Implementing Indiana’s “Students First” Agenda

AEIIn a newly released study, American Enterprise Institute (AEI) director of education policy studies Frederick (Rick) Hess, professor Paul Manna and researcher Keenan Kelly assess Indiana’s 2011 “Putting Students First” education reform law, a first of its kind large-scale reform package which includes school choice, teacher evaluation and collective bargaining reforms which serves as a model for other states.

Indiana’s experience shows that while state-level leadership is necessary, ultimately local officials must implement changes. Unless attitudes and actions shift at the local level, education reform will remain an idea rather than a reality.

Lessons from Indiana:

  • Burdens state officials face: State education agencies are often too focused on monitoring federal funding or ensuring that local school districts comply with a wide array of state and federal laws. Indiana’s reforms add additional burdens: providing more training to and oversight of local agencies, solving complex problems associated with shutting down failing schools and/or hiring private operators to turn around low-performing schools. While reform laws may be passed the state level, local officials are essential to effecting change.
  • Fix a local culture of compliance: Ultimately schools and school districts must implement any reforms, and their ability to do so remains in question. Many school districts will need a significant cultural shift to avoid reflexively accepting state standards. For example, in the past when local school officials were allowed to design their own teacher evaluation system based on their unique needs, 80 percent of districts simply adopted the one given to them from the state agency.

The writers conclude, “[W]hile much has been said about whether these new laws are good or bad, far less attention has been paid to the looming implementation challenges. The time is ripe for a serious treatment of such issues, both for Indiana policymakers, educators, and citizens and for those in other states weighing similar reform legislation.”

To read the full study, please visit