Republican Vice Presidential nominee Mike Pence’s record on K-12 education is so riddled with erratic and mercurial decision-making that he’s known around the Indiana State Capitol as “Governor Pencil.”* Pence assumed office as Indiana Governor in January 2013. Here are some “highlights” of what happened – or didn’t – in K-12 education under his tenure.
- Common Core. In 2010, Indiana was one of the first states to voluntarily adopt the Common Core standards. But soon after his swearing in, Pence aligned with those claiming the standards were “federal overreach,” including an opposition campaign spearheaded by two private schools. In March of 2014, Pence signed a bill ditching Common Core but almost simultaneously introduced “new” standards that actually kept 90 percent of what was in the Common Core.
- Student Performance. Indiana was a shining star when results from the 2013 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) assessments, reflective of the efforts of Pence’s predecessors as they were administered when Pence had only been in office a few months, showed Indiana outperformed National averages. In fact, no other state achieved significantly higher gains across all four 4th and 8th grade math and reading assessments. In 2015, two years into Pence’s term, Indiana NAEP scores “plateaued,” explained Mark O’Malley, Indiana’s NAEP coordinator. “The state assessment is up and down, and in the classroom it’s just so chaotic and frustrating.”
- Power plays. One year into his Governorship, Chalkbeat Indiana described Mike Pence and State Superintendent Glenda Ritz being “at war.” Pence’s attempts to disempower the Superintendent included creating “The Center for Education and Career Innovation,” which diverted funding from the Department of Education with the goal of working around Ritz’ authority. Just a year after creating the Center, Pence signed an executive order dissolving it and simultaneously called on the state legislature to repeal the law that automatically makes the elected state superintendent the Chair of the State Board of Education. Pence got the change he wanted, technically. However, Ritz was allowed to stay on to complete her term and, adding insult to injury, Pence’s authority in appointing board members was scaled back. Three years later, Ritz is still State Board Chair and State Superintendent.
- Preschool. Pence’s signature education initiative is the creation of the state’s first state-funded preschool program. But even this proved vexingly inconsistent. Pence’s original bill was defeated in committee; however, a pilot was later approved and launched in 2015, serving just 2,300 of the 40,000 children Pence had wanted. But when a potential $80 million in federal funds was made available to accelerate the program, Pence decided against applying for it. Just recently, Pence announced he’d changed his mind and has notified the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services accordingly.
- Charter schools. Pence has been friendly to public charter schools. Too friendly. Timothy P. Ehrgott, an Indiana charter founder and supporter, reported last year that in Indiana, “Charters produce half the A’s and twice the F’s of the public school system in those most-at-risk categories representing the very students they were formed to help,” and argued that policies haven’t been aggressive enough in shutting poor performers down.
Pence’s record shows he has a propensity not only to change or abandon positions when it’s politically expedient, but most concerning, he enacts policy without a deliberate thoughtfulness that considers, understands, or cares about implications for students. Perhaps Indiana State Board of Education member Gordon Hendry said it best:
“What we’re dealing with right now is a little bit of a self-inflicted wound. We’re now having to react to some of the problems, the unintended consequences that have come about based on those decisions.”
In this regard, Pence falls right in step with Trump’s superficial understanding of policy and shoot-from-the-hip, the-hell-with-the-consequences cavalier attitude on matters of great importance. Not something we need guiding education policy, much less a heart beat away from the Presidency.
* OK. We made that up.