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Ds and Rs rally for school 'reform'

Who says there's no bipartisanship these days? The Obama administration might be under attack by Indiana pols working to undermine the new federal health care law, but it still found time to reach out to Gov. Mike Pence and former Gov. Mitch Daniels to congratulate them on their so-called school reform results.

The calls were placed last week by Obama's secretary of education, Arne Duncan, and confirmed by a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education.

Why would a Cabinet member for the Democratic administration reach out to Republican state officials hostile to virtually every other measure undertaken by the White House? Because corporate-driven ed reform knows no party labels. Duncan would be perfectly comfortable in a Chris Christie administration; he would be more than comfortable in a Jeb Bush administration.

If Hoosiers are worried about federal overreach in health care, they should be outraged over Duncan's meddling in Indiana school policy. His attaboy calls to Pence and Daniels are an endorsement of destructive measures their two adminstrations have foisted on the state's public schools. To suggest that Indiana's NAEP scores are the result of the charter- and voucher-focused reform we've seen here is naive at best. Machiavellian is a better description.

IU researcher Peter Kloosterman has been studying NAEP scores for much longer than Arne Duncan and isn't beholden to the wealthy campaign contributors -- to both Dems and Republicans -- fueling the reform push.

Superintendent Glenda Ritz's critics want to convince the public that union-backed politics are to blame for the education battle at the Statehouse. But Ritz's election was never about partisan politics. She won big a year ago in spite of being a Democrat and union member. Hoosier voters have repeatedly chosen educators over politicians to direct state school policy.

Indiana lawmakers are inevitably at work on legislation to ensure they won't be able to choose next time. By making the state superintendent post an appointed position, they will guarantee politics rule Indiana education policy.

Before next November, voters should study the politics involved. They soon will see that money, not party labels, is the real force at play -- whether it's the Statehouse or the White House.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at kfrancisco@jg.net.

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