Neal: Voters Didn’t Renounce Education Reform

November 19, 2012

For release Nov. 21 and thereafter (668 words)

by Andrea Neal 

It’s ludicrous to equate Tony Bennett’s defeat in the school superintendent’s race with public rejection of a school reform agenda, as many in the education bureaucracy are trying to do.

The public wants better schools, which is why Glenda Ritz, the teacher-Democrat who upset Mr. Bennett, must be extremely cautious before trying to dismantle any reform ingredients put in place by Mr. Bennett and Gov. Mitch Daniels.

The public feels about schools and teachers much like they do about members of Congress. They don’t like ‘em, unless they happen to be their teachers and theirschools. In that case, they’re just fine. No one wants to admit his own offspring might be getting a second-rate education.

Mr. Bennett’s defeat can be blamed on two forces. One is the strong word-of-mouth network that teachers operate in this state. That network was solidly behind putting a colleague in the superintendent’s seat.

The other was a faction within what should have been Mr. Bennett’s conservative base. These are folks opposed to Common Core, the new curriculum and testing initiative coming to Indiana thanks to Mr. Bennett’s and Governor Daniels’s somewhat surprising support for nationalized standards.

There should be no debate over Indiana’s commitment to improving schools and teachers.

Ms. Ritz and the union don’t like our new “A” to “F” grading system for schools, but it’s been hailed nationally as a model. The quickest way to force a school to start doing things differently is to give it a “C” or lower. If grades motivate children, you can bet they’ll do the same to teachers and administrators.

More worrisome is the fate of the new teacher assessment system, which uses student test scores in determining a teacher’s effectiveness and therefore earning potential. Indiana is one of 20 states that require that student test score gains be used in personnel decisions.

The union has objected so loudly to this that some Hoosiers may not realize scores are just one of several variables taken into account.

The 2012 Education Next-PEPG Survey, a highly-respected poll of public opinion, found strong support among the public for using test score information to hold teachers accountable.

Asked how much weight should be given to test scores and how much to principal recommendations, for example, the public said test score gains should be given more than half the weight (62 percent) in salary and tenure decisions. Teachers, by contrast, said test scores should be given only a quarter of the weight (24 percent). That’s a big gap between the public and the teachers.

The same survey found majority support for school choice initiatives, such as the Indiana voucher program that Ritz and the union have been fighting in court.

Ms. Ritz built her campaign on the idea that the Daniels-Bennett machine moved too fast on reforms without consulting educators. After her election she announced, “Voters have loudly and clearly spoken against that.”

She will find herself on the losing end of the debate if she tries to undo – or fails to fully support – policies that are currently the law of the state of Indiana. She’ll also find herself at war with the 11-member state education board, 10 of whom are appointed by the governor. (She’s the 11th).

In that case, she can expect to lose her job before the next election. The state school superintendent post is constitutional, but the fact that it is elective is a matter of statute. Indiana is one of only 11 states in which the governor appoints the board and citizens elect the chief school officer.

In a majority of states, the superintendent is appointed by either the governor or the board and is accountable first and foremost to them.

Republicans don’t want to go there – yet. However, with education the most critical issue facing us, it is deeply problematic for reformers in the governor’s office and legislature to be at odds with the chief school officer. With super majorities in both chambers of the legislature, Republicans shouldn’t hesitate to do what they must to give our reforms a chance to bear fruit.

Andrea Neal is adjunct scholar with the Indiana Policy Review Foundation. Contact her at


  • Paul Obermeyer says:

    This article sounds like sour grapes…the republican party (which I have supported for the past 40 years) has now lost my support. Their arrogance and my way or the highway approach is going to be their downfall. As far as taking the vote away from the people and making this an appointed position I say “Go for it!!” that would be the quickest way to reform Brian Bosma and friends…we elect new people every two years in this state and Glenda got more votes than Mike.

  • Martha J Meyer says:

    Glenda Ritz knows exactly what she is facing. And, I disagree with Ms. Neal — this is a mandate from the citizens that the reforms are not all good. REPA 2 weakens the system even more. Does Ms Neal do any research that has some correlational interest, such as the Indiana increased suicide numbers among children; curiously, this incidence statistic started inching higher when all the reforms began to affect promotion and high school graduation. Children are under tremendous stress; good teachers are leaving the profession in droves. New education graduates are choosing to leave Indiana to teach in other states with more teacher support, especially in working conditions and respect for graduate education.

  • Ryan says:

    “It’s ludicrous to equate Tony Bennett’s defeat in the school superintendent’s race with public rejection of a school reform agenda, as many in the education bureaucracy are trying to do.”
    1. Reform does not equal improvement. No research was provided that showed these reforms would improve student learning. Strike 1!

    2. Lets see more people vote OUT the man in charge of leading and pushing for these reforms than voted for Governor. And yet you have the audacity to lead your article with that sentence. 3rd, it isn’t just the Union who doesn’t like the A-F grading system, it is Administrators, school boards, and the public at large. My guess is you’ve never examined HOW those grades are determined and why for example an elementary student who scores a perfect score on an ISTEP two years in a row is considered a low growth student and negatively impacts the school he/she attends. Now figure that out! Strike 2!

    3. The poll you used to support the public’s view of test scores being tied to teacher salaries was published by Conservative policy analysis group at Stanford University. But you of all people should know poll’s are used to support agendas. In this case the agenda is the privatization of public schools for corporate profit. Besides the polls you quote aren’t Indiana specific for cyring out loud. Yep that’s right, use a national poll to support state politics. Strike 3!

    Finally, you suggest she will try to change the policies. Are you uninformed? These are laws you are addressing and she has to work within them and until the voters realize they ARE laws, the policies can’t be “changed” etc. Strike 4!

    You wan’t “our” reforms to bear fruit? But where is the educational based scientific research showing these reforms WOULD bear fruit? You see you and those reformers like you are playing guinea pigs with my daughter’s education and her future and the public in Indiana agrees and they spoke by VOTING OUT Bennett.

    You Strike Out with this blog entry!

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