Today, voters from my home state go to the polls to decide whether they want Democrats Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama to head the 2008 presidential ticket. But as the two were canvassing the state, scouring for votes, something election-related happened over the weekend that could have an even bigger impact on education in the Hoosier State: Veteran Superintendent of Public Instruction Suellen Reed, who has been the state’s education leader for 16 years, announced she won’t run for re-election.
During my years covering education in Indiana, I got to know Reed—even visiting her farm in rural Indiana, where her mom served me homemade, fresh-from-the-oven muffins. Though a Republican, she got along with the Democratic governors she served with, and often clashed with Republicans (like current Gov. Mitch Daniels.) She ushered in the development of Indiana’s statewide standardized test, pushed for and ultimately succeeded in getting more full-day kindergarten in the state, and has visited schools in all of Indiana’s 92 counties. She was one of the first state schools chiefs to implement a high-stakes graduation exit exam, in effect for the Class of 2000, and stuck by the requirement even as the parents of special education students sued because they saw it as unfair.
Most times, Dr. Reed acted more like the elementary school teacher that she once was than a veteran politician. Still, she’s been one of the Republican Party’s top vote-getters in the state, and someone will need to step in to fill the giant hole that will remain when she leaves. In Indiana, the down-ballot statewide offices (like schools chief) are selected at party conventions. And since Indiana voters tend to vote Republican on these less glamorous statewide offices, the candidate who is picked at this year’s GOP convention will probably win. Already, the line is forming.