HARRIS: Allow the governor to lead completely on education

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David HarrisQuestion: A number of Democrats and Republicans in recent years have called for making the state superintendent of public instruction a position appointed by the governor. Should the position be appointed, and if so, in which year should the appointment begin?

For decades, the nation’s governors have been the driving force for changing—and improving—education policy.

As governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton helped launch the national education reform movement with the aggressive agenda he championed. Gov. Jeb Bush further propelled education reform with the bold education changes during his tenure in Florida.

Indiana has a long bipartisan tradition of governors leading on developing and championing education policies. Republican Gov. Bob Orr had his impressive “A-plus” reform package. Gov. Frank O’Bannon, a Democrat, led the implementation of the nation’s most demanding education standards; signed charter school legislation into law; and pushed full-day kindergarten, a cause for which governors Joe Kernan, a Democrat, and Mitch Daniels, a Republican, also fought. In 2011, Daniels also championed historic reforms that ended seniority-based teacher placements, strengthened teacher evaluations, and increased parental choice.

Given this strong leadership, I have for years—including in these pages in 2011—advocated for Indiana to follow the lead of 37 other states and allow our governor to appoint the state’s education chief, who runs the Department of Education.

The system we have now doesn’t make sense. The Legislature decided long ago that our governor leads on education policy. The governor appoints 10 of the 11 members of the State Board of Education. And, as Gov. Pence recently noted, Indiana law requires the state board to set K-12 education policy and then oversee the Department of Education’s implementation of those policies.

If we are going to give our governors authority to set education policy, we also need to give them the ability to implement that policy. Why elect one executive branch official to execute the policies of another?

Granting to the governor the authority to appoint the superintendent would ensure alignment between the governor as policymaker and the superintendent as the implementer. More important, it would better equip voters to know who is responsible for the state’s education policy and, therefore, whom to hold accountable.

Our current system is unfair to voters. While I strongly support Indiana’s recent education reforms, I believe even more strongly that opponents of those reforms have the right to be heard. I fear that voters who galvanized to support Superintendent Glenda Ritz did so with the false impression that Indiana law empowers the state superintendent to change policy rather than implement existing policy and advocate for change.

Clear accountability is essential for democracy to work. Having an appointed superintendent would avoid the blurred accountability that now exists. It would focus voters on the governor, who makes and can change education policy (along with the Legislature), not the person who is charged with implementing those policies.

Here’s the bottom line: An appointed superintendent would ensure Indiana’s governor, who by both long-standing practice and state law is charged with leading on education policy, has the tools needed to ensure all Indiana students excel.•


Harris is CEO of The Mind Trust, a not-for-profit focused on K-12 education reform in Indianapolis. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.


  • Voice of the People
    It would be hard not to argue that Dr. Bennett was hand picked by his party, which was also the Governor Daniels party. That choice did not work out so well for Indiana and now the people have spoken. Not a fan of the Teachers Union, but it took more than the Union to vote in Ms. Ritz. Now the Board of Education, mostly appointed, is playing party politics, not unlike the legislature. It is probably important for the Governor, the State Board of Education and the many "advocates" for education in the legislature to understand that the people like to use their vote to take a stand. Not wise to take that out of the publics hands. Let's play ball and get down to improving Education. We need a holistic approach involving social services, mentors, advocates of diversity and much more than Educators and the Education Community.
  • Harris Is Politically Driven
    Mr. Harris is CEO of a politically motivated organization with a cute name that is hard to not like -- the Mind Trust. Given Mr. Harris argument, should we let the Governor appoint the Secretary of State and the AG? If not, what makes the Supt of Education position unique? The answer is it lets the voice of the voters be heard. Harris's focus should have been more about setting good education policy vs implementing that policy. I have found this entire episode with the Governor's interference with the Supt of Education disgusting. I will express my disgust at the ballot box, which will come none to soon.
  • Missing the Point.
    If I had a nickel for every time someone throws out the 1.3 million vote soundbite. . . . Unfortunately, it completely misses the point, the Superintendent could have had 130 million votes and it still wouldn't give her the authority to make education policy in Indiana. The Superintendent is an administrative position charged with implementing policy set by the State Board, no matter how many votes she received (and it appears that someone test needs to explain this to her and her "handlers"). I'm sorry you were all misled by the Superintendent's political platform- if you wanted to effect true change, you probably shouldnt have elected a conservative republican governor and a republican supermajority in the legislature. Feel free to rally and fix the problem in the next series of elections, but for now, repeating the phrase 1.3 million votes isn't going to change anything.
  • Profit over children
    I wish you would be more transparent with your readers, Mr. Harris. You only want the governor to be able to appoint a superintendent who is more supportive of your agenda (i.e. more charter schools), which will benefit you and your business. Glenda Ritz actually wants to help public schools improve instead of shutting them down and having The Mind Trust or EdPower take them over. This is why the people of Indiana voted for Glenda Ritz--to send a message to the legislature, the governor, and CEOs like you that they do not support the reforms, and they do not support the privatization of education.
  • Change the policy
    I have a better idea: let's have someone who is an educator be the one to set policy for education AND implement it as well. We currently have a state board of education that is so far removed from the process of educating children as well as having litle education experience that they can't put aside their political stance to work with Supt. Ritz. I wouldn't be offered an appointment to a hospital board to make decisions for their organization. Why should it be allowed to happen in public education?
  • Question
    Of the 37 states referenced in this article where the governor appoints the state superintendent of education, how many also allow the governor to appoint the members of the state board of education? And how many allow the public to elect the state board?
  • Don't nullify Indiana votes
    When I was a delegate at the Indiana State Convention, I was shocked to hear Governor Pence advocating for Common Core. Not that Pence used actual words "Common Core" but it isn't rocket science to understand that the "national standards", "less concept but more innovation" Pence talked about in his speech was promoting Common Core and a "one size fits all" top-down implementation of education instead of "community based" and local educational control. "What kind of Republican would want more big government in our schools?" I asked my husband during the convention. If Indiana had wanted Governor Pence's vision for Indiana's schools so many Republicans would NOT have split their tickets for the first time in their lives to vote for Glenda Ritz, a Democrat. Clearly, by a landslide, Indiana voters do NOT share Pence's educational goals.
  • Why
    I have seen many negative comments about President a Obama appointing a czar.. That is what this idea wreaks of. Does he think that a Governor with absolutely no education experience has the ability to make educational decisions? This is an idea from a for profit education promoter, with no regard to the the true purpose of educating our children. The people spoke in November, electing Glenda Ritz to be Superintendent. Of Public education. I truly do not understand thee people that are perfectly willing to invalidate the votes of 1.3 million Indiana voters.
  • Voters Have Spoken
    IBJ & you contradict yourselves in the simplest of terms. The VOTERS have spoken. They want a say in who makes the decisions and they have elected Ms. Ritz to represent them. They did not elect Pence on an education platform, but rather jobs.
  • Any real educators in Mind Trust?
    How many people employed at the Mind Trust have actually taught for 5 or more years? One? Why don't we have the governor oversee the legal profession, the dental profession, electricians, physicians, scientists, florists, police officers, firefighters...?
  • Choice or Dictatorship
    For someone who believes in education 'choice', Mr. Harris sure is not following his own beliefs in the choice of the people in their elected, chosen, Superintendent Ritz in his arguments to change the Superintendent's position to an appointed one. Indiana citizens need more local and autonomous choice, like all the SBOE members being elected from the local area schools they are supposed to represent and more democracy and checks and balances, not less democracy and more dictatorship.
  • Reign Supreme
    Cue Animal Farm's "some animals are more equal than others." Replace "animals" with "votes" and let the games begin. If anything, maybe Ritz-who accrued more votes than the obstructionist ALEC puppet Pence-should be telling him how to do his job.
  • Voter Distrust?
    Mr. Harris's priority is having a favorable reputation with the governor. "Our current system is unfair to voters" and goes on to say that voters have a false impression about Indiana law. Sounds like Mr. Harris has a false impression of what the voters in Indiana want.
  • Why bother with the democratic process?
    David Harris of the Mind Trust asks, "If we are going to give our governors authority to set education policy, we also need to give them the ability to implement that policy. Why elect one executive branch official to execute the policies of another?" Mr. Harris, you may as well ask, "Why do we even bother having a democratic process?" Or why not just tell the Hoosier middle class voter that these pesky systems of "checks and balances" are a nuisance to those who want to dictate how public schools operate?
  • The Mind Trust
    Harris is CEO of The Mind Trust, an organization devoted to destroying public education (and teacher's unions) in Indiana. Given his own financial interests, why would anyone assign him any credibility in this discussion?

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