Indiana

Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Confusing Aftermath Of Glenda Ritz's Victory Getting Even More Confusing

Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

State superintendent-elect Glenda Ritz appears at a public forum in Indianapolis two weeks before election day.

Maybe Glenda Ritz had it right early in her campaign to unseat GOP state superintendent Tony Bennett: If Indiana voters didn’t elect more of her fellow Democrats to statehouse office, she told supporters at an August rally, the next four years would be difficult for her.

And yet maybe Ritz can still work with Governor-elect Mike Pence and the Republican supermajority in the Indiana General Assembly — it’s hard to know until all parties are seated at the same table.

But the tea leaves are getting harder to read. It seems for every indication of common ground between Ritz and Republicans, there’s a reminder the two sides stand apart.

And then there are the words of outgoing Gov. Mitch Daniels, printed this weekend in the Indianapolis Star, claiming Indiana public school teachers illegally or improperly used their district e-mails to advocate for Glenda Ritz.

According to the Star’s D.C. bureau, Daniels said Wednesday:

If you’re a fan of anything-goes politics, it was a creative use of illegal — but still creative use — of public resources. We got emails sent out on school time by people who were supposed to be teaching someone at the time, all about Tony Bennett. We have parents who went to back to school night to find out how little Jebbie is doing and instead they got a diatribe about the upcoming election…

Despite the great progress that’s been made in states like ours, the forces of reaction never quit. The last twitch of the dinosaur’s tail can still kill you and that’s what happened.

A spokesperson for Indiana Republicans later told the Star the state party had received copies of e-mails about the election sent from teachers’ district accounts. A Ritz spokesperson said the campaign urged teachers to use their personal accounts.

Ritz supporters categorized Daniels’ remarks as “sour grapes.” Education historian Diane Ravitch called Daniels a “crybaby” whose claims lacked evidence.

Daniels’ remarks are an intriguing offshoot to a more central question that Indiana voters made very difficult to answer objectively: When it comes to education policy, who won November’s election? And more critically, why did whoever won win?

Consider:

  • The varying explanations of Bennett’s defeat. Social media efforts clearly rallied Ritz’s base — teachers. But to what degree was the general public moved by these mobilized teachers? How about the Common Core? Or broader arguments about local control of public schools? And what of Daniels’ claims? (Scott Elliott does a good job cutting through all of it in this post.)
  • The varying estimates of the influence Ritz will wield in her new office. There’s Abdul-Hakim Shabazz’s assertion Ritz is already getting shut out by Republicans and harming her own cause (an assertion StateImpact can’t vouch for, but it’s out there). On the other hand, there are more hopeful signs of commonality, such as on pre-K. Ritz points out she’s lobbied many General Assembly lawmakers before in her work with the state teachers union, and GOP House Speaker Brian Bosma has also said she will not be systematically excluded from statehouse discussions.
  • On key issues, a near-diametric opposition between Ritz and many of the Republicans with whom she’ll work. Bennett was Gov. Daniels’ choice for the office when he ran in 2008 — and we’ve commented on how different they are from Ritz. Now, Ritz’s supporters may be worried that she’ll be shut out of the policymaking process. But as we’ve noted, Bennett’s supporters are perhaps just as uneasy with Ritz. They’re worried about what it will mean for an opponent of charter schools and the state’s voucher program to hold the executive reins over both of these initiatives. In short, there’s some discomfort on both sides.

To a degree, trying to piece all of this apart is a futile exercise, as Jonathan Plucker (presciently) told StateImpact in October:

I personally found these things tend to be personality driven. Even if people agree on many issues, it really comes down to personality — how well do they get along, how much do they value the other person? You just don’t know that until they start working together. As interesting it is to play the parlor game of, ‘I wonder how x and y will get along?’ you just don’t know.

Longtime StateImpact commenter karynb9 points out:

Supporters of Ritz need to be patient and understand her role. There may be times when she sees the writing-on-the-wall and does go along with an initiative that would be unpopular to most of her supporters as a way to be able to have more seats at the table when it comes to the “hows” of implementing that policy. It will not be helpful to anyone’s “cause” for her to simply be a contrarian to the rest of the board every step of the way.

Comments

  • Informed

    The politics of the state are only going to be a part of the challenges she faces, the others will come from her lack of knowledge and expertise regarding education policy. In a forum moderated by Matt Tulley of the IndyStar, Ms. Ritz suggested that Dr. Bennett’s application for the Race to the Top initiative was too focused on data and accountability, and that her application would have a strong instructional focus. Unfortunately for the children of Indiana, Ms. Ritz’s application would have been dead in the water the second it was submitted. A simple google search revealed the guidelines for the Race to the Top grant, which clearly outline requirements pertaining to standards and assessments, turning around the state’s lowest performing schools and improving teacher performance. I hope for the children of Indiana that the new State Supt. can learn quickly on the job, because she certainly has a lot to learn.

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