Indiana's next schools chief to reorganize Dept. of Education

Glenda Ritz

One of the most interesting races Tuesday night in Indiana was for state superintendent of public instruction. Although Democrat Glenda Ritz had a significantly smaller campaign fund, her grass-roots effort ousted Republican Tony Bennett with 53 percent of the vote.

Ritz's supporters say her victory comes as no surprise. Teachers incensed by state-mandated educational reforms spearheaded the ouster and put one of their own in his place.

Ritz is a lifelong award-winning teacher and local union president. She outlined her plans for the department.

"One of the first things I want to do is reorganize the Department of Education," she said.

Ritz will appoint regional outreach coordinators to help local schools access everything from test scores to safety and get them information needed to make improvements "instead of calling the Department of Education, getting transferred several times and getting a different answer depending on who they are talking to."

Ritz's bottom-up approach contrasts with Bennett's top-down reforms that are credited for improving teacher quality, test scores and high school graduation rates.

"Actually I want to tweak the reforms that have been put in place," she said.

For instance, educators complain of now spending too much time testing and documenting students' progress, and less time teaching.

"You should not be spending more time on proving you are a good teacher than the amount of time you are spending on preparation and instruction of the children," said Ritz.

Any changes will be a tough sell at the Republican-led Statehouse.

"I want to be very clear, I support the policies and progress we made in education," said Gov.-elect Mike Pence (R).

Pence wants even greater reforms.

"We will seek more ways to build on that, to really put kids first and continue to keep in the forefront on the kind of education reform that focuses on results," Pence told supporters.

Ritz, a Democrat with no administrative or political experience, is looking forward two working with the overwhelming Republican majority.

"Governor Pence and all the legislators, they care about education and they care about it as much as all the voters who elected me," she said.

State Impact: How Tony Bennett lost the election