GUEST COMMENTARY: Reign of political error or political terror?

2013-12-03T00:00:00Z GUEST COMMENTARY: Reign of political error or political terror?By Tony Lux
December 03, 2013 12:00 am  • 

The current status of education policy and administration in Indiana, as professed by Republicans, can best be summed up by applying the apt title of Diane Ravitch's new book, "Reign of Error."

But from an educator's point of view, the phrase "Reign of Terror" seems more appropriate.

What started out several years ago under the auspices of education reform has deteriorated into political efforts to circumvent the authority and responsibility of Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz and state Department of Education.

Prior to former Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett's grade-changing scandal, the Indiana General Assembly itself had lost favor for the A-F grading formula, declaring it inappropriate and inadequate on the basis of improper growth comparisons of students and undeserved poor grades for many schools, thus demanding a new formula be drafted no later than Nov. 15.

In addition to the grade-changing scandal, technology malfunctions in the administration of the ISTEP exam last spring required an extensive analysis of the debacle to determine the validity of student test results. Throw in the added delays of a third-party analysis of the validity of school grades based on the grade-changing scandal, and there were understandable delays in rolling out the 2013 school grades.

Understandable, that is, for everyone except the State Board of Education, which conjured up a supposed emergency for publishing school grades ASAP. Yet test re-scoring validations and corrections were not completed.

Instead of meeting publicly to discuss its concerns with Ritz, the board took action outside of a public meeting to ask the House speaker and Senate president to direct the Legislative Service Agency to carry out the Department of Education's responsibility. When Ritz challenged this action, the attorney general declared her challenge void unless he chose to represent her agency. Private citizens asked the state's public access counselor for a formal ruling on a violation of the Open Door Law.

While the public access counselor has now ruled the state board did not technically violate the Open Door Law through its use of chain emails resulting in a formally signed document, he nevertheless stated, “... the appearance of action ... hidden from pubic view is … contrary to the purposes of transparency and open access."

Most recently, the State Board of Education called for the transfer of responsibility for state standards away from the state Department of Education and instead to the governor's new Center for Education and Career Innovation. 

Is it not somewhat terrifying that under the guise of doing what is best for kids, there are obvious efforts to circumvent and relegate the current popularly elected state superintendent and the Department of Education to a position of irrelevancy?

At one time, the State Board of Education was appropriately viewed as nonpartisan. Now overt political partisanship seeks to eliminate any honest discourse.

Is this indicative of simple political error, or something much worse — political terror?

Tony Lux is a retired school superintendent. The opinions are the writer's.

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