Commentary: Somebody in government needs to be the grownup


By John Krull

John Krull, publisher,

John Krull, publisher,

INDIANAPOLIS – The latest squabble between Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz and, oh, well, just about every Republican in the state raises an intriguing question.

Commentary button in JPG - no shadowIs there one single sane functioning adult to be found at work anywhere at any level of state or federal government?

Ritz, a Democrat, filed suit Tuesday against the state Board of Education, all of the members of which had been appointed by Republican governors. Ritz argued that the board violated the state’s open door law by drafting and sending to Republican legislative leaders a letter last week urging them to take the controversial A-F school grading process out of her hands.

Ritz said that the board members didn’t even tell her about the letter, even though she’s supposed to be the board’s chair.

This Indiana playground donnybrook follows on the heels of a federal government shutdown that stretched on for more than two weeks, drained $24 billion out of the economy and slowed job growth across the country. That shutdown and resulting economic disaster came as a result of carefully thought-out strategy by tea party Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.

The right-wingers’ finely tuned plan was to stamp their feet and hold their breath until the rest of the country gave them their way.

This battle over who controls education policy is every bit as mature as the shutdown fight was.

At the heart of this kindergarten tussle is an inconvenient election – for Republicans and self-proclaimed education reformers, anyway.

Last fall, Ritz defeated a heavily favored and heavily funded incumbent, Tony Bennett. Bennett was one of the darlings of the education reform movement, a fire-breather in favor of school choice, standardized school and teacher assessments and market-driven approaches to learning in general.

Bennett’s defeat was such an unwelcome development for the school choice and accountability crowd – in part because it undermined one of their basic arguments, namely that their approach was what the people wanted – that they pretty much decided to pretend it never happened.

Ever since Ritz got elected, the state’s Republican hierarchy has worked to ignore the new superintendent or thwart her if the circumstances didn’t allow them to ignore her.

The fact that, in addition to ignoring or thwarting her, they also were ignoring or thwarting the majority of the voters who placed her in office seems not to have occurred to the GOP deep thinkers and their appointees.

They have continued on their course even after a series of stories by the Associated Press revealed that, before he left office, Bennett altered the assessment process of the A-F school grading system to get the outcome he wanted for a specific school, one he had touted as a model for his approach to education. That revelation delivered a devastating blow to Bennett’s career and reputation and forced state officials to re-examine the whole A-F system.

When the revelations about Bennett’s manipulation of school grading system hit, Republicans and Democrats settled into another protracted set of squabbles. Republicans blamed Ritz for leaking the information that damaged Bennett and the A-F system. Democrats did their best to make Bennett the poster boy for everything bad in schools, state government and life in general.

The partisan pushing, shoving and jostling now have exploded into a full-scale playground brawl.

In addition to sending the signal to parents all over Indiana that their children will not be under anything resembling adult supervision as long as these leaders are on the job, the suit creates other interesting problems.

Attorney General Greg Zoeller, for example, makes it a point of pride to say that he is the state’s lawyer. Who does he line up with on this one – the schools chief elected by the voters or the state board of education appointed by the governor?

Zoeller refused to comment on the suit when it broke and may be looking for a way to sit this fight out, but others likely won’t be able to do so.

Thoughtful Hoosiers doubtless will ponder what all these folks could accomplish on behalf of the state’s students if they spent half – nay, a quarter – as much time and energy on improving kids’ learning experiences as they do trying to stick it to each other.

But that would require someone in a leadership position to show some maturity.

That, too, raises a question: Who’s going to be the grown-up, perhaps the only one around, in state government?

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.


  1. Krull and Shabazz should get together and figure out which one is lying about Bennett.

    Shabazz would seem to have it right:

    but Krull keeps pouring forth his screed. Why? Because he can, and because he is a liberal.

    This should give readers some indication of what his “statehouse report” is all about. When the democrats are in control there is never a discouraging word. When the republicans are in control its a balls to the wall constant smear campaign.

    EDITOR why do you give this man a platform?


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