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Column: Academic center undermines efforts

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As superintendent, my sole focus has been on creating an education system of equity and high quality. The 2013 General Assembly trusted me and the State Board of Education to embark upon improvements to our standards, assessments and accountability system.

This has resulted in the adoption of the highest academic standards in Indiana’s history, and we are in the process of modernizing the ISTEP assessment. Additionally, we are bringing much needed transparency and common sense to Indiana’s A-F system.

I have worked with the State Board of Education to accomplish these important educational tasks. Why then is there the perceived conflict between the State Board of Education members and myself? One answer: Gov. Mike Pence’s Center for Education and Career Innovation.

One year ago, Pence used an executive order to create the center. It was created without any consultation or conversation with the Department of Education and was created without legislative action or public input. When the center was announced, I criticized the decision.

Since the center’s inception, the State Board of Education now has its own staff and money, creating an environment of the board vs. State Superintendent Ritz. Through the board, Pence’s Center for Education and Career Innovation staff continuously mischaracterizes and intentionally misrepresents my leadership, criticizes the work of the department and encroaches on the role of the superintendent and the department in implementing education policy.

Last fall, the center advised the governor that his goal should be to remove the superintendent of public instruction as chair of the State Board of Education.

Because they feared the legislature would not support such a change, the center stated that it would attempt this move through the bureaucratic process of changing board operating procedures. The center continues to lead the charge to redefine and reduce the role of the superintendent as the statutory chair of the board through the board operating procedures as recent as the Aug. 6 meeting.

Education policy should not be political. However, I fully expect the governor and his Center for Education and Career Innovation to work through the board and the Legislature over the next two years to put crucial public education decisions in the hands of bureaucrats that are not accountable to the voters.

This will erode the office of the superintendent and the Department of Education’s responsibilities with the center taking over the execution of contracts with professional educational service firms, allocating funds to local schools and implementing education policy. Finally, it will allow the center to supplant the department as Indiana’s education agency.

The Department of Education is the only agency with the expertise to oversee Indiana’s education system and has served the needs of its diverse student population for over 150 years. We do not have a moment to waste on combating politics when it comes to serving our children. Indiana deserves better.

Glenda Ritz is the state superintendent of public instruction.

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