Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Surprise Upset? Indiana Teachers Weren't Surprised

As Tom Petty says " She grew up in an Indiana town..."

It has been such an interesting week reading so much about Indiana and "big upset" of the winner of  Education Reform Idol, Dr. Tony Bennett,  to teacher Glenda Ritz.  

No one I know who teaches in Indiana considered this an upset. They have been living for the day when they could vote Dr. Bennett out of office. Not because they disagree with EVERYTHING he has done, but mostly because they disagree with HOW the changes were done and that they felt that teacher's voices not only went unheard but were dis-regarded as irrelevant.

It has been like living with a foot in two different worlds for me, I talk often to educators outside of Indiana, but I talk daily to teachers and parents inside of Indiana. Outside of Indiana many say Bennett is progressive, a leader, ,a fearless change agent. Inside of Indiana he is a bully, an ego maniac, an arrogant fame hungry man willing to sacrifice public education for the brand of Tony Bennett. Of course, none of those descriptors are completely true.

Certainly some good things have happened during Dr. Bennett's tenure . When I worked as a Technology Director, the environment in the state technology department became one where innovation was embraced & encouraged, technology integration was in the forefront. The office in downtown Indy became a place to go for grants, answers, inspiration and support instead of one of mandates, hoops to jump through and forms to fill out. (Thank you Dr. John Keller & Office of eLearning team!)

As we embarked on changing the face of education in our community, Dr. Bennett (and Governor Daniels) were more than supportive. We were able to get waivers necessary to move forward with innovative schedules, class offerings and hard to find teachers, we  had opportunities for grants and were publicly lauded for being in the forefront of re-imagining our public schools.

But, at some point, as the national conversation turned to vilify teachers (and their unions) as the scapegoat for the poor economy, Indiana teachers felt thrown under the bus by their Superintendent of PUBLIC Instruction. The more they heard that for profit charter schools were the answer, the more de-valued they felt. The message heard wasn't one of support from their "leader" it was one of blame.
Still, it wasn't Bennett's embracing of charter schools, grading schools A-F, new teacher evaluations, or his for-profit, anti-union stance that I saw posted all over social media by the teachers who work every day in the classrooms of Indiana.

The messages I saw imploring friends and family to vote for Glenda Ritz were about standardized testing, specifically the all or nothing highstakes iRead test. In fact, it was this pass/fail testing of 3rd graders that spurred Ritz to throw her hat in the ring

Status posts like these were all over my FB news feed:

  • "Please support your teachers by voting for Glenda Ritz on Tuesday for State Superintendent of Schools. We need change. Tony Bennett has done nothing to benefit our kids' education. He has only made our jobs harder. I love love love my job and my students. I want each and everyone of my kids to succeed and Tony is just over testing them and making things harder for everyone."            
  • "... with the significant emphasis being placed on standardized testing he has assured the people of Indiana that their students will be prepared for exactly one thing. Those students will be able to take a test!"                                                                                                             
  • "If you believe children are more than their standardized test scores, please PLEASE vote Glenda Ritz for State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Even if you usually vote a straight Republican ticket, please cross over for this race."

This post from @ScottElliott's column "Get on The Bus" in the Indianapolis Star explores many of the theories being floated for the upset, I agree with his conclusion that it really was a teacher-led movement. 

It will be interesting to see what happens going forward, Ritz, who garnered more votes than incoming Governor Mike Pence, is entering an environment that is already being portrayed in the media as hostile. We can only hope that what Pence says at the end of this article is true.

"We are going to focus on kids"

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