Common-Core Fight Leads Ind. Chief Ritz to Abruptly Exit State Board Meeting

By Andrew Ujifusa — November 13, 2013 3 min read
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A fight over control of the Common Core State Standards’ future in Indiana led state Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz to abruptly depart an Indiana State Board of Education meeting on Nov. 13, following a dispute between Ritz and state board members concerning a new education agency.

Back in August, I wrote about the creation of the Center for Education & Career Innovation (CECI) by Republican Gov. Mike Pence— the stated goal of the center was to create stronger ties betwen the state’s public schools and the private sector. But Ritz, a Democrat elected in 2012 just like Pence, objected to the new center because she said Pence didn’t consult her before it was announced. In a statement her office issued when the center was announced, she said, “Hoosier students would be better off if the governor would work with her, rather than around her on this vital issue” of education and workforce development.

Fast-forward to today. According to The Journal Gazette, a resolution put forward by by state board member Brad Oliver would have given the CECI the power to review the common core in conjunction with the Indiana Department of Education, which is run by Ritz. (Following budget language approved by state lawmakers earlier this year, Indiana officials are conducting a review of common core, and the board must vote on whether to adopt the common core or a different set of standards by July 2014.)

This triggered an uproar at Wedneday’s state board meeting. According to veteran Indiana reporter Scott Elliott of Chalkbeat Indiana, the dispute over the resolution became so heated that Ritz, who is technically chairwoman of the state board, tried to rule the motion out of order, which triggered a break from the meeting and a lengthy huddle. A dispute also broke out about whether the live video feed of the meeting should be cut off when Ritz apparently tried to adjourn the meeting. Ritz also tried to stop a vote on the motion, and subsequently left the meeting even as other board members remained. After considering whether to vote on Oliver’s motion, a suggestion made by board member Gordon Hendry, the remaining board members adjourned the meeting without doing so.

UPDATE: In a statement issued Wednesday about the board meeting, Ritz said the proposed resolution from Oliver was “improper” and that she suggested getting an opinion from state Attorney General Greg Zoeller about the matter, only to have some board members refuse to cooperate: “Indiana law is clear. The process of evaluating academic standards is the responsibility of the Department of Education ... The resolution was ruled improper because it used CECI staff in a manner that violates Indiana law.”

But others don’t agree. As Brent Kent, director of StudentsFirst Indiana, and Adam VanOsdol, a senior editor at the INGroup publication, pointed out, the law requiring the common-core review, House Enrolled Act 1427, states that the review specifically means the “state board conducts a comprehensive evaluation of the common core standards.” No mention of the department.

You may not be surprised to learn that on the same day as this fight erupted at the state board, the Indianapolis Star ran a lengthy story detailing Ritz’s complaints about how Pence has been handling education policy in the state. Specifically, she said that the governor has been attempting a “complete takeover” of K-12. Among other grievances, Ritz said the CECI has hired the staff of former state superintendent Tony Bennett (the man she beat in the 2012 superintendent’s race) to undermine her department’s work, and has also tried to wrest control of data and other powers away from her department.

You may also not be surprised to learn that Oliver was one of four board members appointed by Pence earlier this year. So was Hendry.

It’s worth pointing out that Ritz and Pence have agreed on one key piece of education policy in the state—they both say the state should back away from its commitment to the common-core-aligned tests being developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. But aside from that prominent bit of cooperation, the two have not seen eye to eye on many occasions. And in purely political terms, Ritz doesn’t have many friends in state government, considering that the state legislature is controlled by Republicans.

The resolution giving common-core oversight to the CECI may have been withdrawn by Oliver, but it’s unlikely that this is the last we’ll hear of the trench warfare going on between Ritz and Pence, with the CECI as a proxy.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.