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Why electing education leader is such a bad idea

Tuesday, January 8, 2013 - 12:01 am

It can result in a leader with an agenda that cannot be achieved.

Indiana is one of only 14 states that have an elective rather than appointive superintendent of public instruction. In the next four years, we’re going to see why that’s a bad way to do things.

Incoming Democratic Superintendent Glenda Ritz beat incumbent Republican Tony Bennett with strong grassroots support from teachers and the enthusiastic support of the Indiana State Teachers Association. She campaigned as the strong anti-reform candidate – at least reform as currently defined by conservatives and Republicans. It’s fair to say she is opposed to everything Bennett and Gov. Mitch Daniels were able to get through the General Assembly in the last four years, from vouchers and to stronger teacher evaluations.

But if her agenda for the next four years is to get those reforms undone, she is doomed to failure and frustration. Republicans have a super majority in both the House and Senate – immune to even a walkout by Democrats – and they have no interest in turning back the reform clock. Neither does incoming Gov. Mike Pence.

If anything, the pace of change is even going to accelerate. Republican legislators are looking at expanding what is already the nation’s largest school voucher program. The changes being considered include increasing the amount of aid for younger students and ending a requirement that students attend public school for a year before they are eligible, both of which would, as The Associated Press reports it, “put more students in the voucher pipeline.”

Ritz is in the position of running a department that has goals and objectives she doesn’t support. She won’t be able to deliver anything to the teachers who got her elected, and she won’t do much good – or bad, for that matter – for Hoosier parents and students.

That’s why the superintendent should be appointed rather than elected. It would ensure that the governor and superintendent would be on the same page. We lucked out when voters elected both Daniels and Bennett in that they had similar opinions and goals on reform.

There was some movement toward making the change in superintendent selections here – even Bennett was in favor of doing away with the elective office. With Ritz’s win, though, there has been a dampening of enthusiasm among Republicans who realize they’ll just seem vindictive if they do it now. Too bad.