|Superintendent of Public Instruction|
I am a big believer in education reform. But one thing I've never understood with the Bennett-brand of reform is the desire to go after public school teachers. Could teachers be better trained? Absolutely. Could they have a better grasp of the subjects they teach? Absolutely. But on the list of things wrong with public education, those problems would be lucky to break the top 20.
I have taught at the college level for most of the past 25 years. I have also been a substitute teacher in many of the public schools in Pike and Wayne Townships. I have a strong interest in improving our public schools. Trust me, from the quality of students I have seen at the college level since 1987, it needs improving.
In late 1995 through early 1996, I worked on education issues for the Rex Early for Governor campaign. Of course, Rex lost to Indianapolis Mayor Steve Goldsmith, who lost the general election to Frank O'Bannon. During the primary campaign, we actively met with teachers and tried to make them partners in education reform. One thing you learn very quickly is that there is an enormous gulf between classroom teachers and administrators. We chiefly saw administrators as obstructionists, while teachers were more than willing to try new things if given the flexibility to do so.
When Tony Bennett was elected four years ago, I was puzzled when he made classroom teachers a primary target. I didn't think that part of his reform philosophy was correct. As it turns out targeting classroom teachers is also bad politics. Teachers are great at networking and voting as a coalition. Unlike what many conservatives think, however, many teachers are, in fact, Republican.
My Democratic friends though are going to be pretty disappointed when they find out that electing Glenda Ritz Superintendent of Public Instruction is unlikely to stop the pace of education reform in this state. Education reform is driven primarily by the Governor and the Indiana General Assembly. Working around Ritz will be a piece of cake. In fact, an untold story is that Bennett's abrasive style and reluctance to listen to input from others had actually started alienating supporters of education reform, including Republican state legislators.