When you go to the polls on election day, you have two choices for Superintendent of Public Instruction here in Indiana. One is the incumbent, Dr. Tony Bennett. The other choice is the challenger, Glenda Ritz. They are, at minimum, a Republican and a Democrat, respectively. Too often, our elections get reduced to party. This shouldn't be about that, though. For our students, I invite you to look deeper as I have over the years.
Dr. Suellen Reed was first elected in 1992. In 1996, 2000, and 2004, this Democrat voted for her for Superintendent of Public Instruction. I didn't see the position as a political one, and neither did Dr. Reed. It wasn't until Governor Mitch Daniels became the ceremonial occupant of the Governor's Mansion that the SPI job became more about pushing an agenda than what's best for students.
But, I don't want to lean on Dr. Bennett too hard. My quarrel with him is not personal. I have met him and have had cordial conversations and back and forths on Facebook. He seems like a good enough person. While I agree with Dr. Bennett that constant reform is needed, I disagree with the reforms we have undertaken over the last four years because of the way they have steamrolled local school boards, local control, and local teacher unions.
|Dr. Suellen Reed|
That's where we stand today. In 2008, Richard Wood lost narrowly to Dr. Bennett who came in on a platform of putting more discipline back into the classroom so that teachers could teach. Nothing can be further from what has happened. Under the cover of the Obama Administration's admittedly misguided approach to education reform, Bennett and the Indiana General Assembly have taken education in Indiana corporate and made it subject to organizations like ALEC and for-profit entities.
Some of my friends on the right say that model legislation is used all the time. That's certainly true, but why should the Koch Brothers get a say on how Indiana teachers are evaluated?
|Dr. Tony Bennett|
This isn't about the ISTA, either. It's about the local teacher unions and their ability to negotiate fair teaching contracts with local school boards. Dr. Bennett's reforms have removed much of this ability.
If I go too far down the contract road, people will accuse me of being greedy. That's the political environment we live in, so I'll just leave it there. This really isn't about money. It's about a passion, this is my passion. Teaching and the ability to serve my students is one of the main reasons why I've passed up opportunities to run for political office. I feel that Dr. Bennett's reforms have made my passion a less palatable profession for others with the same passion. It's hard for me to explain what it's like to be a teacher. It's the absolute greatest feeling in the world to see the light go on for a student. When a student tells you that you made a difference, it's food for my soul that no contract can match. I don't think I'm alone in that.
I also know I'm not alone in voting for Glenda Ritz for SPI. I know that there are probably teachers out there that support Tony Bennett and perhaps they don't want to jump up and down and proclaim their loyalty to him, but the teachers that I know and that I have heard from are far more in opposition to Dr. Bennett than for him. I would estimate that the number of teachers out there voting for Bennett is miniscule in comparison to those voting for Ritz.
Dr. Reed was a great Superintendent of Public Instruction because she transcended party politics and focused on our students. I think Glenda Ritz will be that kind of SPI. We simply can't hand Tony Bennett four more years.