Thursday, September 5, 2013

Does Democracy Not Count When Your Candidate Loses?

The last time we posted on this blog, it was to report back about the state board meeting in August.  The time before that, it was to report on the July board meeting and what we called "a coup d'etat" naming Dan Elsener the ghost superintendent or education czar.  Today we have an excellent post on yesterday's board meeting and the theme of power grabs, with Dan Elsener at the center, continues.

Indiana Coalition for Public Education- Monroe County's very own Jenny Robinson made the trip up to Indianapolis to testify.  ( Note: ICPE member Bonnie Fisher also testified! Yea for civic engagement!)

Here is her summary of that event:

Mike Pence doesn't get it.

The arrogance and contempt that the appointed members of the State Board of Education are showing toward the elected state superintendent are well on their way to becoming a political liability.  In the meeting on September 4, board of education member Dan Elsener sprang a proposal on Ritz in the board comment period--a proposal to give a committee headed by himself the power to do strategic planning for the Department of Education.  He presented it in an aristocratic mumble, without making eye contact, as if he couldn't be bother to enunciate clearly.  He nested it inside generic accolades for Indiana's academic achievements and couched it in terms of giving the state superintendent the support she deserves.  Right.  That's support like a dagger in the back.  Should we give Elsener some credit for not pretending too hard, or was the thinly veiled insolence part of his strategy? He brushed away Ritz's objection that the rushed motion violated protocol.  Board members promptly passed it.

Dan Elsener was appointed to the state board of education by Mitch Daniels to support the Daniels/Bennett reform agenda, and reappointed by Pence.  He used to be executive director of the Christel DeHaan Family Foundation (yes, that's the Christel of Christel House that Tony Bennett altered the state grading system in order to protect).  He's now the president of Marian University, and his biography on that college's web site states that he "has dedicated his professional life to the mission of Catholic education." His position of influence on the state board is serving that purpose well as Catholic schools constitute an overwhelming majority of voucher recipients.  How did he get the authority to set the agenda for public K-12 education in the state of Indiana, instead of the superintendent of public instruction elected by 1.3 million Hoosiers? He's committed to all the reforms that Ritz ran against--the A-F system, IREAD3, the sanctity of ISTEP and testing regimens in general.  Republicans need to think about how to explain this to their constituents, because it doesn't look good.  What it looks like, frankly, is spitting in voter's faces.

New board member Andrea Neal provided some much-needed comic relief when she discussed problems she sees with revised social studies standards.  She said she detected bias creeping in, and gave as examples standards that suggested students should understand 1) that entrepreneurs seek profit, and 2) the problematic nature of manifest destiny.  Her suggested correction for this "bias" was to submit the standards to the Fordham Institute, a right-wing think tank, to review line-by-line.  I guess that would be a good way to get an A+ from Fordham--a goal Neal stated that Indiana should pursue.  Ritz replied that Indiana's standards are developed by Hoosiers for Hoosiers, not outsourced, and that the DOE follows a careful protocol for standards development.  She stated this strongly yet respectfully.

As board members power-grabbed, Ritz consistently showed thorough understanding of the DOE's work and processes; she also showed grace under fire.  As an Indiana voter and public school parent, I felt proud of our selection for state-level education leadership.  In sidelining Ritz, the Republican leadership seems to be wishfully thinking away the results of the last election.  Does democracy not count when your guy goes down? Pence needs to explain how this works to Ritz voters.  There are lots of us--100,000 more than voted for him."

It's not enough for us to sit in anger and let it turn inward to depression. We must act.  Please talk to your neighbors and friends. Write to Pence and the state board members to express your outrage and articulate your concerns. Write to newspapers to help the general public understand this power grab.  But know this: someone said once that you can't change politicians' minds; therefore, you must change politicians. We need to vet real pro-public education candidates for 2014 and rally around those who have already thrown their hats in the ring.  This is political and this is personal.  Join Indiana Coalition for Public Education (in Monroe County, download this form to be a local and state member).  Advocate and speak up. Despite what Mike Pence and the board may think, this is still a democracy.  Your strongest voice will be your vote.

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