We suppose it would have tested the limits of political expediency for Gov.-elect Mike Pence to have admitted, when asked by reporters, that Tony Bennett’s 6-percent loss to little-known political newcomer Glenda Ritz in the State Superintendent of Public Instruction race on Tuesday was a rebuke of the Daniels-Bennett re-imagining of Indiana’s school landscape.
Even though it was exactly that.
Teachers — and more than a few administrators and astute school patrons — turned out to make Bennett a one-termer by 130,000 votes, a margin 50,000 votes larger than Pence’s winning edge over Democrat John Gregg.
Admittedly, when Ritz first passed through Terre Haute a few months ago, we gave her little chance of displacing Bennett, given the Republican dominance in state government. But grassroots organizing — dare we say classroom to classroom — and social media tools Facebook and Twitter spread the word and urged teachers, their families and friends to vote for Ritz. It worked. In Vigo County, it worked to the tune of nearly 25,000 votes for Ritz to just more than 14,000 for Bennett. Ritz also won in Clay, Greene, Parke, Sullivan and Vermillion counties.
Some of Bennett’s initiatives were needed and should be retained, but gone will be his acerbic attitude that came across as an attack on the front line of our public education system — teachers.
Those teachers need a superintendent who comes directly from the classroom as Ritz does. A superintendent who can challenge teachers toward excellence without tying them to overtesting and structures that may serve the sacred cow of accountability, but may not necessarily serve the cause of educating today’s youth.
Bad teachers need to be marginalized or eliminated, but so many more — so many! — teachers work hard at a job that they care about passionately and for which they are grossly underpaid.
And now the Republican-turned-Democrat Ritz faces the large task of altering the course in an environment in which she will be surrounded by Republicans in control of the governor’s office and both the Indiana House of Representatives and Senate. That will make it doubly tough to slow down, if not reverse, some of what Bennett and Daniels leave behind — especially because Pence seems to buy everything Daniels has done.
We wish Ritz well and congratulate her on her victory.