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179
State Senator Luke
Kenley, a member of the
senate education and
workforce development
committee, is more
skeptical still. With two-
thirds of Indiana’s high
school graduates already
earning one of the new
diplomas, and with
special education students
accounting for about 17 percent of the state school population,
Kenley wonders howmany more students Core 40 can gain. “I
think we’re into overkill here,” he said.
Like much education policy in Indiana in recent
years, Core 40 came about as a consensus of people from
perspectives not always easily reconciled. In this case, they
included representatives of higher education, elementary and
secondary education and business, the latter faction led by
the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, which has consistently
backed higher educational standards at all levels.
An even broader group got together in 1998 and formed
the Indiana Education Roundtable, which consists of a
revolving roster of about 30 representatives of K–12 and
postsecondary education, business, labor, government
and others whomake recommendations on the gamut of
state education issues. Jones said the group was “born out
of frustration that we were having these battles between
Republicans and Democrats in the legislature and between the
business and the education communities, and a sense that we
weren’t making progress and we needed to do it differently.”
In 1999 the legislature wrote the Roundtable into a state law
designating the governor and state superintendent of public
instruction as its co-chairs. Since then the group has gathered
clout, to the point that it now drives the state’s education
agenda. In its current push for a seamless state system from
pre-kindergarten through college, the Roundtable is
calling for greater attention to kindergarten and pre-
school, adult education, and high school and college
dropouts. One-quarter of Indiana college freshmen
don’t make it to the sophomore year, the group
reports.
By the Commission for Higher Education’s own
reckoning, fewer than half of students who start
bachelor’s degree programs, and fewer than a third
who start associate’s degrees, finish them. Although
the percentage of residents 25 and older holding at
least a four-year college degree has risen to slightly
more than 21 percent, Indiana remains stuck among
the bottomfive states by that measure. “We’re still a
blue collar state,” said Jones by way of explanation.
At all levels, Indiana education remains a work in
progress, with Jones very much in the thick of it all.
Besides constantly advocating for higher education,
he is vocal in his support of proposed legislation
that would require the state’s public high schools to
better track dropouts, potential as well as actual. Such
across-the-board involvement is typical of a man
Kenley described as “the thinker and driver” behind
Indiana’s education initiatives.
Jones is a career politician whose resume begins with 16
years as a state representative. Given a district that included
Purdue University, his alma mater, and a mother who had been
a teacher, Jones says he naturally gravitated toward education
issues. As a legislator, working closely with then-Governor
Evan Bayh, he wrote the House bill that created 21st Century
Scholars. Later, as Bayh’s senior education adviser, Jones was
instrumental in bringing various interest groups together in
support of the Core 40 curriculum.
As higher education commissioner, Jones pushed for
creation of the Education Roundtable. Though he never
has been a member of the group, “Stan was a part of the
work,” said Suellen Reed, a former public school teacher
and administrator, now the state’s superintendent of public
instruction. “He came to all of the meetings. He helped us pull
things together.”
She calls him Stan; he calls her Suellen. That they are on
a first-name basis and say they are friends and collaborators
speaks to the ability of Indiana’s disparate education interests to
join forces these past few years out of mutual concerns. In 1992
Jones and Reed ran against each other for state superintendent
of public instruction, she as a Republican and he as a
Democrat. Kenley, a Republican, says bi-partisanship has
become the rule on state education issues because in Indiana
the two parties are “not so far apart that if there’s an issue of
importance to us we can’t get together.”
In 1995 the higher education board picked Jones as
commissioner. Steve Ferguson, the Indiana University
governing board president, said Jones’ “passion for what we
were doing, his love for the state” made him the standout in
a field of candidates for the job, most of themprofessional
educators.
One of Jones’ main accomplishments as commissioner is
the transformation of Ivy Tech State College into Indiana’s first
systemof two-year community colleges.
Indiana has one of
the nation’s most
generous financial
aid programs for
college students.
Carol Bodie (right) instructs Melissa Lambright in Practical Nursing, one of the most popular
vocational programs at the 23 Ivy Tech Community College campuses.