Islands often conjure images of blissful vacation. The sand. The water. The coconuts. An envious isolation from the toils of the mainland. However, islands just as often lack any semblance to a quintessential tropical paradise. Instead, they are the rocky prisons of the wayward and shipwrecked.
Over the past two years, the Indiana Department of Education has taken great strides to break free from the collective momentum found elsewhere in the United States. We are a state adrift in some sort of reverse Pangea, where with increasing isolation, the infrastructure of our education system is gravely suspect. Our current governor has, across his platform, touted the strength of the state over the nation—an odd move for a politician with such obvious aspirations beyond the gubernatorial. Though elected the same November evening as the Superintendent for Public Instruction, Glenda Ritz, they have been nothing but adversarial. Their efforts have not been collaborative, but divisive and separatist. During State Board of Education meetings, Pence appointees have broken form of the typically benign gatherings and been so accusatory to Ritz that the arguments made headlines. Both sides have moved to now have lawyers present for conferring during the SBOE meetings. Some of these moves haven’t been efforts in keeping form with Pence’s emphasis on statehood prominence, but some moves have, such as exiting the adoption of the Common Core State Standards. This was a very heavy domino and its falling has created some concerns that are every bit as political, but more so, have some very real dollars attached to them.
The latest terrible island to emerge in this chain has to do with the state’s compliance with federal law. Indiana is a week away from losing $200M federal dollars for failing to meet a deadline in maintaining a waiver from complying with the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act of 2001. How this severely flawed legislation hasn’t been repealed is beyond the scope of this post. NCLB still holds court, and if Indiana doesn’t correct the nine of 18 measures cited by the federal DOE as unacceptable, it will cost the state direly. This is on top of the millions we’ve wasted in implementing the Common Core (admittedly, not well spent) only to repeal it, the looming unknown cost of extending our $95M contract with CTB-McGraw Hill for updating standardized testing to reflect the new but shoddy and CCSS-plagiarized Indiana Academic Standards, let alone the cost of inserting yet another standardized test during the 9th grade year of an Indiana student’s career.
Prior to this, the governor joined in the education-island-development business and developed an alternative SBOE, the "Center for Education and Career Innovation" or "CECI". CECI along with the island known as the Education Roundtable have seemingly created such a distraction for Ritz that her administration can’t afford transparency to even friendly SBOE board members. Among them, Dr. Brad Oliver of Indiana Wesleyan University has responsibly requested for details about how Ritz intends to meet compliance. She said no in a meeting just a week-and-a-half out from the deadline, desiring that Oliver simply trust her competence. Stay off her island.
Why are we so willing to risk the $200M affordances of the waiver by going it alone in so many areas of our education system? There’s an emerging trend in our breaking free and going it alone: that it only limits our options. It’s like a reverse pyramid scheme where we see how many stakeholders we can obviate. Teachers, parents, the various boards and committees. I suppose it all started by voting Tony Bennett off the island in November, 2012. Then, Ritz tipped her hand a week later at the 2012 CELL Conference that Indiana’s PARCC commitment was on the chopping block. With that, came our eventual exit from the Common Core State Standards—likely the most over-politicized education policy issue in state history. The departure was purely political. It was a Guinness World Record-size red herring.
Ritz’s detractors can just as easily criticize her for moving too slowly and for fragmenting the system as her predecessors’ blamed Bennett for moving too quickly and congealing too much momentum. And it’s entirely ironic that these political personalities are the polar opposites of the parties each represents—at least on other issues.
Since both sides can argue in favor of doing what’s right by students, I’ll posit another approach. Who is going to suffer such from this recklessness? Teachers. 62,000+ teachers in Indiana are going to lose critical time waiting for the resources necessary to plan standards-aligned lessons. These teachers are going to lose precious days with doing things they know to work with their students because they’re in a "pilot phase" yet again preparing for new standardized tests. And these teachers are getting their morale stomped on by the bickering, the politicking, and the usurping of their professional capacity as pedagogical experts by people unable to fulfill the demands of their office. Lastly, 62,000 teachers are going to have to dig even deeper into their pockets to buy materials for their now overcrowded classrooms that can’t be covered by their administrators (who also just let go some teachers their slice of the $200M would have afforded).
As a result, teachers will enter into the first day of school less prepared for their new students. Teachers will teach to the test yet again. And competent teachers will leave the profession to go make a living in another field because their vocation was stolen from them by bureaucratic incompetence.
For those who do, I hope they take time to squeeze in a vacation somewhere tropical. Maybe at an all-inclusive resort with beachside service. They’d certainly deserve it after getting tossed by the waves of the brewing tempest at the Indiana Department of Education. By all appearances, the Ritz administration looks like it’s headed for the rocks, but don’t be misdirected. It’s teachers who are being marooned on a desert island.