Yesterday, April 14, 2015, the Indiana House of Representatives passed SB1, a bill designed to change the makeup of the Indiana State Board of Education (SBOE). [UPDATE: The bill now goes to conference committee to iron out the differences between the House and the Senate version.]
SB1: State board of education governance. Makes changes to the composition of the state board of education (state board). Provides that the state board may hire staff and administrative support. Provides that the state board shall elect a chairperson and vice chairperson annually from the members of the state board. Provides that at least six of the members of the state board appointed by the governor must be actively employed in the schools in Indiana and hold a valid teaching license. Provides that a state board member serves a four year term.This effectively changes the job of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI), the only elected official on the SBOE. Unless the SBOE elects the SPI as the chair of the SBOE the job the superintendent was elected to do has been changed midstream by the legislature.
When she defeated Tony Bennett and won election as SPI in 2012, Glenda Ritz was, as were all previous SPI's for the last hundred years, the designated chairperson of the SBOE. Unfortunately the Republican leadership in the state -- the governor and the members of the General Assembly -- were not happy that a Democrat defeated their "reformer" hero, Bennett. Since then, the 10 Republican appointed members of the SBOE (some claiming to be Democrats), have blocked Superintendent Ritz at every turn.
An excellent example of this is the behavior of Board Member Hendry (a self-proclaimed Democrat). At a recent SBOE meeting, Superintendent Ritz wanted to introduce a proposal to postpone the accountability requirements because of problems with the implementation of the state standardized test, ISTEP. When the meeting was called to order Hendry instantly demanded that the proposal be taken off of the agenda. He didn't want to hear any discussion. He didn't want to listen to any rationale behind the proposal. The other Republican appointed members of the board went along with him and the proposal was removed from the agenda. Hendry did, of course, have the right to do what he did, but the fact that he, and all the other members of the board wouldn't even consider discussing the proposal is an indication of the petty bickering coming from the 10 Republican appointed board members. (See the video of the meeting HERE)
THE BLAME GAME
The Governor and his friends on the SBOE have been blaming Superintendent Ritz for the dysfunction on the board since the election. For her part, Superintendent Ritz has put up with rudeness, eye rolling, petty comments, and outright antagonism from members of the SBOE...and remember that, even as chairperson, the Superintendent does not have the ability to overrule the votes of other members. So, while working with a fairly consistent 10-1 majority against her, the Superintendent has been blamed for the dysfunction by the other members who have been able to change policy at will.
The Republicans in the state deny that SB1 is a politically motivated bill. They claim that the SBOE ought to elect its own chair, just like local school boards. The problem with this argument is that local school boards are elected rather than appointed. It would be a different situation if all members of the SBOE were elected rather than being appointed by the Governor.
Consider, on the other hand, that Glenda Ritz is the only state-wide elected Democrat in Indiana...and that the Republicans are not going to wait until her term is over, but change her job description immediately upon passage of SB1 (see below).
Note also that other state-wide office holders have automatic chairmanships which are not being challenged by legislation. The State Treasurer is the chair of the Public Deposit Insurance Fund. The Lieutenant Governor is the chair of the state's agriculture commission. These chairmanships are part of the job, just like the chairmanship of the SBOE is the job of the SPI. The positions of State Treasurer and Lieutenant Governor are currently held by Republicans.
PARTISAN POLITICS RULES
During the second reading of SB1 Rep. V. Smith (D-14) presented an amendment (among others) which also indicates that the intent of the bill is political.
Amendment #8 changed only one item on the bill -- it moved the effective date to the beginning of the next election cycle. That would mean that in order to remain SPI, Ritz would have to run again, and even if she lost, her opponent would also be guided by the same rules.
By rejecting the amendment, the Republican super-majority plainly stated that the bill was aimed at Superintendent Ritz...and they wanted the SBOE to have the ability to remove her from her position of SBOE chair immediately.
In one of my several attempts to engage my local state representative in a discussion of this bill, I wrote,
...giving the members of the SBOE the right to choose their own chairperson is tantamount to giving them the right to overturn the 2012 election for SPI. The voters of Indiana elected Glenda Ritz to the job of SPI which, at election time, included the position of chair of the SBOE.Why should ten appointed members of the SBOE have the authority to strip an elected official of her duties?
...the "something needs to be done to relieve the problems on the SBOE" argument doesn't mean that the wishes of Hoosier voters should be ignored.
WE HAVE MET THE ENEMY AND HE IS US
Unfortunately, Indiana voters also elected Governor Pence and the members of the Republican super-majority who have pursued the plan to strip Glenda Ritz of her role as SBOE chair. The conflicts surrounding the SBOE, Glenda Ritz, and public education in general are the direct result of Indiana voters telling the state government two different things.
- We elected Glenda Ritz because we were unhappy with the direction that Mitch Daniels and Tony Bennett were taking Indiana's public education system.
- Yet we re-elected the legislators who were instrumental in putting the Daniels/Bennett school "reform" platform into place.
- And we elected Governor Pence who, during his campaign, promised to provide more support for the Daniels/Bennett "reforms."
In the meantime, for the most vulnerable citizens of our state, it's unfortunate that the "Pence/Legislature plan" supporters currently hold the power to make the greatest impact on public education in Indiana.
Support Teachers of Conscience
The narrow pursuit of test results has sidelined education issues of enduring importance such as poverty, equity in school funding, school segregation, health and physical education, science, the arts, access to early childhood education, class size, and curriculum development. We have witnessed the erosion of teachers’ professional autonomy, a narrowing of curriculum, and classrooms saturated with “test score-raising” instructional practices that betray our understandings of child development and our commitment to educating for artistry and critical thinking. And so now we are faced with “a crisis of pedagogy”–teaching in a system that no longer resembles the democratic ideals or tolerates the critical thinking and critical decision-making that we hope to impart on the students we teach.
Stop the Testing Insanity!
Vermont State Board of Education: Statement and Resolution on Assessment and Accountability, Adopted August 19, 2014