Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

With Many Of Bennett's Policies Built Into Law, Ritz Could Face Four Tough Years

Jimmy Jenkins / Indiana Public Media

Superintendent-elect Glenda Ritz delivers her victory speech Tuesday night in Indianapolis after unseating Republican Tony Bennett.

State Superintendent-elect Glenda Ritz capitalized on growing teacher discontent to unseat Republican Tony Bennett in Tuesday election. But education policy experts say it’s unclear how effectively Ritz can deliver on campaign promises to roll back Bennett’s key initiatives.

“Some of the key features of the Bennett agenda are actually enacted in laws,” says Les Lenkowsky, a professor in Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs. “Those laws would have to be changed, and there’s still a strong base of support for those laws in the state legislature.”

Those laws are also written into Indiana’s No Child Left Behind waiver. Ritz has said that waiver deserves a closer look. But with a Republican governor and a Republican super-majority in the legislature, a complete roll back of Tony Bennett’s policies seems unlikely.

Republican Lawmakers Could Proceed Without Ritz’s Support

Back in August, Ritz made a prediction. She said she’d win her race — but admitted that without the support of Democrat John Gregg in the governor’s office, it would be a bad four years for her. Yet Tuesday night when Ritz took the stage to give her victory speech, she touted her credibility with state lawmakers and her ability to work across the aisle.

“I’m an educator. I’m a respected educator among the legislators. Remember, the last four years, they’ve seen me. They’ve heard from me. I’ve testified in many arenas,” she told StateImpact on Election Night.

Ritz may have a mandate from voters, but she faces a tough battle in the statehouse if she wants to change the course of the education overhaul started under Bennett. Governor-elect Mike Pence suggested Wednesday that state lawmakers would proceed with or without the state superintendent’s support.

“I believe in our candidacy, in the election of a super majority in the House of Representatives, we have a strong affirmation of the progress on education reform,” says Pence.

It’s entirely possible the legislature could continue without Ritz, says David Dresslar, executive director of the Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning at the University of Indianapolis.

That would change the dynamic between the statehouse and the Department of Education because typically the state superintendent has a hand in formulating the policy he or she is expected to enact.

Indiana’s No Child Left Behind Waiver Is An Uncertain Variable

But even with the support of her own party in the legislature, it’s likely Ritz would have trouble modifying the NCLB waiver.

“A lot of reforms have come through the waiver process,” says Dresslar. “It’s kind of an unknown factor in terms of education reform because the waiver with the federal government does require many of the reforms that Dr. Bennett has championed.”

“There are probably things that she will be able to do to effect the timing of some changes, slow them up maybe, maybe in some cases make some substantive changes.”
—Les Lenkowsky, IU Professor

Ritz has said she doesn’t want to run afoul of any rules that would put Indiana’s federal education funding in jeopardy, but that hasn’t stopped her from criticizing the state’s accountability system. When the Indiana Department of Education rolled out letter grades last week, Ritz attacked the growth model used to calculate each school’s rating.

While a full-scale roll back is unlikely, another professor in IU’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs thinks there’s room for Ritz to shape Bennett’s policies so they’re more favorable for schools and teachers.

“What I can see is tinkering with the measures underlying the ranking system and also being more clear about the extent to which schools are sanctioned based on their ranking,” says Ashlyn Nelson.

Pro-Teacher Ritz May Still Be Able To Shape Some Policies

Many of Ritz’s supporters saw local control as a key reason why she won the election. While Bennett has supported state intervention in failing schools and even the possibility of a district takeover provision, Ritz has said the Department of Education shouldn’t be running schools.

Nelson thinks Ritz can help educators feel supported by the state instead of threatened, especially when it comes to shaping the state’s teacher evaluation system:

I think in the early years of Bennett’s administration he alienated a lot of support from teachers in Indiana in part because he was so accountability-oriented … That relationship seems to have recovered a bit over time as he’s made substantial efforts in the last two years to foster better relationships with school corporations and teachers and to help them implement their teacher accountability policies under Senate Enrolled Act 1, but he never fully recovered from the first couple of years.

For his part, Bennett congratulated Ritz for running an effective grassroots campaign. But he also remained steadfast in his belief that Indiana has the right idea on education overhaul.

“Again, no one will convince me that these aren’t the right policies. And we can argue that all night long,” he says.

Ritz and her supporters say it’s that mindset that cost Bennett the election.


  • ConcernedParent

    I hope she does what she promised to “undo”. Changing the waiver will jeopardize federal money coming in the door AND turn many “A” schools back to “C” schools (HSE, Fishers, etc.). I’m also interested in what “ending ISTEP testing” will do for federal funding. The hilarious part of all this – President Obama and Secretary Duncan praised the reform being done in Indiana…they’re quite disappointed Ritz won. They understand reform is needed to help all children (especially those in poverty) earn an education. Look at the Bennett vote map on the front-page – Lake County gave Dr. Bennett a HUGE boost in votes from 2008…

  • Karynb9

    No, ISTEP isn’t going away. The RTI process isn’t going away. School accountability isn’t going away. However, I still think a change in the implementation of the current policies will be very welcome. It’s not simply the legislative policies — it’s the interpretation of them and the implementation of them by the DOE that has created additional burdens that were not written into the laws. Different personnel being in place with the attitude that with added accountability should come added assistance will be helpful.

    • kystokes

      The way I’ve heard her arguments framed, Karyn, is that she kinda does want ISTEP to go away — create a “new, true growth-model test.” The word ISTEP, though, appears in PL 221 (2005).

      • Karynb9

        Well, I think she’s wanting to change the way that ISTEP is used or at least replace it with another standardized test. I don’t know that many parents or teachers voted for her with the belief that it would be taken away and replaced with nothing. ISTEP itself hasn’t changed since Bennett took office four years ago (moved from Fall to Spring testing, though) and no one really “complained” about it when Reed was in office — teachers realize the importance of assessing learning. We do it constantly in a variety of ways. ISTEP has always been a valuable tool for measuring student learning. The problem has been in the shift of using ISTEP results for punitive purposes against teachers and schools instead of using them to assess students.

        • 20YearsInTheClassroom

          ISTEP will be replaced with PARCC in 2014-2015. Additionally, in RISE, data is simply a piece of the overall evaluation pie.

          • Karynb9

            I never said it was the whole evaluation (nor did I say that RISE is the only evaluative tool out there). Of course, depending on the grade level and subject that you teach, the amount of impact it has on your evaluation varies. However, standardized tests were designed to be used to evaluate students — not teachers. There is no validity or reliability behind using them to evaluate teacher quality or effectiveness.

          • Bilgewater

            Karynb9, you’re exactly right. Tests should be used to evaluate STUDENTS, not teachers.

            I’ve heard several analogies which I think are appropriate. For example, we use x-rays as a diagnostic tool to find out if a patient has cavities. This test is not used to evaluate the dentist, especially if the patient has never bothered to brush and floss, or hasn’t visited the dentist for years.
            Same thing with a cat scan; a sign of cancer doesn’t mean the doctor is incompetent.
            And if there is a high crime rate in a certain part of town, is the policeman to blame?

      • 20YearsInTheClassroom

        ISTEP will be replaced in a couple of years with PARCC, which is aligned with INCC.

  • INParent

    Lets not forget the children here, we have these policies that are there to get politicians re-elected. No consideration for the children. Abusive policies like this should be thrown out. Not only are the teachers being judged but curriculum is being so advanced its altering the emotional well being of many children and destroying their childhood. No child deserves to be put thru this all for political gain. Its good to see Bennett get a dose of stress like his policies give to young innocent children every day in school. You can say that test scores are great but how much damage have you done to get there. Your playing with the lives of many children and altering there out look on learning by all the advanced requirements that make many kids feel like failures. Who is going to protect kids from over jealous people like Bennett.

  • Proud Parent

    The highlight of my daughters’ year was last week when Dr. Bennett visited to award her “A” school with a banner. Last year it was a “D”. She was so proud of her classmates she came home and told me “We got an “A”! I knew we could do it, I knew we could!”. I almost started crying on the spot. Thank you Dr. Bennett for your service.

    • Karynb9

      Let me ask you this — was the highlight of YOUR school experience years ago tied to how well you and your classmates did on a standardized reading and math assessment? Personally, while you certainly should be proud of your daughter and her school, that anecdote makes me a little sad.

      • Proud Parent

        Times have changed. We live in a global economy – a GOOD/CHALLENGING education is more important now than ever. Tests are not bad – they evaluate our children’s learning. The SAT/ACT is a standardized test and the doorway to a college education and with the proposed rollback of testing and diminished focus on math and science testing, I am concerned Indiana students will be at a disadvantage. The ACT/SAT is also going to be redesigned to align with Common Core – if we don’t adopt those standards our children will be even less competitive in college admissions.

        The saddest anecdote from the past week – I went to the State Band Competition last weekend and every parent (myself included) was told by the Ritz campaign that Dr. Bennett had just announced to superintendents that he was cutting funding to music education. I did my own research (including both candidates’ answers to the Alliance for Indiana Music Education’s Candidate Survey) and Dr. Bennett has never said any such thing and the DISTRICT controls how their money is spent on music education, not Dr. Bennett. Music families were targeted, lied to, and manipulated. THAT is the saddest anecdote.

        • INParent

          Proud Parent,

          You were not lied too, Bennett was in big with Romney, It was rumored that Romney was going to appoint Bennett the head of Education for his cabinet, if Romney won the election. Romney was going to cut funding to arts type educations things such as music. Bennett was having to go along with Romney if he was going to be appointed by Romney. Its all political stuff thats how it works.

          Its a great story and glad your daughter had a good experience. Too bad there are some many kids that are forced to be on the road to Rocket Science, only to have an educational experience that turns out to negatively affect them for the rest of their lives. But hey we all are on the road to state testing excellence, Sorry so many kids were thrown my the way side to get there. I call it extremism. Its over taking America.

          • Proud Parent

            I’m sorry, but what you just provided proves I was lied to. We can disagree on testing styles, standards, etc. (and I welcome those type of civil discussions with people because we all want what is best for our children), but the fact remains Dr. Bennett DID NOT SAY he was ending funding for music education. He DID NOT MEET with superintendents and say that. We were told we should, “vote Ritz because as INDIANA’S STATE SUPERINTENDENT, Dr. Bennett has promised to end musical education in INDIANA classrooms.” That is a lie. It was manipulative, underhanded, unethical, and it should be illegal.
            There is no possible rationalization between the statement (and complex hypothetical scenario involving Romney & Dr. Bennett) you provided above and the lie Band parents were told.

          • INParent

            I guess your right at this point in time he hadnt for sure cut spending on Music. But the hand writing was on the wall. But lets not forget the other reasons he was voted out of office. He was voted out of office and many people saw they need to get him out of there. The people have spoken. I am glad as a parent I wasnt the only one seeing the issues he was creating. I emailed him several times and he didnt have the common respect to return my emails.

  • inteach

    ““Again, no one will convince me that these aren’t the right policies. And we can argue that all night long…”

    Classic Bennett. He loved data unless that data showed that vouchers, choice, and charters don’t necessarily improve student achievement. And the data is irrefutably clear.

    Bennett turned the DOE into an inflexible body, incapable of building consensus or admitting error, using political rhetoric to attack their opponents, and becoming less transparent and accountable to the public will. That’s not advocacy; that’s ideology.


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