Fix education ‘roof’ before heavy storm

New Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb and new Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick will take office in January. That means everybody should finally be on the same education page after four years of stubborn head-butting.

They will have a lot on their plates, including what to do about replacing the hated ISTEP test and how to stop so many teachers from leaving the profession. They would do well to add one topic that needs a thorough, candid and nonpartisan discussion: whether to change the superintendent’s position from an elective office to an appointive one. The idea has been toyed with a time or two but never seriously considered.

It’s like the old line about the roof never getting fixed: You can’t fix the roof when it’s raining, and when it’s not raining, it doesn’t need to be fixed. When the governor and superintendent belong to the same party, there is no perceived need to change. When they don’t, as during the past four years, people don’t want to change because it would look political. So the system, like the roof, never gets fixed.

But we’ve seen how dysfunctional the education establishment has become under Republican Gov. Mike Pence and Democratic Superintendent Glenda Ritz. Partly the problem is a difference in educational philosophies, especially when it comes to things like school choice and teacher accountability.

But part of the discord has been plain old politics.

And the superintendent’s office is one of those that doesn’t always go predictably with the same party, so what we have seen in the last four years we could see again.

Other states have come to realize this potential, for gridlock so they’ve made changes. At one time, 70 percent of states elected the superintendent.

Now it’s down to 24 percent, according to governing.com. Indiana is one of only eight states in which superintendents are still popularly elected on a partisan basis.

In four others, they are popularly elected on a ballot that, officially at least, is nonpartisan. In 16 states, the chief officer is appointed by the governor.

And in the remaining 22 states, they are chosen by the state school board or, in Oregon, by the state’s Education Investment Board.

It’s not apparent, but our education system has a leaky roof. Let’s talk about fixing it before the next rain comes.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association.