This week I closed down the petition on change.org ("Governor Daniels, Governor-elect Pence, the Indiana state legislature: Honor our 1,300,000 votes for Glenda Ritz"). Over 10, 275 people signed their names and commented on our petition since November. Glenda Ritz will take her position as our new state superintendent in just a few days and it is time for us to turn our energies toward supporting her and supporting our public schools with a new administration and new governor at the helm.
The legacy of Tony Bennett and Mitch Daniels will be difficult to undo or even buffer our kids and teachers from. There has been so much damage and structural change. But we must try.
Politicians, state board members, and corporate reformers across the country have tried to manipulate the meaning and intentions of our votes for Glenda Ritz. They claimed that we were voting against Tony Bennett's personal style, that those evil teacher unions successfully organized against Bennett to salvage their "status quo" (so cliche! so dishonest!), that teachers used schools and computers illegally as campaign headquarters for Ritz, etc. I guess that is the best they can do to try to salvage their egos and momentum. But it is a feeble attempt to cover up the truth: over 1,300,000 people were eager and vehement in their desire for change in direction in education. A vote for change in one's state legislator, for example, could reflect many different issues on the part of a voter, but the vote for state superintendent of public instruction reflects the direction of education. Period. The spin by corporate reformers is just pathetic.
The particular motivations for voting for Ritz were individual, of course. For those of us with children (I have four) in the schools, we could feel the intensity and stress emanating from both our kids and our kids' teachers. I know parents whose children were crying and throwing up over their fears around standardized testing. The stakes are now so high: will you pass on to the next grade? Will your school get a failing grade and be taken over or lose funding? Will your teacher be declared "ineffective" and lose her job?
We want our kids to have an intrinsic desire to learn, to find their passions and to do hands-on experiments. But the pressure on schools to perform on tests results in a narrowing of curriculum instead; fill-in-the-bubble sheets, constant assessment of language arts and computer programs that develop good "test taking" skills predominate the school experience. My 8 year-old comes home every week with fill-in-the-bubble worksheets that my 18 year-old never had. I love my son's teacher and respect her tremendously. The fact that my child still has the opportunity to do projects and play outside is a credit to her integrity and ingenuity as a professional, as well as the fact that our school has the leeway of being an "A"and "four-star" school, reducing some (not all) of the pressure to perform on tests.
This labeling of schools through an A-F grading system is another reason we voted out Bennett. Some communities have only one high school in their towns. To brand their school with a "D" is to brand the entire community as sub-par. The school is the place where people gather to watch sports, to see theater programs; it is the proverbial "village" raising their children. There are fabulous things happening at "F" schools with caring and brilliant professionals engaging children every day in the process of learning and growing. But the "grade" is a better reflection of a school's socieoeconomic makeup than it is of the true growth happening within. We voters objected to this punitive form of "reform". Help us, don't punish us.
The "help" Bennett offered was in the form of private businesses waiting in the wings to take over our "failing" schools. We connected the dots between the testing companies, charter school companies, and the other businesses lining Tony Bennett's campaign coffers and the change occurring in our schools. "Accountability", "results" and "data-driven": these were the business-speak words with which more and more emphasis on the test was justified. But we recognized the incongruity with a business model and the very complex, human activity that is education. The bottom line for a business is profit. The bottom line for schools is the child. We understood that these profiteers and politicians were not the experts in children or education, our teachers and educators are. And we voted in an award-winning, expert educator for the position of educational leadership in our schools.
We parents entrust our children to teachers who know that teaching is an art and a service, not a quantifiable science. We know that teachers are professionals and we believe in real instruction, classroom experience, knowledge and expertise in how kids learn and grow. Bennett and Daniels have done much to undermine the professional nature of teaching, all the while bashing them for their lack of professional qualities. We voted for Glenda Ritz because we believe in our public school system and in our teachers. We recognize the flaws and need for improvements, but we have faith that educators and educational research are the keys to that improvement, not politicians and corporations.
Our message was clear, but our work is just beginning. Glenda Ritz will need our help to fight the big money seeking to profit from our kids' schools. We must continue to write to our representatives, to our state board of education, and our governor, holding them accountable for the atmosphere of fear and stress within which our children are trying to learn. We must work at regaining the local control they have taken away from us.
Over 1,300,000 of us voted for our kids, for our teachers and for our communities, to protect public education, the cornerstone of our democracy, from profiteers. To truly honor those votes, we must continue to stay informed, engaged and active. We must keep schools for kids, not for profit.
Democracy is not a spectator sport.