Elect, don’t appoint, state schools chief

(Anderson) Herald Bulletin

Partisan bickering and the resulting gridlock can be deeply frustrating for constituents. Nothing gets done because one side won’t recognize that the other has a good solution, or doesn’t want the other side to get any credit. Such selfishness leads to a profound inability to compromise or collaborate.

Americans have now endured several years of such political entrenchment in Washington, D.C. Hoosiers have felt this frustration keenly with state government, as well.

In particular, over the past four years, the impasse between the governor’s office and that of the state superintendent of public instruction has added fuel to the fire of public dissatisfaction with K-12 education in Indiana.

Gov. Mike Pence, a Republican, and Superintendent Glenda Ritz, a Democrat, had different visions for the direction of public education and repeatedly sparred over policy. As an extension of this dysfunction, Indiana’s standardized testing and teacher evaluation system have repreadly stumbled into the cauldron of public criticism.

Ultimately, students have suffered from the lack of a concerted, sensible approach to educational policy. Indiana continues to lag behind most other states in student academic achievement.

Gov. Eric Holcomb has a solution to the political intrigue that has hampered public education in Indiana: Take the choice of state school superintendent out of the hands of voters and let the governor appoint the position.

He proposes this change to take effect in 2021, after Superintendent-elect Jennifer McCormick of Yorktown finishes serving the four-year term to which she was elected in November. Holcomb and McCormick are Republicans with similar views on education, so the governor-elect is in no hurry to implement the proposed change.

In the long run, Holcomb’s solution would erase the dissension that can naturally occur when the governor and superintendent hail from different political parties.

But that’s not necessarily a good thing. While continual disagreement can certainly grind progress to a halt, lockstep agreement could send education down a thorny path of unchallenged political control.

Indiana is one of just 12 states, according to the National Association of State Boards of Education, that has an elected state school chief. So, we’re in the minority.

But that doesn’t mean a superintendent of public instruction appointed by the governor is the right solution. To the contrary, with the need for drastic improvement of public education in our state, the power to choose the superintendent should rest with the people.

If voters are wary of bickering between the governor and the schools chief, they can elect a moderate, collaborative superintendent — and a moderate, collaborative governor, as well.

Taking the superintendent’s office out of the people’s hands would be moving the public a step away from the influence it should exercise over the direction of education in Indiana.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to awoods@tribtown.com.