The Bennett-Ritz-Common Core narrative that won’t die

Last week’s New Yorker has a long and detailed story about former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and his prospects as a candidate for president. It focuses on Bush’s history as an advocate for “education reform” and his ties to for-profit education services and charter-school companies.

A key question raised in the story is whether the Republican base will forgive Bush for his embrace of the Common Core State Standards – an interesting and important question.

But writer Alec MacGinnis sounds a false note when he suggests Common Core was a significant factor when Glenda Ritz upset Tony Bennett in the 2012 Indiana superintendent of public instruction election. It wasn’t. And hardly anyone who was actually in Indiana during the campaign would say it was.

“In 2012, the Tea Party organized opposition to Bennett’s re-election; e-mails between Bennett’s office and the foundation that summer are full of alarm about the ‘black helicopter crowd,’” he writes. “In November, Bennett lost to an anti-Common Core Democrat who had Tea Party backing.”

So Ritz was “anti-Common Core” and was supported by the Tea Party? I don’t think so.

I wrote about this last summer, after the center-right Fordham Institute published a policy brief that said Ritz “ran largely on an anti-CCSS platform.” I paid fairly close attention to the election, and I don’t recall Common Core coming up at all. The national right-wing opposition to the standards, fueled by commentator Glenn Beck and others, didn’t pick up steam until the following year.

Trish Whitcomb, Ritz’s campaign manager, told me the standards occasionally were mentioned at campaign events or on social media. When they were, she said, Ritz would say Indiana had adopted them without much discussion and she might want to revisit the issue. But she didn’t push the issue and she didn’t say Common Core should be repealed.

The Bennett material is a minor part of the New Yorker story. But it’s galling that national policy elites and East Coast media will swallow a false narrative about the 2012 Indiana election. It’s like they can’t get their minds around the idea that Indiana, a conservative state, would reject the agenda of test-based accountability, school choice and teachers’ union-busting. So it had to be Common Core.

Bennett lost because he angered teachers with his over-the-top rhetoric and his take-no-prisoners politics. They saw him as a bully. And teachers have friends, parents, siblings, cousins, etc., who ask their advice when it comes time to vote for the state’s chief school officer. Parents also pay attention to what teachers think.

Shortly after the 2012 election, I was talking with my 90-year-old father, a retired teacher who socializes with other educators in the small Indiana town where he lives. I said I was shocked Bennett had lost.

“You were surprised?” he said. “Oh, I knew he was going to lose. The teachers hate him.”




14 thoughts on “The Bennett-Ritz-Common Core narrative that won’t die

  1. As a seated state board member during Tony’s term, the common core was not a part of the Bennett/Ritz election. Common Core had already been adopted and was underway for over a year prior to this election. Bennett’s loss can be pointed to the mass social media (and campaign funding) coming directly from the Indiana Teacher’s Union. I totally agree with you that people swallow false narratives to justify everything from the kitchen sink to the moon. Really – Bennett’s loss came down to he was squeezing everyone for academic improvement as if it were triage. For many (all of the inner city school corporations) it was crisis intervention! There is hard evidence reflecting gains made from Bennett’s hard work – anyone interested email me directly at

    • Thanks, Jo. I’m glad to have your perspective on this. I hope you continue to read this blog and to comment. It’s certainly true that ISTA was heavily involved in the campaign. But as for funding, Bennett overwhelmingly outspent Ritz. There certainly is hard evidence that many Indiana schools are getting better re: test scores, and I might concede that some of Bennett’s work has been a factor in that.

      • And I would argue that the increase in test scores does not necessarily mean that children are having better educational opportunities nor that they are becoming engaged, creative, inspired learners. They are getting prepped to take tests well. I value many other outcomes of my kids’ education far more than their ability to score well on standardized tests.

    • It’s probably not worth arguing with you, Ms. Blacketor, since you yourself have been a strong advocate for charter schools and school choice and, as I recall, fairly committed to the Common Core…but I can tell you as a parent and non-union thug-teacher that it was not merely the teachers’ unions that supported Ritz. I can tell you as one of MANY parents who contributed small amounts of money, stood at the polls for Glenda Ritz, and who helped write postcards for her election, that we parents and friends of public education wanted to stop the assault on our kids and their teachers that was coming from the state. An assault spearheaded by Bennett and Daniels. Bennett was “squeezing” everyone, it’s true,but not for academic improvement. He was squeezing them for test scores and money so that “choice” proponents could take more public funding and redirect it to charters and vouchers. Parents were and are sick of the testing and fear-mongering that “choice” and “competition” brings. Parents are sick of schools being treated like businesses and kids as the pawns for profit. Parents and citizens who had NOTHING to do with teacher unions supported Ritz and elected her. So your own narrative falls as flat as the New Yorker article with me.

    • The “campaign funding” came from my pocket and the pockets of thousands of other Indiana teachers who were fed up with “reforms” that were fueled by ideology as opposed to legitimate research. A good example of this is the reckless expansion of school choice, an idea that has not been shown to improve student outcomes in a significant way.

      Bennett, who clearly outspent Ritz, received a substantial amount of money from out-of-state concerns (Walton, DeVos).

      That being said, Bennett did bring an intense focus to education issues. ISTEP scores have improved, and that improvement has continued through 2014. Whether that means we can attribute that improvement to Bennett (and Ritz) or if the improvement is a actual sign of improved instruction is highly debatable.

  2. Steve, your posts are right on! I’m always happy to see I have a new post to read. You and I have had some interesting conversations over the years…and I’m glad we’re friends. Keep up the good work! (I now live in Vincennes, but get to B’ton every six weeks or so. Hope to see you sometime.)

  3. Fuentes…no arguments. Fact/you spear headed the predominant teacher signed “” petitions. Surely you want credit for this work?

    I, too, work with over 33,000 parents advocating for quality parental choice and have publicly supported universal choice since my local board election (btw union endorsed) as early as 2003.

    Did/do support national common standards.

    • If the Union endorsed you Jo, it was a mistake. You and the board you served on along with Mr. Bennett were probably some of the worst the state has ever experienced. Teachers and parents took Tony down because he was not doing anything beneficial for education, only promoting his horrible agenda. And of course now we know that he was also doing all of this illegally. Maybe you were a a part of that too Ms. Blaketor. Hopefully you and Mr. Bennett will have to pay for all destruction to public education you caused. So glad you are gone!

  4. Steve, I hope you send this blog post to the author of the New Yorker article. I had similar thoughts when I read his description of Ritz. I was here, I went to a campaign event and heard her speak, I talked to lots of other parents and wrote postcards and sent them out. I have no memory of opposition to the Common Core being part of her campaign.

  5. So, if not Common Core, what does account for the sizable, perhaps decisive opposition, Bennett received from some conservative voters?

    • What I said, Les: Teachers. Their relatives and friends and neighbors. Many, many public school teachers in Indiana are conservatives and Republicans. I don’t think they were necessarily any happier with what Bennett did and how he did it than were teachers who are liberals and Democrats. And Common Core was the least of it. But I haven’t seen any immediate post-election polling on how people voted and why. If such data exists, I’d like to see it.

    • Ritz was the first and only Democrat for whom I have ever voted. I didn’t ever vote straight ticket…if I didn’t like the Republican candidate I just didn’t vote for that position. I am EXTREMELY conservative and have often voted my social conscious…until this election. I am a parent first and teacher second. I do not belong to union anymore because I cannot afford it. BUT my reason for Glenda? My oldest and youngest are 8 years apart. Oldest is at college on an almost full ride academically. Lilly Scholarship alternate. 3rd in her class. Took 6 years of science and math in a public school in 4 years. She LOVED school. Loved learning. Her youngest brother is a male version of her except smarter. He has worst grades of all my kids. Has same teachers but NOT same curriculum. He is BORED. He HATES school. He is a doer and has NOT had the same education his sister did. She learned about the Underground Railroad by doing it. She did neat science projects (chemical engineering major with pre med track). She took her spelling tests and math tests but she DID learning. Her brother? He does tests after tests after tests and calculates his data for tests he could care less about. He has spelling tests and Greek and Latin root tests. Morning math tests designed to help with ISTEP. Daily oral language tests designed to help with ISTEP. Predictor tests designed to help with ISTEP. Acuity. ISTEP. That is all that kid does. In the 3rd 4th and 5th grade. I am a teacher and love school. I would HATE that. Education is to teach kids how to be good productive citizens by teaching them about life through subjects. English to communicate and read and analyze. Math to be able to pay the bills and be engineers. Science to contribute to common good by developing new cures etc. History to teach the mistakes of the past so they are not replicated in the future. Foreign language to communicate with all. Arts and music to provide an appreciation of culture. Instead big money wants schools to train worker bees. And worker bees should be standardized much like a product. There is NO individuality in the plan. Anyone can be a teacher is the thought. We are all liberal unión thugs is the thought. Profit on the child’s back. Well…NOT MY CHILDREN. Big money and Bennett people and the legislators can go jump off a cliff. MY child will learn alongside ALL the kids….because in life he will have to deal with all kinds of people. In private schools kids are insulated against the world in one way or another. If we insulate them too much they won’t be able to stretch their wings and fly…they won’t be able to handle working with the brillant but autistic scientist in the next room. Or have empathy for the poor. Or know how to handle the jerk of a boss on a power trip.

      Bennett may have said in his campaign he was for all that…Daniels may have said he was for all that…but actions and money speak louder than words. And it was a false propaganda. Worker bees. That is what education has become. Training to help owners of businesses reach the highest profit level. I DO believe some business people drank the kool aid and really believe this is the best way to educate. They truly believe this is what is best for kids. But the problem is they don’t listen when they are told they are wrong. So their arrogance leads them to throw money towards politicians who know better than teachers and parents. Training worker bees. Not what I signed up for by a long shot. As a parent or a teacher.

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