GUEST COMMENTARY: Leadership is necessary to fix Indiana’s waiver woes

2014-06-27T00:00:00Z GUEST COMMENTARY: Leadership is necessary to fix Indiana’s waiver woesAshley Gibson nwitimes.com
June 27, 2014 12:00 am  • 

There is enough confusion in education right now to make any teacher or student’s head spin. Under the leadership of Superintendent Glenda Ritz, the Indiana Department of Education has failed to properly manage our state’s No Child Left Behind waiver. This oversight, or lack thereof, could potentially cost our schools hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding, as well as the flexibility the waiver provides.

In her recent commentary in The Times, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz renewed her vow “to preserve and extend” Indiana’s waiver, but what exactly does she mean?

The U.S. Department of Education cited four major policy problems that have placed Indiana’s education waiver in jeopardy. Specifically, the agency’s letter to Ritz indicated that, under her leadership, the Indiana Department of Education has failed to show enough progress in closing student achievement gaps, turning around chronically underperforming schools, and properly implementing academic standards. Additionally, we have failed to properly implement educator evaluations. To be clear, these problems are a result of a total mismanagement of education in Indiana by Ritz.

For Ritz’s part, despite campaigning around an anti-testing platform, part of her solution was to triple the number of state tests for students to take this year. She also recently suggested the state should put a "pause" on school accountability.

Why should local schools, students, parents, and communities throughout Indiana continue to wait for the Ritz administration to get its act together?

In concert with other bold and positive education reforms that predate Ritz’s tenure, school accountability has provided positive validation for the work of educators and students. Because of the efforts underway in local schools, by almost every measure students are learning more today than they ever have before. This progress should not stop. In fact, we should take steps to accelerate it.

Gov. Mike Pence and the State Board of Education should be held accountable for this situation as well, but unlike Ritz, they have a consistent message for Hoosiers: Indiana will not walk away from educators and students by pausing accountability, nor will they double or triple the amount of tests without good reason.

In his letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Pence said, “Our administration is firmly committed to maintaining student assessment and teacher and school accountability without interruption.”

With an education waiver as shaky as Indiana’s, we need bold, expedient, and thoughtful leadership from every state leader, not just the governor and state board. Ritz will present her final plan to fix the education waiver soon, and I hope it is a solid one. We cannot afford to fail local educators and students any further.

Ashley Gibson is the state director for StudentsFirst Indiana. She formerly worked as Gov. Mitch Daniels' K-12 policy adviser, as former Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett's legislative director, and as Gov. Mike Pence's deputy legislative director. The opinions are the writer's.

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