IBJOpinion

FROEHLE: Ritz's, Pence's bickering hurts education

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FroehleDemocratic Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz and Gov. Mike Pence are spending more time arguing than doing anything worthwhile for Indiana’s education system.

Pressures between the two reached a tipping point in mid-November when Ritz walked out of a state school board meeting after a Pence appointee attempted to give school assessment powers to the Center for Education and Career Initiatives. The CECI is a second education department created by the government earlier this year.

Blame can be placed with both parties. Ritz ignored objections from fellow board members and ended the meeting over school assessment. Pence challenged the power of Ritz and the Department of Education by attempting to place control of assessment with the CECI.

But this is about more than school assessment powers, and who controls education. Strains between Pence’s CECI and Ritz’s board disrupt the work and mission central to each—improving the welfare of students and educators. What once was an honorable mission has turned into a political spectacle no one wants to watch.

This is but the latest power struggle in the political war between Ritz and Pence. Ritz has been accused of slowing the implementation of laws she campaigned against last year. By essentially creating a second education department with the CECI, Pence has attempted to usurp the authority of Ritz and the Department of Education.

The CECI represents the political perspective of what once was the Bennett administration, an organization focused on data and standards to improve teacher performance, evaluate schools and measure student learning. Ritz, who campaigned on being the voice of teachers, seeks to halt drastic changes put in motion during Bennett’s administration.

Unfortunately for Ritz, her government mandate includes enacting those laws whether or not she approves of them. Pence has further complicated things by creating a council that takes away her own political and financial capital. So, instead of moving forward, any educational momentum from either side has ceased.

Teachers are left with little information about which standards they should be teaching to—the Common Core or Indiana’s standards. Educators have no information about their own performance from the 2012-2013 school year and are still awaiting data that can determine performance.

The Department of Education and the CECI should not be allowed to coexist, for the existence of one negates the authority of the other.

In all likelihood, Pence would not have deemed the CECI necessary if Tony Bennett had been re-elected state superintendent last November. Better still, had Pence been allowed to name his own superintendent, he would not be challenging the authority of the Department of Education with the CECI.

Fewer than a third of states elect superintendents. Other states allow the governor or a board to name their superintendent. States that elect superintendents argue that education is important enough that citizens should determine who controls the policy. Additionally, governors often campaign on educational issues, and the ability to name a superintendent allows governors to help enforce their campaign promises.

Without the ability to appoint a state superintendent, bipartisan superintendents and governors must find a way to compromise. Bennett’s predecessor, Suellen Reed, was successful under two Democratic governors in the early 2000s. If only Ritz and Pence could find a way to move forward in the same vein.

Because no matter who is right, neither Ritz nor Pence is able to focus on both policy and politics. Their bickering is leading nowhere. Indiana desperately needs a cohesive educational team, and right now is finding none.•

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Froehle is a senior and Wells Scholar at Indiana University majoring in business, and a former White House intern. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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  • Fundamental Misunderstanding
    I realize that this is only an editorial, but it may have benefited from a bit of easy fact checking.  First of all, the resolution proposed by Dr. Oliver had absolutely nothing to do with "school assessment powers." The purpose of the resolution is to facilitate a process whereby the Board could satisfy it's fiduciary and statutory duties with respect to HEA 1427 (common core review and adoption of college and career readiness standards). The Board had, in previous meetings and subsequent sound bites, expressed it's concern about the lack of rigour and transparency of the Department's process. Considering the law puts the responsibility on the Board for the evaluation and adoption, I don't blame them for being concerned and not wanting to simply rubber stamp whatever the Department came up with (particularly given the Department's utter failure in delivering a meaningful evaluation of common core in July as explicitly required by the law). Note that the resolution also never mentions CECI at all, it tasks State Board staff with assisting the Board (although the truth is rarely as sexy or as politically expedient). It's all in the Board meeting videos and the resolution itself, which is attached to the agenda. There is no small amount of irony here given the Superindent's constant whines about transparency and "checks and balances." Further, the statement, that "the Department of Education and the CECI should not be allowed to coexist, for the existence of one negates the authority of the other" shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the roles of the Department, the State Board, the Superintendent and CECI. With very few exceptions, the State Board sets education policy in Indiana. The Department, with the Superintendent as it's head implements policy. That's it. CECI, to the extent we are talking about State Board staff (which makes up something like 1/5th of overall CECI staff)  is engaged in assisting the State Board with its duties and responsibilities.  The Department is an administrative agency charged with implementing the policy. There is  no overlap. The Superintendent and the Department need to stop wasting everyone's time (and taxpayer dollars- again the irony is thick) with complaints, lawsuits and forensic email recoveries and get on with their actual responsibilities.
  • Landslide loss for a reason
    Tony Bennett lost by a LANDSLIDE because Indiana voters did not share his and Pence's vision for Indiana education. Top down, big government controlled (don't pretend Pence's educational agenda is not the exact same agenda as Obama's) instead of local community directed education is the antithesis of what grassroots Hoosiers desire for their children. Bennett didn't just lose because teachers and teacher's unions organized and fought "him"--which is what Pence and the Indiana State School Board like to say when justifying their continuation of Bennett's agenda. Bennett lost, overwhelmingly, because almost NONE of the GOP as well as no Independents or Democrats want--not in any shape or form--his, Pence's, Jeb Bush's and Obama's educational "reforms". Ritz was voted in to put an end to what Bennett was implementing, NOT to become a "yes man" "for" it.
  • He started it...
    He started it was a common phrase in my house growing up with all brothers. In Glenda's case she could say the same. Pence needs to realize that as long as we can vote for her position he needs to abide by the peoples decision. I wouldn't last 2 minutes in the same room with our dictator. I would have walked out of the meeting just like Glenda did...I won't work with "bullies" either. Pence plans to make a run for the presidency in this country. What would he do if congress is democratically controlled? Create a new one? He is the worst Gov. I have ever seen in IN. Nothing but a control freak...he is making us the laughing stock of the country. Let Glenda do her job and start working on what you were hired to do Mr. Governor. So many other issues for you to take care of.

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