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Editorial: Conflict no way to improve education

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SEVERAL political observers in Indiana have raised the possibility that the state could become caught up in a nasty confrontation over the direction of its educational system in the next four years.

The specter of division was speculated about in the wake of the surprising results in the race for state school superintendent in which a relatively unknown educator named Glenda Ritz defeated incumbent Tony Bennett.

Ritz, an Indianapolis Democrat, had campaigned on a pledge to roll back many of the changes that had been instituted by Bennett over the past four years — a platform that was embraced by many Hoosier teachers and some school corporations.

Among the items that were especially irksome to educators were reforms that included expanding access to charter schools, limiting teachers’ collective bargaining and basing teacher pay raises on annual evaluations.

While Bennett was going down to defeat, Republican Mike Pence, who voiced support for the reforms, was posting an electoral majority in his race for governor. So were many of the Republican legislators who voted for the reforms that educators want discarded.

Like the current stalemate in Washington between the president and Congress over the “fiscal cliff,” the potential for a stand-off pitting the incoming governor and General Assembly against the new school superintendent is not only distasteful to Hoosiers but traumatic in the effect it can have not only on education but economic development.

This is no time for a political tug of war that could have disastrous and far-reaching effects. If anything, all participants should seek to find ways to improve the system by working together.

In many respects, the die is already cast. Many of the reforms introduced in Bennett’s terms were adopted by the General Assembly and endorsed by current Gov. Mitch Daniels. They were subsequently endorsed by Columbus native Pence, who will be the state’s chief administrator for the next four years.

Presumably, Pence could take some administrative steps that would either delay or modify the reforms, but that could lead to an even nastier situation.

Fortunately, Ritz has signaled that she has no intention of tilting at windmills or throwing bombs into the current system. In a question-and-answer session reported on the Opinion Page of The Republic last week, she said she wanted to work with legislators in improving the system.

That is, of course, only a first step. Ritz will have to be prepared with specific proposals to discuss with the other parties, and they, in turn, should be willing to listen and to come forward with their own enhancements.

The last thing that is needed is for lines to be drawn in the sand. Indiana’s educational system has to be improved to meet the demands of the 21st century. That will only be accomplished by people working together.

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