Chamber Endorses Jennifer McCormick for Superintendent of Public Instruction

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce is backing Dr. Jennifer McCormick in the race for state superintendent of public instruction over incumbent Glenda Ritz. The organization has very rarely stepped into statewide races and this marks the first time ever to endorse a challenger in one. McCormick is the current Yorktown Community Schools superintendent.

“Our volunteer leadership voted to take this unusual step because we can’t have four more years of divisiveness and dysfunction from the Department of Education. It’s time to hit the reset button,” says Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar.

“We need a state superintendent who understands the importance of having a productive working relationship with the stakeholders engaged in the state’s education policy. Glenda Ritz has proven she’s incapable of doing that and has over politicized the system.”

In contrast, the Indiana Chamber notes McCormick’s “positive relationships with both educators and the business community. She will be the constructive, get-things-done type of a superintendent that we need in today’s climate.”

States Dr. McCormick: “I am honored to receive this support from the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. Over the last two decades, I have served at every level in our state’s K-12 public education system, as a classroom teacher, principal and superintendent. I am running for this office because Indiana deserves the best Department of Education in the nation.

“I look forward to working with our state’s dynamic business community and all stakeholders as we strive to put students first and prepare them for careers in our great state.”

The Indiana Chamber has long been involved in education policy because businesses need good, qualified talent to thrive.

“We are well aware of the current workforce challenges that must be addressed by business leaders and educators working together,” Brinegar explains. “We need a superintendent who will roll up her sleeves, and work in tandem with other state agencies and organizations to make the needed progress. That is exactly what we expect Jennifer McCormick to do.”

When it comes to specific policies under Ritz that are of concern, Brinegar is quick to cite several.

“Maintaining the education policies that have improved student outcomes in recent years is at risk,” he states. “Whether that’s our assessments, school and teacher accountability or parental choice of which school is best for their children. Ritz is in favor of none of that.”

Her clear opposition to any type of accountability may be the most troubling for the Indiana Chamber.

“The accountability aspect is so vital because this is what tells parents, students and the community at-large how well their schools and teachers are performing, so that parents can make informed decisions about what school their child attends,” Brinegar stresses.

“Jennifer McCormick believes in the importance of accountability and she demonstrates it every day as a successful superintendent who leads a team in her schools and focuses on what’s best for student learning.”

One of the Indiana Chamber’s top objectives for the 2017 legislative session will be expansion of state-supported pre-K to more students from low-income families.

“Jennifer McCormick realizes that the at-risk group needs to be the focus and she will make effective use of the state’s scarce resources,” Brinegar offers. “We can count on her to administer this important program properly. We can’t risk having what happened to ISTEP happen with pre-K.”

State Superintendent Needs to be Appointed, On Same Page with Governor

It’s about good public policy. It’s about what’s best for students and teachers.

For nearly 30 years, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce has supported having the state superintendent of public instruction be an appointed position. We did this when Republicans and Democrats controlled the governor’s office. And we have been far from alone.

In years past, the state Democratic and Republican parties have included it in their platforms. And in 2004, both Gov. Joe Kernan and challenger Mitch Daniels had it among their campaign proposals.

It may be surprising to some, but the Indiana State Teachers Association used to support having an appointed superintendent. However, the group changed its tune once its 2012 endorsed candidate, Glenda Ritz, was elected.

The Indiana Chamber has remained consistent with its position and believes politics should be put aside.

Having an appointed superintendent came oh so close to happening in the late 1980s during Gov. Robert Orr’s administration – passing the House and falling only one vote short in the Senate. Since then it’s mainly been a parade of governors and superintendents not on the same page on major education policy (regardless of which party held either office). That situation doesn’t serve the state, students, parents or teachers well.

Our governor campaigns on education issues and sets an education agenda. In order to be held accountable for that, he needs to be able to appoint the superintendent of his choosing. That way, we can be assured there is alignment with respect to education policy. Hoosiers can then hold the governor truly responsible for education and factor that into his performance assessment come election time.

Appointing a superintendent also means the person chosen comes from a broader pool of qualified candidates. And the selection should then be based on the person’s education and leadership merits, not political backing.

Many have known for a long time that the current system isn’t conducive to getting things done. That’s only been exacerbated the last two years with the divergent philosophical opinions of Gov. Mike Pence and Superintendent Glenda Ritz. Too often this has resulted in the State Board of Education at a crossroads, if not a standstill. That’s entirely unacceptable.

What’s more, the superintendent, as head of the state Department of Education, should be treated like every other agency leader. We don’t elect the superintendent of the Indiana State Police, commissioner of the Department of Revenue and so forth. All of those officials are appointed at the discretion of the governor. The Department of Education should be the same.

Indiana is already behind the times – and more than 35 other states – in acknowledging that an appointed superintendent serves citizens best. Our preference would be that realization happen sooner rather than later. We recognize the political sensitivities and pressures currently in play – though we don’t agree with bowing to them – and want to see serious discussion and action taken on the issue this legislative session.

State Superintendent Begins Overhaul of Teacher Licensing

On a convincing 14-4 vote, the Indiana Professional Standards Advisory Committee has voted to proceed with the rulemaking process to overhaul Indiana’s antiquated teacher licensing system. Under the proposal prepared by State Superintendent Tony Bennett, new teachers in Indiana would be required to demonstrate much more knowledge in their content areas than is currently required. The proposed rules would also tie professional development requirements to school priorities, allow greater input by principals in teacher licensing decisions and provide school districts with more flexibility in the hiring of principals and superintendents.

To be certain, this effort is just beginning – and lots of vested interests are lining up to defeat the proposals. Most impacted are the schools of education that, according to several national education leaders, have created an ineffective training system that is in need of significant overall. But since "overhaul" means, in many ways, that their monopoly on education training would be loosened, the state’s schools of education are working overtime to defeat this proposal.

So far, the schools of education have dominated these discussions; but as the rule-making process goes forward, there will be much better opportunity to hear from the consumers of this system, including employers, parents, school administrators, school board members and even teachers themselves. The Indiana Chamber will stay on top of all developments and will keep our members informed through this and other outlets. In the meantime, you can learn more about the proposed changes in this brief summary document.

What are your thoughts on the proposal? Feel free to share in the comments section or let me know at [email protected].

New State School Chief to be Chosen in November

After 16 years, Suellen Reed’s reign as superintendent of public instruction is nearing the end. Voters will choose this November between a new Republican nominee, Dr. Tony Bennett, who is currently the superintendent of the Greater Clark County Schools, and the Democrat nominee, Dr. Dick Wood, who just retired as superintendent of Tippecanoe School Corporation.

Over the next several months, we can expect to hear at least some debate on which of these gentlemen will best carry on the 16-year legacy of Reed. School leaders, who are largely happy with Reed, will be looking for someone who can continue on her role as chief defender of all that is good in public schools. Meanwhile, those of us interested in reform will be looking for a candidate who can return leadership and new ideas to the office. 

It is difficult to say what Reed and her supporters will tout as her accomplishments. She opposed most of the leading reforms that occurred during her tenure, including: revision of our state standards, reform of the ISTEP test and establishment of Core 40 as a graduation requirement. She was also largely silent during consideration of charter school legislation and then nearly killed the movement in its infancy with her administration of charter school funding. 

In the absence of other leadership, Gov. Daniels has tried desperately during his first term to provide substantial deregulation for our schools, to force greater financial efficiencies and to raise the dialogue on teacher quality. As Reed has been painfully silent on these issues, many of us are hoping that a new superintendent will help lead on these and other issues that are critical to the future of our schools. 

Perhaps most importantly, many — both in education and outside — are looking forward to a much improved Department of Education. Multiple stories by the Indianapolis Star and others have highlighted the dismal job the department has done on managing critical data such as high school graduation rates. But as highlighted by outside reviews by independent groups like Crowe Chizek, the problems with data are just the beginning of a management overhaul that is long overdue. 

The Indiana Chamber does not endorse candidates in the state superintendent race, but we will be watching carefully what each of these candidates has to say. Nobody can question the passion with which Reed has performed her job for the last four terms, but for the sake of our state, the next superintendent needs to transform that passion to ideas and leadership. 

Let us know your thoughts in the comment section.