Indiana Superintendent-Elect of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz sounded ready to compromise during a brief interview Friday for WFIU public radio’s “Noon Edition” program. The Democrat said she’s not worried about how hard it will be to work with Republicans who control the Statehouse.
“I’m going to work with all legislators,” she said. “That’s what I’ve always done.”
And while Ritz has criticized the education policies that the legislature and State Board of Education have adopted – school vouchers, test-based teacher evaluations, A-to-F grades for schools – she didn’t call for undoing the changes.
“I’m really not looking to repeal all kinds of things … I think it’s all about implementation of what’s in place already,” she said.
But compromise takes two sides. And Indiana Republicans have been dismissive of Ritz’s upset win over incumbent Superintendent Tony Bennett.
Outgoing Gov. Mitch Daniels vowed that none of the policies he and Bennett supported would be rolled back. “There’s a board of education I appointed that the new superintendent reports to,” he said. “Every one of them is pro-reform. And we have a very idealist pro-reform administration coming in.”
Republican Rep. Bob Behning, chairman of the House Education Committee, said many of Ritz’s supporters “didn’t really know the issues.”
Ritz said she’ll count on her supporters to let their representatives know what they think. “They have spoken very loudly, very clearly, that this race was a referendum on education,” she told WFIU. “They’re going to make sure their voices are heard by their legislators.”
The question is whether Pence and GOP lawmakers will push for more radical changes, like extending private school vouchers to more students and parents — and how their constituents will respond if that happens.
More on what happened
Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute offered his take last week on the Ritz-Bennett race. He apparently was writing out of pique. He said Bennett is a friend – and “a stud” – and his loss hurt. Hess had to lash out.
So he lashed out at … Arne Duncan?
His argument goes something like this: Bennett was right to support and get Indiana to adopt the Common Core Standards, along with most other states. But President Obama and Duncan, his secretary of education, made such a big deal about the Common Core that it seemed like a federal take-over. So Hoosiers rightly got suspicious and punished Bennett.
It’s true that some tea-party types (and some leftists and some teachers) don’t like Common Core. But most voters don’t care that much about standards. Conservatives who don’t like Common Core wouldn’t have been likely to support Ritz, a teacher aligned with the Indiana State Teachers Association.
But could the issue have significantly depressed Bennett’s votes? If it had, you’d expect a reduced vote total for superintendent of public instruction. Yet 97.9 percent as many people voted in the 2012 superintendent race as voted in the gubernatorial election. In 2008, when Bennett first was elected, the comparable figure was 95.9 percent.
Nah, it wasn’t about Common Core. Especially when there’s an alternative explanation that makes sense: teachers, teachers, teachers – and friends of teachers.
Indy Star reporter Scott Elliott examines five theories about what happened and concludes that “more evidence points to a teacher-led movement, online and word-of-mouth, born of frustration with Bennett, his style and his policies.” Also getting it right: Kyle Stokes of State Impact Indiana and teacher-blogger Keith Manring.
Finally, there’s Hoosier character. When I wrote this week that Indiana residents are “comfortable being in the middle” and leery of radical reforms, I hadn’t yet read this nice piece by the Star’s Mary Beth Schneider. She interviews IU historian Jim Madison, who traces innate Hoosier caution back to the mid-1800s, when the state went bankrupt for investing heavily in canals and roads.
Madison says the lesson Hoosiers took from the experience was this: “Don’t get too far ahead, hang back, stay in the middle, don’t venture out, don’t take risks, don’t innovate and especially don’t create responsibilities for government that are none of its business.”
Schneider concludes: “From the middle of the country, Indiana’s message to the nation: The middle of the road is best.”