When I left Indiana almost a decade ago, the Legislature was stuck in education waist deep and fouling the waters.

The Indiana Statewide Test for Educational Progress-Plus had been the state’s answer to the federal mandates of No Child Left Behind — a classic bipartisan effort to muck up education.

Now that I’m back in Indiana, I see the state GOP remains consistent in its efforts to undermine public schools with ILEARN.

All in an attempt to fix what isn’t broken.

That started with No Child Left Behind, which had laudable goals of measuring schools empirically. We would be able to see which schools struggled and learn from schools that excelled. Good ideas there.

But there were base assumptions that were wrong, such as: Schools can be compared because they’re the same. But schools are different within the same system. Classes are different within the same school. Children in those classes are different from each other. At that point, No Child Left Behind becomes Orwellian — it wanted to everyone to fit into the system.

Then the GOP in the Indiana Legislature had to answer the bad idea of standardization with ISTEP. Basically, it forced teachers and entire school systems to teach to the test rather than doing what they’re meant to do: educate. Test taking and education are not the same thing. One forces the student to learn rote facts and repeat them. The latter helps a child become a critical thinker who can continue to learn for life.

I remember my kid in third grade being stressed during ISTEP week. Certainly, educators felt the stress of meeting this false measurement and passed that on to children. What kind of learning can go on in that kind of environment?

The politicians continued to make it worse by over legislating. They changed ISTEP rules and timing virtually every year, ensuring any standardized results couldn’t be compared because it was apples and kumquots. There was no standard.

And damn sure everyone knew it.

I was happy to see from afar that ISTEP was allowed to die sometime later but sure enough, the GOP in Indianapolis couldn’t keep their hands off.

I pick on the GOP particularly because they espouse a philosophy of limited government but act otherwise. One of Ronald Reagan’s favorite quips was, the worst nine words anyone could hear are, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

Yet his acolytes, who tend to treat Reagan’s jokes like they were the inerrant words of the gospel, couldn’t keep their hands off schools.

That’s how we ended up with ILEARN, a standardized test that’s not standardized.

And, oh wait, not to be believed or used at least this year until, guess what, the Legislature can fix it again. The tests aren’t even standard, changing depending on how the student is doing. Gov. Eric Holcomb and his education department have said the new lower numbers should not be used in judging a school for now. For now. Because someone from the government will be here to help.

The GOP also has diverted much-needed money from public education to charter schools for decades without any authoritative data it improves outcomes, privately or publicly.

I say this as someone who went to 12 years of private school back in the 1970s and ’80s. My parents had a choice and they chose to pay taxes into the public school system while giving me a Catholic-based education.

As I noted earlier, it’s all an attempt to fix something that’s not broken. It’s a great scam. Politicians run elections saying something’s broken and only they know how to fix it. But those students who do poorly do so for a reason. They might have a learning disability. More likely, they’re in poor homes where there’s not enough food or parents, absent not because they’re out doing drugs but because they’re working two or more jobs.

I’ve been in hundreds of schools in six states over the past 30 years and am forever astounded by the eagerness and energy of the educators. We hears stories, particularly from politicians, about lazy, indolent teachers on the public dole. Honestly, I’ve never met them. That’s not to say there aren’t some teachers calling it in but they’re the anomaly and good legislation is never built on the odd ducks.

Rather than standardizing tests for students in Boone and Starke counties — the highest and lowest in per capita income — the Legislature ought to do two simple things as a starting point of making schools better in Indiana.

First, raise teacher pay to attract the best and brightest.

Second, kill ILEARN and stay the hell out of the way of professional educators who know what they’re doing.

GOP legislators, you are the government and you’re not helping.
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