of Health’s top three initiatives. He said the state “can’t keep this hidden anymore.”

While the issue hasn’t gone unnoticed, VanNess said previous efforts to lower the high death rate haven’t produced the desired results.

A report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that Indiana ranked sixth nationally in 2010 for infant mortality. The state’s provisional data for 2011 also showed the rate was 12.4 for black infants and 6.9 for white infants.

VanNess said the reasons for Indiana’s high death rate among infants are difficult to pinpoint. The state has high rates of obesity and smoking, both of which tie into infant mortality. The state ranks 41st nationally in overall health, he said. Data from 2010 showed that 17.1 percent of pregnant Indiana women smoked during pregnancy, compared with 9.2 percent nationally.

Last year, Jackson County recorded seven infant deaths, according to Mary Kovener of the county health department’s records division. Since 2008, the number of infant deaths total 31.

To improve the infant mortality rate, people have to know what the problem is and how to deal with it. That clearly is the mission of programs offered by Schneck Medical Center and the March of Dimes.

For example, child birth education classes are offered monthly at Schneck through an expectant parents program.

Group sessions are designed to teach participants about every stage of pregnancy, from the moment a mom-to-be realizes she is pregnant through the final weeks of pregnancy and beyond. The focus is on child delivery.

The program is offered one Saturday a month. Parents-to-be can sign up online at schneckmed.org. The cost is $40. The hospital also offers breast-feeding, grandparents and siblings classes.

But pregnant women and especially first-time moms-to-be need to be made aware of the program and information available through the March of Dimes, whose mission is to prevent premature births and birth defects. So let relatives, friends and neighbors know of the educational opportunities that are available.

Reducing the infant mortality rate here and across the Hoosier state will require the combined efforts of health care professionals and prospective parents. The rest of us need to support those efforts and spread the word to those want-to-be parents.

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