The State Board of Education is missing a spectacular opportunity.
It has all the makings of a hit TV reality show, minus the beards and camo attire of “Duck Dynasty.” Yes, the board’s meetings are already available for viewing online (go to www.in.gov/sboe/2427.htm). But with a little editing, background music and occasional close-ups, their dysfunctionality could become fun for the whole family.
Last week’s episode found the board — with its 10 governor-appointed members and its elected member, Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz — at its intransigent best. At its Wednesday meeting, the board voted to delay the release of the “accountability” letter grades for Indiana schools. Why? Because incomplete data adversely affected the A-to-F grades of five schools, according to Associated Press and Indianapolis Star reports. The list includes charter and voucher schools, to which the board — and the school-reform movement — commit an inordinate amount of attention.
The board also voted to exempt high school test scores at Christel House Academy in Indianapolis, because it only recently added 11th- and 12th-graders to its high school. That 10-1 vote, with only Ritz objecting, will raise Christel House’s grade from a D to a B. For those of you who missed the 2012 season of “The Board,” Christel House is the school (operated by a prominent political campaign donor) that had its C raised to an A through a furious, last-minute rule change by former Superintendent Tony Bennett, causing an uproar and prompting Bennett to resign his new job as Florida’s schools chief.
Of course, as always, the board blames Ritz — the Republican-turned-Democrat who defeated Bennett — for its latest mess. “Lack of leadership,” “lack of attention to detail,” blah, blah, blah. The snafu with the five schools’ grades should have been detected by the Ritz and the Department of Education, the board contended. Instead, one of the schools, a Noblesville private school, spotted the glitch.
Thus, the board courageously halted the grades’ release until Nov. 5 (the day after the election). By then, the Legislative Services Agency will have completed its analysis of the complicated A-to-F school accredibility system that has now gotten more complicated, thanks to this newest shift of the goalposts.
That day, Nov. 5, will not mark a victory. Rather, it will solidify the overwhelming badness of the A-to-F school grade scheme. Its backers — the board, the Republican-dominated Legislature that mandated it, out-of-state reform advocates, and Governors Mitch Daniels and his successor Mike Pence — refuse to acknowledge its most ironic flaws.
In 2012 and 2014, the A-F supporters were wringing their hands over the low grades calculated for Christel House and similar schools they champion. Why? They are unequivocally convinced that the academy is exemplary, a model. Obviously, they reached that conclusion for reasons other than a state-issued letter grade. In their minds, it is an A school, regardless, and when too low a grade is assessed, they cite the ways it is “different” and round up valid reasons to dispute the C, D or F.
The 2,100 other Indiana schools could do the same thing. Year after year. Each is “different.” Parents who pick schools based on the Indiana A-to-F system are fooling themselves; those folks are better off talking with families in the district. Despite strident efforts by “The Board” to make it somehow work, its A-to-F program needs to be canceled.