Dispute sends Indiana education board into chaos

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A meeting that produced a new outline for grading Indiana schools turned chaotic Wednesday when the state's top education official stormed out, escalating an already testy battle with Republican Gov. Mike Pence.

Democratic Superintendent Glenda Ritz abruptly left the meeting of the state school board she chairs when a Pence appointee tried to transfer certain student assessment powers from her office to a second education department created by the governor earlier this year.

"This meeting is adjourned," Ritz said repeatedly, while packing her things and walking out. Department of Education staff quickly followed suit, while leaders of Pence's second education department and the other board members stayed put. It is unclear whether Ritz officially ended the meeting.

A Pence administration lawyer said she would ask the attorney general's office whether they could take action without Ritz, who is the board's chairwoman.

The latest rift came shortly after the board approved a new outline for the state's A-F school grades. The 9-1 vote was meant to keep the board in compliance with a state law that requires it to approve A-F categories by Friday.

But the new categories are essentially just a framework that remains otherwise empty. Members said they didn’t feel prepared to endorse a system by which the grades will be determined because the state’s standards and testing programs are under review as well.

“The worst thing we can do is get it wrong,” said board member Brad Oliver. “We owe it to teachers and students – primarily students – and parents and communities to get it right.”

The board voted to use a 100-point grading scale – with a 90 earning a school an A, an 80 means a B, a 70 is a C and a 60 is a D. That's similar to the grading school many teachers use for students.

It will replace a scale of one to four.

Board member Andrea Neal was the lone vote against the measure. She said approving categories now “forces us to put the cart before the horse.”

She said under state law, the A-F grades must be based on measurements of individual growth toward proficiency. “Proficiency at what?” she asked. “As of today, we don’t know.”

The General Assembly earlier this year ordered the state board to approve a new A-F system that was based more on student growth than achievement. The legislature also created a panel of educational experts to recommend a new system to the board.

That recommendation occurred two weeks ago and included a long list of proposed changes for the grading system, including the move to the 100-point scale. But panel members acknowledged that they didn’t have all the information they wanted to complete their work. Most notably, they said the proposal had not been tested using actual student data.

That concerned the state education board members as well. And so the resolution the board approved Wednesday reflects that it will be doing additional work on those issue before determining how the A-F grades will be established.

Also last spring, the General Assembly ordered studies meant to determine whether the state will stick with the controversial Common Core education standards that the education board approved in 2010, create the state’s own standards or develop a hybrid. That process is to include a set of public hearings to take place next year.

Until those standards are set, the state board can’t determine the testing system that will be used to assess student achievement – and ultimately school grades. The timing troubled several board members on Wednesday.

But state Superintendent Glenda Ritz – who chairs the education board and co-chaired the panel working on the A-F grades – said that while additional work is needed on the A-F system, the recommendation was meant to be flexible enough to adapt to any standards or testing.

Wednesday's vote was a rare moment of unity between Ritz and the other members of the board in an ongoing education war. Ritz accused Pence Tuesday of conducting a "complete takeover" of education policy over the past month. A Pence spokeswoman said he has worked "in good faith" with Ritz.

At stake is control of Indiana's education system and the sweeping education changes put in place by former Superintendent Tony Bennett and former Gov. Mitch Daniels. Indiana Republicans approved the nation's most sweeping school voucher law in 2011 and have expanded on it somewhat, in addition to dozens of other changes long sought by conservative education reformers.

Former Bennett staffers have accused Ritz of targeting Bennett with a series of public records releases, including a set of emails showing that Bennett and his staff overhauled the "A-F" grading system to improve the performance of an Indianapolis school held up as a leader in reform.

The other members of the state board, all of whom were appointed by Pence or Daniels, have accused Ritz of dragging her feet in implementing laws she openly campaigned against last year.

Board meetings have become a political circus, with Ritz refusing to recognize board members and those members frequently talking over her. Lawyers for the competing Ritz and Pence education departments have even offered competing legal advice to the board, while jockeying for control of the sole microphone reserved for witnesses to the board.

After Ritz left Wednesday, another board member, Republican Brad Oliver, said he was withdrawing the motion that sparked the fight. The motion would have moved facets of the state's career and college prep testing to Pence's second education department.

"I don't want to exacerbate this," Oliver said.

It's unclear whether the meeting was formally in progress at the time Oliver withdrew his motion, or whether Ritz had successfully ended it. Meetings are typically ended through a motion to adjourn, followed by a "second" support of the motion and a vote by the board.


  • Standing With Ritz
    Ritz is the elected education official--the one who is supposed to set policy. Yet, she has been continually constrained from doing her job. She has to continue to deal with an uncooperative Board and a new office under Pence that was put in place to ensure that Ritz is kept in check. The new office has an nice name but it is clear that was set up to keep more control over education under the Governor. I stand with most of the commenters on this article who are disgusted with the Governor and the Board members.
  • If Ritzs runs for governor...she has my vote
    Pense's fight to see charter schools receive "A" is not worth the cost. We need to stop giving very profitable charter schools to political donors. The charters will continue regardless of the grade. Giving public schools low grades to justify giving more tax money to donors (in the form of charter schools) is unethical. And....each year those in politics say we are doing better and better...just like they say the "reformed" schools are better and better. Not a lot of truth. (If they are really better, why not let the public schools follow the same rules the politically connected schools get.) We all know that a the fight for school grade does not improve a school or make children better educated. We know it is a tool to justify giving charters to friends. I vote with Ritz. I would be crazy to believe Pense. Pense has mastered Blarney, claiming to want to work together, but not doing what he says. Low, very low.
  • Glenda is WRONG
    First, it is a staggering display of poor leadership skills on the part of Ritz to just stand up, say the meeting is adjourned, gather your stuff and leave. All those who voted for her should be concerned about this ‘my way or I am going home’ approach. The board is not a union where you can just pass down commandments and expect them to be followed. Parliamentary procedure should be followed. We taxpayers expect it to be followed. Second, the board approved the measure she wanted. The article states: “Wednesday's vote was a rare moment of unity between Ritz and the other members of the board in an ongoing education war.’ It was only when another matter was brought before the board that she decided not to do her job. If you have never sat on a board before, be careful about jumping to conclusions. You don’t always get your way. That is the whole point of having a board. In fact, you may lose out more often than not to what you think is best. Just because she is the Superintendent doesn’t make her Queen to send down an edict to the serfs. If she were to follow former state Democratic leadership’s style, she would probably try to move the meetings to somewhere in Illinois and not tell the rest of the board where they were at. Pitiful. We all deserve better. Third, I am tired of this publication stating over and over again that the board was appointed by GOP Governors. We are in our third consecutive term of GOP Governors so stop trying to stir the pot by pointing out they were appointed by GOP Governors. Anybody paying attention knows that or should. The board is appointed by the Governor regardless of their party affiliation. Besides, you have already acknowledged in previous articles that the board has a mix of Republicans and DEMOCRATS so it is not just one ideology being represented. LIZ, my idea of ‘standing up to bullies’ is not just declaring this meeting is over. Actions speak louder than words. Standing up to bullies, as this article seems to try to portray the board, would be to stand your ground in the public forum, present your beliefs and plans and do your best to convince the board you have the best plan. Then at least you have something to stand on in the public’s eyes if you don’t get your way. KATIE S., State Superintendent of Education is not equivalent to being made Czar when there is a board in place and she knew that when she ran for office. The political make-up of the board seems to have changed little over the last few years so did she expect a change of one variable in the equation to equal a big change in the outcome? Overall, if the Board Meetings are becoming a circus, it is up the Chairperson, in this case Ritz, to be the Ringmaster, not look like a clown.
  • Good for Glenda!
    I voted for Glenda Ritz because I know from personal experience that she stands up to bullies. Keep up the good fight, Glenda!
  • Disgusted
    Currently, I am a sophomore at Manchester University and a political science major. I cannot begin to express how disappointed and disgusted I am at our current legislatures. Glenda Ritz was elected by the public as our State Superintendent and it is time they let her do her job. Why, all of a sudden is there a second Department of Education? This is wrong. My tax dollars pay for ONE Department of Education. Obviously, there is not enough to do at the Statehouse as every feels the need to tell Ritz how to do her job. Quit speaking over one another and spend your energy on creating laws and regulations for education that benefits students, not harms them. There is a reason that Glenda Ritz was voted into office. Voters wanted to see a change in the education system.
  • taxpayer dollars
    Why did Governor Pence create a second agency to oversee public education? Did the taxpayers of Indiana not speak last Fall when they voted Glenda Ritz into office? We are now (with our tax dollars) paying for a second Department of Education (under the facade of Center for Education and Career Innovation) - this is only breeding chaos for the current Dept. of Education. It's obvious the current Administration is trying to override the existing Dept. of Education - it also reads as if the current Dept of Education board meetings are nothing more than rounds of bullying-people are fighting for the microphone and talking over each other. Maybe they need a seminar on board governance? Our tax dollars should only be paying for one Dept. of Education. This second department surprises me as history serves itself to keep a "skeletal" government initiated by previous Governor Daniels. It is suspicious that a second department is created by a Republican governor. This has done nothing but create chaos and wasted energy and TAX DOLLARS.
  • Kicking the can
    "She said under state law, the A-F grades must be based on measurements of individual growth toward proficiency. “Proficiency at what?” she asked. “As of today, we don’t know.”" ... Well put. As the State legislature decided to kick the can on Common Core standards, who the heck knows what the kids are held against?

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