Monday, November 26, 2012

Vic’s Election Notes on Education #11– November 26, 2012

Dear Friends,

The grass had many, many roots.

The improbable but convincing victory of Glenda Ritz on November 6th is a tribute to thousands of individuals who took action at the grassroots level. If you convinced one, two, five or a hundred others to vote for Glenda Ritz and her agenda, you are to be thanked and congratulated for making democracy work. Clearly, the people did not stand with Tony Bennett’s agenda for education in Indiana. The people have spoken resoundingly.

I was planning to end my series of notes on the election as of Election Day. That seemed to be a logical transition to end my commentaries on candidates and return to my commentaries on issues. which I call “Vic’s Statehouse Notes.” Silly me. I should have known the election doesn’t end with the election. The election must be spun and spun to persuade voters of the meaning of their votes.

Governor Daniels and Governor-Elect Pence held a press conference the day after the election to try to spin the obvious fact that Tony Bennett’s policies were strongly rejected by the voters. They claimed that since Republicans were returned to power in the House and since Mike Pence was elected, the support for education changes they have advocated remains “rock solid”. They somehow ignored the fact that the Governor and members of the General Assembly are elected based on a huge range of issues, not just education. In the only race when education was the complete agenda, Glenda Ritz was elected by 53% to 47% with over 1.3 million votes, after a campaign in which she directly contested Tony Bennett’s agenda on numerous points. She actually got more votes than Mike Pence, who only won 49.8% of the vote.

Who were Governor Daniels and Governor-Elect Pence trying to convince in this post-election spin cycle? Clearly, it was not the voters, who had their say on Nov. 6th and can’t speak again for two more years. No, the primary audience here was the General Assembly. The leaders want legislators to believe that nothing has changed regarding their mission to remake the landscape of public education with privatization measures. They want legislators to feel safe from voter backlash regarding education policies. In 2011, the leadership kept caucus members in line on the voucher bill and other key measures by threatening to run opponents in the primary or remove legislators from key committees. The sure knowledge that punishment will follow if individual legislators oppose leadership on key education bills is how the caucus held members in place when constituents pushed back. The strategic use of fear of punishment has been extremely effective in the past two years, but now a new fear has been introduced on education matters which may balance the playing field: the fear of being “Ritzed”. I had to smile when I read that election observers had coined a new verb in the days after the vote. To be “Ritzed” is to be unexpectedly defeated by a passionate grassroots effort based on a candidate’s failure to support public education. The question becomes this: Will the passionate grassroots army that swept Glenda Ritz into office now disband or will it continue to function and focus on the positions that legislators take on public education bills?

The first clue to answering that question shows that the army is not disbanding. Immediately after the gubernatorial press conference, dedicated advocates for public education and for Glenda Ritz responded with an online petition to “honor our 1,300,000 votes for Glenda Ritz.” This is old news to many of you who have already signed this petition, but for those who have not seen it, I invite you to use this link to read it and sign it.

The last time I checked, over 8900 people had signed the petition. I hope you will join them.

I will close with a cautionary note from history. Once before during my career an unpopular Republican State Superintendent was defeated by a teacher. The year was 1970. John Loughlin, a math teacher from South Bend was elected for what was then a two-year term. He was defeated in the next election.

This is the final “Vic’s Election Notes on Education” for this election cycle. Thank you for your interest and for all the notes I have received from you.

As time permits, I will send new commentaries in “Vic’s Statehouse Notes.” Starting in January, I will be writing in the ICPE Newsletter to give you regular updates on education bills in the General Assembly, pointing out who needs to be contacted about what specific issues. The newsletter goes to all members of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education. Go to for membership information.

Keep up the good work for public education!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith

“Vic’s Election Notes on Education” is not linked to any organization and is not being distributed by me to any organization. It is only being distributed to those who have previously sent personal requests for my commentaries. If you want to pass it along to others, you do not need to ask my permission. If you want to be taken off the distribution list, just let me know. If you know of others who want to be added to the list, just send me an email.

Some readers have asked about my background in Indiana public schools. Thanks for asking! Here is a brief bio:

I am a lifelong Hoosier and began teaching in 1969. I served as a social studies teacher, curriculum developer, state research and evaluation consultant, state social studies consultant, district social studies supervisor, assistant principal, principal, educational association staff member, and adjunct university professor. I worked for Garrett-Keyser-Butler Schools, the Indiana University Social Studies Development Center, the Indiana Department of Education, the Indianapolis Public Schools, IUPUI, and the Indiana Urban Schools Association, from which I retired as Associate Director in 2009. I hold three degrees: B.A. in Ed., Ball State University, 1969; M.S. in Ed., Indiana University, 1972; and Ed.D., Indiana University, 1977, along with a Teacher’s Life License and a Superintendent’s License, 1998.

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