In a recent letter to the editor, State Board of Education (SBOE) member, Gordon Hendry, blamed the chaos and disorder of the board’s interactions on the behavior of Superintendent Glenda Ritz. He went so far as to liken her behavior to that of an “education czar,” unilaterally deciding policy issues and ignoring the authority of other board members. That may be so, but she certainly isn’t the only one.
After parents and teachers voiced their concerns over the quality of the Common Core standards, legislators passed two laws requiring the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) and the SBOE to adopt new standards that were internationally-benchmarked and the highest in the country. Instead of following state law and the desires of the people, the SBOE voted 7-3 to adopt standards that are almost indistinguishable from the Common Core. Experts warned the SBOE and IDOE that the “new” standards were a rebrand, and a bad one at that, but it didn’t matter; the SBOE wanted the Common Core- state law and constituents be damned.
In 2011, Indiana reiterated its commitment to implementing the Common Core standards in exchange for a No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver from the federal government. After the “new” standards were adopted in 2014, Indiana was required to submit documentation to the US Department of Education as evidence that the standards were still in compliance with the NCLB waiver. In support of this, a letter from Theresa Lubbers, Indiana’s appointed Commissioner of Higher Education, was included to certify the “new” standards were compliant. She wrote:
“In April 2013, with the passage of PL286-2013 ( HEA1427), Indiana’s legislature required before July 1, 2014 that “the state board adopt college-and career-readiness educational standards.” Despite the legislative charge to develop new standards, Indiana always aimed to not only maintain commitments made in the waiver, but also aimed to exceed those same commitments.” [emphasis added]
It is striking that a state official would begin a statement with the words “despite the legislative charge,” indicating there may be more than one czarist-styled education official in Indiana. Additionally, her statement acknowledges that Indiana “always aimed” to maintain the commitment it originally made in the waiver, which was to adopt the Common Core standards. As critics of the “new” standards have stated all along, there was never an honest attempt to create new standards that would exceed Common Core as the people and legislature directed.
An article by the Heartland Institute recently shed more light on an attempt by Governor Pence and Superintendent Ritz to make an end run around legislation that ended the state’s participation in the Common Core testing consortium, the Partnership for Assessing Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). The article states that while Indiana sent letters to end its affiliation with PARCC in July 2013, the organization continues to publicly list Indiana as a member.
“The state was required to withdraw from PARCC at the directive of the state legislature,” said Lou Ann Baker, a spokeswoman for Pence’s Center for Education and Career Innovation in Indianapolis. “Both the governor and the SPI [Superintendent of Public Instruction] forwarded the required letters for withdrawal and have considered Indiana removed at the issuance of both communications.”
It’s true that Governor Pence and Superintendent Ritz both sent letters to PARCC, but neither letter specifically stated that Indiana would dissolve its membership with the consortium. The letter from Governor Pence only stated his “intent to withdraw Indiana as a member of PARCC’s Governing Board,” not from the consortium. Superintendent Ritz’s letter stated that Indiana wouldn’t be participating in the 2014 PARCC field tests- that’s it. She made no mention of Indiana’s desire to dissolve its membership.
This conflicts with HB 1427, which is very clear: ” [Indiana] may not enter into or renew an agreement with any organization, entity, group, or consortium that requires the state to cede any measure of autonomy or control of education standards and assessments, including cut scores.” Nevertheless, both Pence and Ritz ignored this clarity when referencing HEA1427 in their letters. Pence writes that the law only “curtails” Indiana’s participation, and Ritz describes it as “limiting”-neither understands the words “may not” to mean ending participation as the legislature directed.
This squares with statements made by a staff member of Commissioner Lubber’s office, claiming Indiana is still included as a PARCC member because they didn’t receive direction from the state to do otherwise:
“The language is not specific regarding withdrawing completely, so I don’t think that PARCC had clear direction as to whether we wanted to remain in the consortium,” said Trish Wlodarczyk, an Indiana PARCC coordinator. “The same goes for the governor’s letter.”
Indiana’s purported removal from PARCC was met with great support from the public. Both Governor Pence and Superintendent Ritz claimed it was a done deal. However, it isn’t clear that a complete severing of the PARCC relationship was ever intended by either party. If PARCC got the wrong message, a year has passed without either party attempting to rectify the situation.
Other states, like Tennessee, were able to successfully part ways with the PARCC consortium. They sent a letter requesting withdrawal from PARCC just last month, and are no longer listed as a member.
Those who control education decisions in Indiana are putting on a facade; pretending to servants of the people, while furtively doing what they deem necessary. Surprisingly, the conflict between education officials isn’t over the direction of policy; involved parties agree that Indiana’s course will be set by the requirements to maintain the NCLB waiver- not the people of Indiana. The conflict, unfortunately, is over how this will be achieved and which czar will be in charge.