Student Faith Brown, left, listens as U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan speaks to students during tour the Charles A. Tindley Accelerated School in Indianapolis, Friday, April 15, 2011. He and Indiana Mitch Daniels held a town hall style discussion with students following the tour. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Updated: April 18, 2011 11:16PM
Tuesday (AP) — Gov. Mitch Daniels and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan agreed Friday that charter schools and teacher accountability are two ways to improve public education, but Duncan said the similarities end when it comes to Daniels’ support for vouchers and opposition to teachers’ unions.
The two appeared together to take questions from students and parents at a high-performing Indianapolis charter school, and the Republican governor praised Duncan and Democratic President Barack Obama for the administration’s emphasis on improving schools.
“Partisanship should stop at the school door,” Daniels said. “Change is very hard in education. The challenges are huge. The habits are old and deeply ingrained. The vested interests are very powerful.”
Both Daniels and the Obama administration support charter schools — the Indiana Senate on Tuesday approved Daniels’ plan to expand charters — and greater accountability for teachers, but Duncan, speaking to reporters after the town meeting, pointed out sharp differences in their approaches to improving schools.
“What I cannot support is where you are limiting or cutting back on collective bargaining. ... Collective bargaining has to be part of the solution,” Duncan said. Teacher unions shared equal footing with school board members and administrators at a national summit on education in Denver in February.
That same month, more than a thousand teachers rallied at the capital to denounce Daniels’ education agenda, and the governor said then that unions’ “special interest domination of education policy from the local level to the State House has hurt Indiana children for too long.” The Indiana House on Friday approved a Daniels plan to limit collective bargaining agreements between local districts and teachers’ unions.
The most contentious item of Daniels’ aggressive education agenda, using state money to give scholarships to parents who meet income guidelines and want to move their children from public to private schools, cleared the state Senate Education Committee Wednesday and is pending before the full Senate. Until now, most voucher programs in the U.S. have been limited to poor students, those in chronically failing schools or those with special needs. Daniels’ plan would open vouchers to a much larger pool of students, including those from middle-class homes and solid school districts.
Duncan said he cannot support “public dollars” going to private schools.
“We need to make every single public school a great public school. What we can’t be content with is saving a handful of children and leaving the other couple hundred to drown. We need to give every single child a chance to go to a great public school. The vast majority of our children will always go to public schools,” Duncan said.
Daniels said many of his education proposals are mainstream ideas that also have been embraced by Democrats, including the Obama administration.
“We are on the same page on education. They’ve done some very courageous things,” Daniels said after the town hall meeting.
The meeting at Charles A. Tindley Accelerated School on Indianapolis’s north side drew about 200 students, parents and others watching Daniels and Duncan fielding questions mostly from students about education topics. Tindley has 460 students in grades 6-12, drawing from 28 districts across central Indiana. Sixty percent of the students are on free and reduced lunches, but nearly all go on to four-year colleges and universities. College acceptance letters hang on a wall at the entrance to the school.
Junior Venson Williams asked Daniels if he thought the state’s largest school district, the Indianapolis Public Schools, was adequately preparing its students to compete globally.
Daniels said IPS, as a school system, was not doing that, nor were more affluent school systems in nearby Carmel and Westfield.
“We all have to get better, everywhere,” Daniels said.
Duncan then asked Williams if he thought his friends who were IPS students were being prepared well, and the student said no.
“When I walked inside this building, I saw a sense of urgency,” Duncan said, calling it a quality that needs to spread to public schools.