Purdue Dean Slams Pernicious Effects of “Reform” as Mitch Daniels Sits and Listens Quietly

Purdue’s dean of education Maryann Santos de Barona bluntly described the pernicious effects of “reform” on enrollment in the College of Education, as Purdue President Mitch Daniels listened quietly. As Governor of Indiana, Daniels was responsible for the “reforms” she was describing.

Maryann Santos de Barona, dean of Purdue University’s College of Education for the past six years, was at the front of a Stewart Center meeting room May 14 for one of those death-by-PowerPoint presentations. From among her dozens of slides, the dean was showing the university’s trustees a sinking trend line of undergraduates enrolled in Purdue’s teacher education program.

At the other end of a conference table, one big enough to seat 10 trustees and assorted support staff, was Mitch Daniels. The Purdue president fidgeted as his education dean unflinchingly laid out her hypotheses for why students were avoiding careers in elementary and secondary education, as well as why test-weary schools were increasingly reluctant to experiment with Purdue-developed curriculum.

Wait, you know where this one is going, right? Probably so.

But it still was stunningly awkward, as the dean heaped so much of the blame at the feet of her boss, without calling him out by name. She didn’t have to. Not a person in the room — probably not in the state — was unfamiliar with Daniels’ role for clearing the way for education reform in Indiana in his previous life as a two-term Republican governor.

“What is happening in (pre-kindergarten to 12th-grade) education, in legislative bodies and in governmental offices, affects our enrollment, our course offerings and our administrative responsibilities,” Santos de Barona said during an annual update for the trustees’ Academic Affairs Committee.

“Our profession is at a critical juncture,” she said. “The pervasive negativity about the teaching profession, and the misconception that education is broken, has resulted in increased pressures on practicing teachers. As a result, they are less likely to want to mentor our student teachers — and have less time to do so. Teachers and administrators are reluctant to let our faculty research in their classrooms, as this represents a risk that might impact test scores.”

Santos de Barona said undergraduate enrollment in the College of Education is down 33 percent since 2010, even as recruitment efforts have been ramped up to interest high school seniors across Indiana and students looking into changing majors once on campus. (Graduate student enrollment at the education college is up 32 percent during the same time. “We saw this coming and diversified our portfolio,” Santos de Barona said after the meeting.)

Santos de Barona told the trustees that Purdue wasn’t alone in this — that it was a national issue. One example: Ball State University, once called Ball State Teachers College, has seen a 45 percent drop in undergraduates in its elementary and kindergarten prep programs in the past decade.

Santos de Barona didn’t specifically mention it, but the trend at Purdue tracks the timeline of education reform in Indiana, when teachers’ bargaining power was busted, scores on standardized tests were tied more closely to pay raises and to overall A-to-F grades for schools, and the introduction and expansion of a private school voucher system sold on the idea that there had to be something better than what public schools could provide.

How refreshing that the dean brought the terrible consequences of the Governor’s actions to his face and let him know that he is responsible for a catastrophic decline in the number of young people entering the teaching profession. Being a reformster means you are never held accountable for your actions. Former Governor Mitch Daniels was confronted with the facts. Wonder what he heard? Or did he just tune out his dean?

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