Indiana Capital Chronicle: Indiana GOP gubernatorial hopeful highlights tech, career training in education policy plan

By Casey Smith
Indiana Capital Chronicle

Republican gubernatorial candidate Brad Chambers maintains that Indiana’s current education system is not producing enough “well-educated Hoosiers.”

His education policy plan, released Thursday, seeks to “rethink and redesign every aspect” of how the state teaches students. That includes proposals to expand career learning opportunities to middle schoolers and better integrate digital technology in K-12 curricula.

Chambers’ plan additionally highlights student literacy and mandated retention for third graders who fail to pass the state’s IREAD exam. State lawmakers are already ahead of the game, moving legislation to do just that.

“To prepare Hoosier students for the future and our state for continued economic success, we must rethink and redesign our education system, ensuring parents are front and center,” Chambers, the former secretary of commerce, said in a statement. “For far too long our system has been backward-looking instead of forward-looking, preventing our students from achieving their maximum potential in an economy of the future. Now is the time to act boldly and with urgency to get this right.”

Fort Wayne businessman Eric Doden, another Republican gubernatorial hopeful, released his education plan last month. His platform emphasizes solutions to Indiana’s ongoing teacher shortage by exempting educators from state income tax and working with Indiana’s colleges and universities to lower the cost of becoming a teacher.

U.S. Sen. Mike Braun, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch and former Attorney General Curtis Hill are additionally vying for the GOP nomination in the governor’s race. None have released specific education policy proposals, however.

Key components of Chambers’ “Learn More, Earn More” education plan include:

Requiring all students to pass IREAD before moving beyond third grade

Chambers said Indiana “must stop” using exemptions to promote third graders who fail the IREAD exam multiple times. His plan does not specifically address what the state’s retention policy should look like, however.

More students who fail the test are promoted without an exemption than with.

“We leave too many behind who cannot read, who are allowed to receive a high school diploma without fully earning it or who lose interest and simply drop out altogether,” Chambers said. “Our state’s economic future depends on addressing these issues with urgency and aspiration.”

Ensuring funding “truly follows” students to “give parents ample choice”

According to his policy proposal, any education provider — including traditional public schools, charters, private or magnet schools — “should receive the same level of funding for each student it enrolls.” Chambers clarified per student funding “will and should vary,” though, given that students with special needs or those from disadvantaged backgrounds “require more resources to educate.”

“But that level of funding should be the same regardless of what type of school the student attends,” Chambers said.

Additionally, the gubernatorial candidate said state funding should follow the student to their specific school, rather than being allocated to the school district.

Creating “clear career pathways” for students, beginning in seventh grade

Chambers holds that a four-year degree “does not fit every student’s individual needs.”

To help students find their calling earlier, he said Hoosier children should have access to technical education programs beginning in the seventh grade — not waiting until high school.

Education programs centered around entrepreneurship should also be prioritized for students who want to start their own businesses, Chambers noted.

Specifically, he said new pathways for careers in public service, as well as trades, life sciences and manufacturing should be established.

“Modernizing” individualized education using digital technologies

Chambers was blunt: “Hoosier students are bored with an education system that has not fundamentally changed its teaching methodologies in the past 50 years, while a new generation of the iPhone is released every year.”

To re-engage students, he suggests a curriculum that leverages technology” to make learning fun, interactive and individually paced to the progress of each student.”

Doing so means adding coursework that integrates new digital technologies, like artificial intelligence. Chambers also pointed to tech-focused “micro schools” — which often enroll fewer than 200 students — as a “new way” to educate Hoosier kids and “give parents more control over how their students are taught and what they learn.”

Increasing focus on skill-based learning

Chambers said he wants Indiana students to spend more time mastering skills that will prepare them for future employment.

Doing so requires more “time and opportunity to practice the skills that will help them use their knowledge effectively”

Combating chronic absenteeism by “ensuring parental engagement”

To combat Indiana’s ongoing student attendance woes, Chambers said the state “must leverage new technologies to make going to school and learning more fun, interactive, future-focused and relevant.” Community staples — including churches, businesses and other local organizations — have to help “deliver the message” that getting a good education “is essential to building a great life.”

Details about how to specifically curb absenteeism weren’t included in his policy brief, however.

Increasing teacher pay based on performance and demand

“Teachers must be paid more than they earn today,” Chambers said, adding that their pay should be based on performance in the classroom and “the outcome of their efforts.” He did not give specific dollar amount goals for minimum or average pay.

But he further said teachers in high-demand subjects, such as those in STEM, should garner higher salaries.

Ensuring students have access to secure and reliable broadband

All Hoosier students should have access to the internet, Chambers said. Although Indiana continues to make major investments in broadband access, “there are still too many places across the state without adequate internet access, especially in our rural areas,” Chambers said.

His policy supports state support to low-income students to ensure access to the internet “at little to no cost.”