Commentary: Ritz, ed board & GOP leaders need to act like adults


By John Krull

John Krull, publisher,

John Krull, publisher,

INDIANAPOLIS – One of the most important lessons good parents teach toddlers is that not getting one’s way is no excuse for behaving badly.

Commentary button in JPG - no shadowIt appears that much of Indiana’s educational and political leadership never got that valuable piece of developmental training.

On Wednesday, a meeting of the Indiana Board of Education descended into – well, chaos would be too kind a term. Some hybrid of blood feud and epic temper tantrum would be closer to the mark.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz closed and then walked out of the meeting after a board member made a motion she said was inappropriate and illegal. The board members, all of whom were appointed by Republican governors, accused Ritz of thwarting reform and unfairly using her position as chair to stifle discussion. Ritz accused Gov. Mike Pence, a Republican, of attempting to deny the will of the voters and take over education. Pence responded with a statement and an op-ed piece that made it seem as if Ritz’s conduct were something he needed to scrape off the bottom of his shoe.

By the time it was done, the Statehouse walls had been spattered with more mud than a happy hog would encounter in a lifetime.

There’s plenty of blame to go around in this debacle.

Let’s start with the board of education and their Republican backers.

Ever since Ritz won a surprise victory in last November’s election, defeating school choice darling Tony Bennett, the self-proclaimed education reformers have done everything they can to deny the reality of that vote. They have worked to curtail Ritz’s authority from the get-go – even engaging in the foolishness of saying at times that the voters’ verdict didn’t matter.

In addition to signaling contempt for the processes of self government, these advocates for choice have undercut their own message by suggesting that the only “choice” they’re willing to accept from voters and parents is the one that has their stamp on it.

If they were smart – a big if given the addiction to folly they’ve shown so far – Republicans would back off and force Ritz to try to push her own agenda rather than continuing to allow her to play Joan of Arc in resisting them. They have made her a much bigger presence than she ever could have made herself.

And then there’s Ritz.

If Republicans have been foolish and arrogant in refusing to accept a message from the voters, Ritz and her backers in the teachers’ union have been almost willfully delusional. They have interpreted her win last November as a mandate for her to assume powers over education policy a president in war time would envy.

What the Ritz crowd doesn’t get – or chooses to ignore – is that last November’s election wasn’t anything like a mandate for her.

What the voters did last fall was reject Tony Bennett, her Republican predecessor as state school superintendent. Voters didn’t like Bennett’s arrogance, his refusal to give any consideration to the views of anyone who didn’t agree with him completely and his impatient haste to disregard any information that might not support his approach to education.

Ritz was the instrument voters could use to register their opposition to Bennett. She was a handy club voters could use to beat a man they didn’t like and, in some cases, even despised.

But that doesn’t mean that the voters had any particular devotion to the club they used. Last year’s vote was more about Bennett than it was about Ritz.

It certainly wasn’t a groundswell of support to make Ritz into some sort of Bennett-in-reverse education czar.

The reality is that Hoosiers remain divided about education policy. They know they want good schools for their children, but they also want to know that the people responsible for their children’s futures have more on their minds than winning ideological or partisan battles. Hoosiers want to see the people in charge of the state’s schools work together.

The fact that the people charged with the responsibility for educating their children – and preserving their futures – are behaving like three-year-olds at a day care who have been fed too much sugar and denied their nap times isn’t likely to reassure Hoosiers that their kids are in good hands.

This is a situation that calls out for leadership.

The question is: Who is going to provide it?

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 FM Indianapolis and publisher of, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.


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  1. “And then there’s Ritz.” ???

    Here Krull proceeds not to discuss Ritz, but rather to further skewer republicans and Tony Bennett:


    “If Republicans have been foolish and arrogant in refusing to accept a message from the voters,…”

    ” Voters didn’t like Bennett’s arrogance,….”

    ” She was a handy club voters could use to beat a man they didn’t like and, in some cases, even despised.”


    The truth of the matter is that the Indiana State Teachers Association, one of the largest lobbies in the State, pulled of a well orchestrated coup using media equipment and training paid for by the taxpayers in their effort to defeat Superintendent of Public Education Tony Bennett.

    Taxpayers have spent untold millions on media equipment for schools that has in fact created a network that reaches into every community in Indiana.

    ISTA members have full access to all of this media equipment and used it to their advantage to unseat Bennett. I can not imagine how one would ever be able to police the use of all of these publicly owned computers and i Pads.

    To get back to the real issue here, in the arena of ideas, I believe that the public likes the idea of vouchers, as the ever increasing number of users shows. I also firmly believe that citizens like the A-F grading system that was the staple of our public education until the volume of social promotions made the A-F system a standing joke that had to morph into something of another nature, as A-F grades and social promotions can not exist side by side.


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