Ritz blames Pence, CECI for "undermining" her leadership

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz today ripped Gov. Mike Pence’s Center for Education and Career Innovation, saying it is “determined to undermine our work” at the Indiana Department of Education, and charged that the State Board of Education’s proposed actions Wednesday could threaten Indiana’s standing with federal education officials.

“The Board has made it clear that they will not listen to me or the department,” she said in a statement. “I have asked that the governor remove this resolution from consideration tomorrow before our schools and students suffer the consequences.“

A different resolution on the board’s agenda for Wednesday that would create a board committee to consider a proposal that would shift authority for determining when and where the board meets from Ritz to CECI and allow board members to appeal any ruling she makes during the meeting has already drawn the ire of Ritz’s allies, including the Indiana State Teachers Association.

But the board on Wednesday will also reconsider a resolution that prompted the latest debate over who has more authority to guide state education policy, Ritz and the education department or Pence and CECI.

On June 23, Ritz refused to allow a vote on a resolution board member Brad Oliver offered that addressed Indiana’s status with the U.S. Department of Education.

Oliver and others complained that they felt Ritz’s team failed to provide information to the board in a timely manner about her answer to a request from federal officials about how the state would keep promises it made in 2012 in return for a waiver from sanctions under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Oliver said the board wanted to clarify for federal officials that it opposed a suggestion from Ritz to allow a one-year reprieve for Indiana schools from the consequences that accompany A to F school grades, such as the possibility of state takeover for those who earn six straight F grades.

Oliver argued the grades and accountability were required by state law. In addition, the resolution suggests the state board would not agree in advance to any changes Ritz might propose to state tests.

Ritz’s supporters saw the resolution as an attack on her work to reassure federal officials that the state would not violate the terms of its waiver. But today Ritz said the resolution could actually harm Indiana’s chances of keeping the waiver.

“Let me be clear,” Ritz said. “If passed, this resolution will place our waiver in serious jeopardy. This resolution unfairly questions the honesty and capacity of my administration to implement the waiver and may result in ramifications from Washington.”

A U.S. Department of Education spokesman could not be immediately reached for a response. But CECI rejected the notion that the state board was harming the waiver effort.

“It’s unfortunate these discussions couldn’t have taken place earlier as requested by the board on multiple occasions,” CECI spokeswoman Lou Ann Baker said in  a statement. “The board has every confidence that U.S. Department of Education will review the (Indiana) Department of Education’s proposal on its merits as submitted.”

Ritz said she strongly favors keeping the waiver but blamed Pence’s appointees for obstructing her efforts.

“Unfortunately, the governor-appointed State Board of Education and his separate education staff appear determined to undermine our work,” she said.

Federal officials sent Ritz a letter in May giving 60 days for her to explain how Indiana would address areas of concern about the waiver.

NCLB, signed in 2002, requires state to establish testing and accountability systems to raise all children to proficiency in math and English. But test score growth expectations in NCLB that many states complained were unrealistically tough led President Obama’s administration to permit “waivers” from some of those rules.

Indiana was approved to use its own A to F school grading system for accountability under the waiver and pledged to adopt Common Core academic standards to meet a requirement to follow standards that would produce graduates who are “college and career ready.”

Among the concerns federal officials wanted Indiana to address is how its new standards will ensure college and career readiness now that the state legislature has voided its adoption of Common Core.

The letter also raised questions about whether Indiana was adequately overseeing and supporting schools that are identified as poor performers, and Ritz’s critics blamed her for what they said was poor state education department oversight.

Ritz’s team submitted its response by the June 30 deadline and is awaiting word on how it was received.