State gets in way of doing what’s best for kids’
INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana’s top education official will not seek another term, citing a “governance structure” that gets in the way of doing “what’s best for kids.”
“When I got into this office my charge was: I want to do what’s best for kids,” said Dr. Jennifer McCormick, superintendent of public instruction. “I think back and I was so cute. I was so naive. Now that I’ve learned the governance structure, things are very complicated in Indiana.”
McCormick made her announcement just a day of releasing her legislative priorities for 2109, with student learning at the top of the list, and including improvements in the way students are assessed.
Bitter ideological clashes have dominated debate over the direction of education policy dating to the tenure of McCormick’s predecessor, Glenda Ritz. That’s due in part to the way education decisions are made.
The State Board of Education, which votes on policy, is a separate agency from the superintendent’s office. Legislative leaders and the governor’s office have considerable sway over board members. The Department of Education, on the other hand, is controlled by the superintendent’s office and is responsible for implementing board decisions.
Clashes over issues like schools vouchers and charter schools led Republicans, who dominate the Statehouse, to pass a law in 2017 that will switch the elected superintendent’s position to one that is appointed, starting in 2025
McCormick is in her first term after ousting Ritz in 2016. She said questions about her own future in the office impeded her ability to focus on the job.
“As a parent I would not be happy if my state superintendent ... were spending time on noise, and that’s simply what this has become,” she said. “For that conversation to keep coming up and suck all of our energies out, to me I’m growing very weary of that, so the best way I can help shut that down is to let people know I’m not running again.”
A Republican, she has at times been at odds with GOP statehouse leaders, including over her support for increased scrutiny of charter and voucher schools that receive state money.
Gov. Eric Holcomb said he spoke with McCormick about her decision. “I reminded her that we have more time left in this term than we’ve been here, and there’s still plenty to be accomplished,” he said in a statement.
“Dr. McCormick has given me a lot to digest as I dig into her legislative priorities. ... I told her I respect her lifetime devotion to children and education, and that we’ll take the steps necessary to ensure Indiana has the best team working together to provide the highest quality education for children.”
A day before saying she would not seek a second term, McCormick announced DOE’s legislative priorities – student learning, school improvement, and operational effectiveness. The department has accomplished a great deal in under two years, she said, but there is work to be done.
“The foundation of this work is to create a rich, innovative, and immersive educational environment that empowers our students to be successful, lifelong learners,” McCormick said, “... to ensure children have the opportunities and skills to achieve their full potential.”
Strategic Priority One focuses on learning. “Providing kids an early opportunity to learn while ensuring all K-12 students are provided an inclusive environment is pivotal to the well-being of children and Indiana’s success,” McCormick said.
She will also advocate for teacher-mentor pay, licensure flexibility and reciprocity, and a continuation of Teacher Appreciation Grants to attract and retain educators. STEM and innovative high school models will also be a focus.
The superintendent set school improvement as Priority Two, with funding and operations surrounding school safety at the top of that agenda. IHSAA coaching certification, drug-free school support, and child abuse prevention education will also get attention; along with ensuring accountability systems embrace transparency, clarity, and inclusiveness.
McCormick said an aligned assessment system is also a concern. “To further reduce testing time and align PK-12 efforts, assessment will once again be a part of the legislative discussion,” she said.
Providing essential support to individual districts is key, McCormick said, and Priority Three – operational effectiveness – focuses on increased funding; and elevation of basic tuition support, English Learners, curricular reimbursement, special education Pre-K, and assessment.
“As evidenced in districts across the state, adequate resources are essential to developing highly successful and prepared students, taught by effective educators, and supported by equipped schools in engaged communities,” she said.