Saturday, November 16, 2013

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #160 – November 14, 2013

Dear Friends,

The battle for control of education policy in Indiana was on full display at the end of yesterday’s State Board meeting. A motion to move up the public hearings on Common Core standards to January instead of February and to empower the State Board staff in the Governor’s office to run the hearings was ruled “improper” by Superintendent Ritz.

Board members would not accept her ruling and would not move on to the next agenda item, making numerous comments perhaps summarized when Board Member David Freitas loudly said: “You are not the Attorney General. No chair can stop us from voting.” Superintendent Ritz again called for the next agenda item, but when two more volunteered comments on the Common Core issue, she announced “This meeting is adjourned.”

I have watched nearly all State Board meetings since 1997, and I can tell you that I have never witnessed a meeting like what I saw yesterday. The battle for control of education in Indiana is now in full view. Ironically, the conflict surfaced on the same day that the Indianapolis Star featured in its banner headline the struggle between Governor Pence and Superintendent Ritz for control of education policy.

A Negotiated Agreement on the A-F Panel Report

The end of the meeting was surprising in light of the fact that what I had thought would be the most difficult issue of the day had already been settled. HEA 1427 said that “Not later than November 15, 2013, the state board shall establish new categories or designations of school performance under the requirements of this chapter to replace 511 IAC 6.2-6.“ In light of this language and with specific rules still in development, Superintendent Ritz brought a motion to the meeting as follows:

“The State Board of Education adopts the Accountability System Review Panel's recommendations,
establishing new accountability categories.

The State Board of Education further recognizes that a validation and statistical analysis process may lead to follow up recommendations to the formulas that support the categories as they are built and validated through the beta testing period of the new model design."

State Board Member Brad Oliver moved that the first sentence be changed to read: “… recommendations for new accountability categories.” He also moved that the second sentence be changed to read “will lead” instead of “may lead”.

It appeared consensus was forming on these two changes. Board Member Gordon Hendry then recommended that the meeting take a break while State Board staff meet with Superintendent Ritz to work out final language. Board Member Dan Elsener asked for language about the role of the Board’s staff. He said there should be “no confusion about Board staff involvement.” Superintendent Ritz agreed to a break and said the meeting would resume at 10:00am.

About 10:15, she brought the meeting back to order and announced that additional language had been added that she agreed with, along with a final sentence that she did not agree with: “Board staff and Department staff will collaborate with technical experts about the work of the Panel and ultimately the Board.” She wanted the motion to reference only the Panel and its work rather than the staff, but she said she had agreed to put the issue before the board. Board Member Oliver amended his motion to include the final sentence and the other additional language, and the vote was taken. The motion passed 9-1, with Superintendent Ritz voting for the motion despite having a sentence she opposed. Andrea Neal voted no after explaining her belief that the federal government controls education and the College Board determines the curriculum.

With that vote, which included a compromise by Superintendent Ritz regarding involvement by the State Board staff, the State Board can say that the General Assembly’s November 15th deadline was met.

Common Core Timeline Changes

After reports were given about Common Core review committees on English/Language Arts and Math, Brad Oliver presented his concerns and a motion about the timetable for the Common Core review and the need for quicker Higher Education review and more State Board control in the process.

I recommend that you see for yourself what happened next to draw your own conclusions. Go to the State Board of Education section of the IDOE website to see the video of the meeting and to get the full picture of what my notes outline below. I took notes as fast as possible, but of course I could not capture a full transcript.

My conclusion is that Superintendent Ritz ruled the motion improper because it empowered the State Board staff to do tasks that state law explicitly assigns to the Department. To stop further erosion of her Department’s authority, she declared the motion improper and tried to move on to the next agenda item. The board members vigorously objected and refused to move on. Superintendent Ritz declared a recess to end the discussion, but that didn’t work. After the recess, the same controversy broke out again on the same topic. At that point, Superintendent Ritz announced that the meeting would adjourn.

Here are the details from the notes I was taking as fast as I could write:

The Proposed Motion

The first change requested by Brad Oliver was that the public hearings on the Common Core standards be completed by January 31st. Currently, the timetable calls for public hearings in February. Superintendent Ritz expressed concern that January hearings would mean that the final recommendations of how to change the math and E/LA standards would not be available for the public to comment on, which was the main point in holding public hearings in February after the review panels make their recommendations.

Secondly, the motion put the State Board staff in charge of the public hearings and the standards review. Superintendent Ritz objected vigorously to this part of the motion, reading from state statutes that “the Department shall develop” and review standards for approval first by the Roundtable and then by the State Board. She said that by state law it is not the State Board’s role or the State Board’s staff role to develop standards and therefore she would rule the motion improper because it “inserts the board’s staff to oversee the process.”

Dan Elsener asked to hear from the State Board’s attorney on this matter. Superintendent Ritz did not recognize the attorney to speak.

Cari Wicker said “You have your attorney. Why can’t I ask my attorney?”

Superintendent Ritz said, “I am taking this to the Attorney General.” She said that the Department has the obligation to review standards and that there need not be a “back and forth debate.”

Board Attorney Michelle Goff then rose and started speaking. Superintendent Ritz said, “Michelle, please sit down.”

She sat down.

Superintendent Ritz then called for a “quick recess” until 12:05.

After the recess, she reiterated that the motion was improper and she would ask for an advisory opinion from the Attorney General.

Brad Oliver expressed his disappointment and explained his concern about “getting standards right.”

Superintendent Ritz said she is ruling the motion improper and is ready to move the next agenda item.

Gordon Hendry then called “point of order.” He proposed amending the motion to make it subject to the Attorney General’s review. He said this would move the process forward.

Superintendent Ritz said, “I am ruling the motion improper.”

Dan Elsener then said, “This is bad leadership. We wouldn’t do something illegal. We have a motion and a second. That is not the proper role of the chair.”

David Freitas said, “Let the Board speak. Can we call for a vote? You are not the Attorney General. No chair can stop us from voting.”

Superintendent Ritz called for the next item on the agenda, listed as “Common Core Guidance to Schools.”

State Board Attorney Michelle Goff then rose to say that meeting procedures negotiated with the Governor’s office don’t allow the Superintendent to rule a motion to be improper.

Dan Elsener said, “You can’t behave like this.”

Superintendent Ritz said, “This meeting is adjourned.” It was 12:15. She stood up and left the room. Her staff left the room. All nine of the Board members remained in the room.

The video staff started tearing down the technical equipment. David Freitas asked the technician to keep the video equipment rolling, a step noticeable only because the technician declined in a loud response.

The Meeting Sans Chair

About 12:20, Board Secretary Dan Elsener convened the Board members, saying that “we have a motion and a second.”

Brad Oliver asked who has the authority to set policy if the chair has left. He expressed concern about the risk of perceptions. He said we should keep “decorum at a high level.”

B.J. Watts, Dan Elsener, David Freitas and Cari Wicker all made comments. Board Attorney Michelle Goff recommended taking a recess to check procedures with the Attorney General to “make sure what we are doing is appropriate.” It was 12:25.

At 12:30, Board Secretary Dan Elsener reconvened the group, saying “We have to make a decision: vote on the motion or adjourn.”

Brad Oliver said we should not vote without approval from the Attorney General.

B.J. Watts said we should agree to disagree.

Cari Wicker said we have put politics aside. This is not a political issue.

B.J. Watts said no one could have been more respectful than Brad Oliver in preparing his motion.

Gordon Hendry said he was deeply disappointed, especially after the Board had found common ground to pass the A-F motion.

Claire Fidian Green told the group that procedures say that an emergency meeting can be called by the chair or by two members of the Board.

David Freitas asked to vote on the motion.

At this point, Brad Oliver withdrew his motion, saying we should be “respectful” and “take the high road.”

Dan Elsener then asked for a motion to adjourn, which was made by Gordon Hendry. It was 12:40.

Perhaps now you will want to see the video to check this scene out for yourself.

The Choice for Indiana: The Big Picture

Through all the give and take, the conflicting educational philosophies of Superintendent Ritz and Governor Pence have never been clearer. Gerald Bracey called them “Dueling Visions” in his 2003 book entitled What You Should Know about the War Against America’s Public Schools.

Governor Pence wants a competitive marketplace of schools fueled by private school vouchers and school choice. This will slowly diminish public education and upgrade private schools with taxpayer money.

Superintendent Ritz wants to focus public money on public schools to bring equity and high quality to every public school. This will upgrade public education and counter the shift toward privatization.

Indiana’s direction in this arena has been the educational policy question of our generation. A strong turn toward privatization was made in 2011, giving state money to private school vouchers for the first time in 160 years. The Governor has a strong team to continue expanding what was started in 2011.

To say that education should not be political is disingenuous. Both sides have deeply held political positions which go to the heart of our democracy and our economy. In a democracy, the voters must set the direction.

In this generational struggle between strongly held visions, I stand with Glenda Ritz along with 1.3 million voters who put her in office. I am an advocate for public education, and I oppose privatization.

My neighbor greeted me as I got in the car to come to yesterday’s meeting, saying she thinks voters didn’t really realize how much Governor Pence could control education by appointing the State Board. Now they know. The Center for Education and Career Innovation, home of the State Board staff with a $5 million budget, was created by an executive order of the Governor without any legislative debate.

The battle for control is now in full view. At yesterday’s meeting, the visions were truly dueling.

Thanks for your support and actions on behalf of public education!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith

ICPE is working to promote public education and oppose the privatization of schools in the Statehouse. We thank all who came to the three membership meeting this fall in Indianapolis, Lafayette and Bloomington. They were all excellent discussions! Many renewed their memberships at the meetings. If you have not done so since July 1, the start of our new membership year, we urge you to renew by going to our website.

We need additional support to carry on our advocacy for public education. We need additional members and additional donations. We need your help!

Go to for membership and renewal information and for full information on our three ICPE membership meetings this fall. Thanks!

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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