Commentary and Opinion

MORRIS: Ritz should be last elected schools chief

November 16, 2013

MorrisHere are some recent headlines about our Indiana superintendent of public instruction, Glenda Ritz:

• Glenda Ritz sues board of education

• Attorney general: Ritz’s lawsuit unauthorized and invalid

• Judge tosses Glenda Ritz’s lawsuit against state school board

• State schools chief Glenda Ritz accuses Gov. Mike Pence of trying a ‘complete takeover of education’

• State education board meeting erupts as Ritz walks out

And here’s an abridged version of a column I wrote a year ago, on Nov. 17, 2012:

“Education is on my mind this week. There’s been a lot of progress made in education reform the past few years, but I fear we are at risk of moving backward. I’m worried the defeat of Tony Bennett as superintendent of public instruction puts this state’s education reforms not at risk, but on a slower pace. A recent story headline read, ‘Teacher wrath boosts Ritz to upset in state education race.’

“During her successful campaign, Glenda Ritz, our newly elected education chief, pledged to roll back many of Bennett’s (and Gov. Daniels’) reforms. However, that should prove to be a difficult campaign promise to keep. Why? Because the Legislature and Gov.-elect Mike Pence appear to be on board with our current track for reform. In addition, Daniels appointed the current board of education that Ritz will presumably report to. So, her new bosses are pro-reform.

“As I’ve discussed previously, Daniels and Bennett have often been demonized because they’ve been forcing change in an attempt to fix a failing system. Isn’t that the way it always is? Everyone says they want better schools. But when significant change is finally proposed and executed, the special interests scramble to fight it. Nothing happens, and the cycle repeats itself. Well, we need to make sure that doesn’t happen here in Indiana. Too much positive work has been done to lay down a strong foundation for reform. We can’t return to the status quo. We can’t go backward.

“Change does not come easily. Education reform is a topic that brings out passion—and rightfully so. Our children are our future. It’s tough to take the lead and criticize some teachers, administrators and school systems when there are good things happening in many schools. But the numbers don’t lie. Indiana students as a group have been underperforming and schools as a group have been failing for years. Fortunately, reform is already producing results.

“Everyone would like to see more of a consensus on what changes are needed. However, it’s been obvious for decades that consensus was not at hand. The change we need has to be forced. Daniels and Bennett forced a lot of that change in a short amount of time. That doesn’t make either man popular with certain elements of the education establishment, and as a result, Bennett paid the ultimate price in his failed re-election bid.

“Looking ahead, I remain hopeful that superintendent-elect Ritz can deliver the current reform mandate with more of a velvet-glove approach that educators will find more palatable. I hope she’ll be able to work with Pence and the Republican super-majority Legislature as a partner for positive change—rather than as an adversary.

“We might disagree on some of the details of reform, but I hope we can all agree that we can’t go backward. Education reform has to keep moving ahead. It’s about the kids—and it’s about all of us. All of our futures are tied together.”

I tried to be optimistic a year ago, but as it turns out, Ritz has been pretty much what you might expect, based on the platform she ran on. Her constant combative nature and picking a fight with anyone and everyone tells me it’s not about the kids, but about her.

What a shame for the kids of Indiana, because Gov. Pence has been teed up from the get-go to continue the great work of his predecessor in education reform. The only answer I can see to get things moving again in a positive direction is for the Legislature to make this an appointed position, to take effect at the conclusion of Ritz’s term. Then maybe we can get back on track and concentrate on better educating our kids so they can achieve a better life in the future. What a concept!•

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Morris is publisher of IBJ. His column appears every other week. To comment on this column, send e-mail to gmorris@ibj.com.

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