If Only Someone Had Covered the Race for Superintendent of Public Instruction

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When people ask me to explain why I am so frustrated about the last election cycle, both nationally and here at home in Montana, they’re surprised to learn that I am not most frustrated and alarmed by the results, but the coverage of the races. As dangerous and threatening as the prospect of Donald Trump being President is, that’s a temporary harm. The long-term threat we face is much more profound, a media environment in which candidates can get elected to office without the public knowing anything about their views on critically important issues. Trump is unlikely to last even four years in the White House, but the future of media coverage is a more enduring concern, one that shows little sign of improvement.

Here in Montana, that lack of coverage was nowhere more evident than in the coverage of the Tier B races. Other than random stories about legislators who kill dogs or poach game, the media has largely given up on coverage of the Legislature, even when white supremacists are running with the financial support and endorsement of the state’s leading GOP officials, but there has always been some coverage of the Tier B races beyond self-serving candidate profiles and endorsements. In this cycle, that simply wasn’t the case, as Montana voters went to the polls and voted in those races with less information than they have ever been provided for these critical offices.

The latest news from the Superintendent of Public Instruction underscores that concern. She announced over the weekend that she is likely to phase out one of Denise Juneau’s signature programs, the Graduation Matters initiative. The release from her office offered little explanation for the change, other than to, without evidence, assert that “the program had very few strings or accountability measures tied to the money to begin with.”

One of the best measures of accountability is success, and the truth is that Graduation Matters has been an unqualified success. Since its inception, graduation rates in Montana have increased 6%, which means that 500 students a year have an opportunity to not only be productive members of the economy, but better-developed humans, with more potential to achieve their dreams. It leveraged private dollars, engaged communities and schools, and showed students the importance of working to get their diplomas.

And that’s why the press matters—and largely failed to do their jobs in this cycle. Given the importance of graduation rates, its central role at OPI, and Melissa Romano’s support for the program, voters should have been informed about Ms. Arntzen’s views and her plans, just as they should have been informed about her position on the Common Core and other critical issues her office will deal with.

The media seems, almost collectively, to have decided that the lesson to be learned from the last election is the danger of “fake news” but I think that’s too simplistic a narrative. The deeper problem isn’t the kind of terrible news that gets shared on social media, but the absence of deep, critical coverage in our local papers and the fake news of candidate questionnaires masquerading as coverage.

The voters who decided in November to put Ms. Arntzen in office were never told what she intended to do in office, just as they weren’t really informed in the other Tier B races. That’s a damn shame for the kids who Ms. Arntzen will oversee in her new job and for the future of an informed electorate, and there’s nothing “fake” about that news.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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Lynette
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Lynette

Just a question, where did you see or hear that she is phasing out Graduation Matters?

Jack
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Jack

“The voters who decided in November to put Ms. Arntzen in office were never told what she intended to do in office…” – Since when does that matter to party-first, ignore-the-rest voters?

Nicky
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Nicky

THOUGHTFUL article. Thank you for pointing out the less obvious problem with the press…the lack of press. Unfortunately, here in the capital city the newspaper has been a laughing stock for over a decade. So, even if there were coverage, it’s doubtful that enough people would have seen it to make a difference. On a personal level, with MINIMAL knowledge on the issues I could. Not. Beeeeeelieve that Melissa Romano didn’t win that election. When I asked my social media friends a sincere “please tell me why you didn’t vote for Melissa”, the answer was overwhelmingly…”we don’t like the current… Read more »

Randal
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Randal

I have noted that our democratic republic’s demise is directly due to the saturation of amusement and entertainment into our mainstream media. Investigative journalism is now for sale to the highest bidder and the so called Citizens United has legitimized it all.

GW
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GW

It is so typical of liberals to cite every one of their policies as a success. Instead of reporting on Arntzen’s actual policies, they whine about how the media doesn’t pay enough attention to your crappy candidates. Maybe it’s because intelligent Montanans don’t believe the crap that liberals feed them. The problem with education is it has nothing to do with students and everything to do with teachers and teacher’s unions. Rarely, if ever, are student’s needs put ahead of teachers, despite the fact that MT students are the future.

LK
Guest
LK

Someone is feeding you, Snowflake? Uh huh. I see that now. We libs are feeding you crap. Well, you know what they say. You are what you eat! Kinda holds true, don’t it? I offer up exhibit A. YOU!

John Lowder
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John Lowder

The author provides himself as a prime example of why the school system is failing and why Donald Trump won the election. His views are disconnted from reality. Im sure hes been feeding from the liberal news teet and has no clue what real Americans feel and deal with daily. An old saying “those that can, do. Those that can’t, teach” .

LK
Guest
LK

Louder John wrote, “The author has no clue what real Americans feel and deal with daily”. Jonny, I really must ask, nay, demand to know what YOU deal with daily that the rest of us don’t, cupcake. Ya see, jonny, you’ve placed yourself in an untenable position. Well, laughable really. You’ve made yourself appear to be an expert on “daily dealings” that YOU alone are privy to. Now, I’m asking you defend that statement! Can you do it? WHAT daily dealies don’t we libs understand that YOU do? Too funny. I await your response, for I haven’t had a good,… Read more »

LK
Guest
LK

p.s. And jonny, sorry to be so harsh, but here in Montana, intellectual deplorable is an oxymoron unlike where you’re from in Duck Dynasty land! Any deplorable down that’a way that can read and cipher is as regular Einstein, right??? Where you from anyway, son? Alabama? Obviously you’re not a Montana native!

MG
Guest
MG

Because I am a teacher, you don’t think that I can do anything else in life. I chose to be an educator here in Montana because I wanted our children to make a difference in life and I do that by teaching them right and wrong. I guess you did not learn that in school

Bonnie Speare
Guest

Over 70 Billings teachers, including myself, signed a letter to the editor detailing why Elsie should not be elected to supt at OPI. A reporter from the Gazette contacted the principle authors of the letter and wanted to set up a round table discussion regarding our letter. Somehow the meeting fell through and never took place. We Billings educators could have told them once again how unqualified she was for this position. We saw first hand how she lacked in the skill set to do the job. I personally contacted her during the last legislative session regarding education bills urging… Read more »

DGF
Guest
DGF

I really don’t think you can lay this all on lack of press coverage. The Montana Democratic Party really had little interest in so called B tier candidates and did little to support them. It was pointed out early and often by some very good Montana bloggers that once those primary results came in with 30,000 plus votes in favor of all 4 GOP candidates the demos were in trouble. But we were assured don’t worry the demos and the Native Americans will turn out in the general. Then party elites threw everything they had behind Bullock because that is… Read more »

Pete Talbot
Admin

So tell me DGF, what would you do differently? Who would you like to see as the Dem. candidate for the special election? I’m seriously interested.

DGF
Guest
DGF

I’ve was raised in a very democratic family in eastern Montana in the 50’s and 60’s. I am soon to be 69. I am a Vietnam Veteran and a retired nurse. My family including I still own the family farm and ranch that has been in our family over 100 years. I lived in Poplar for 25 years ,married a Native American and all 5 of my children are enrolled members of the Ft.Peck Sioux Tribe. I moved to the mountain side 19 years ago for work. I was a member of the Montana Farmers Union for years. My family… Read more »

Pete Talbot
Admin

I appreciate your insight, DGF. A couple of thoughts, though. First, Sen. Jon Tester is a Democrat and you don’t get more rural/farmer/rancher than him. One would think he’d be a good example of a Democrat representing rural interests and that he would also be a good spokesman for the party. I agree that 50 years of Native American policy hasn’t changed the lives of Natives that much. But again, Denise Juneau, a Democrat, would have worked hard on those issues. Basically, I agree with most of what you say — that Democrats need to do a lot more outreach… Read more »

James Conner
Guest

Pete, Rob Quist is not part of the Democratic Establishment, and in that sense, he’s an outsider. But he’s still a Democrat — and a Democrat with a rare ability to make a cultural connection with rural voters. That’s no small virtue given the Democratic Party is contracting into an urban identity politics party that is alien and unwelcome to voters in the countryside. Amanda, for all her charm and savvy, cannot expand the map like Quist can.

Eric
Guest
Eric

All the media coverage in the State wasn’t going to stop the perfect storm that was the 2016 elections.

I saw this piece over at the Politico the other day, and it’s a long, but good read;

http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/01/democrats-trump-administration-wilderness-comeback-revival-214650

Pogo Possum
Guest
Pogo Possum

I am going to have to agree with James on this issue. While Curtis appears to be the current favorite among many Democrats and is being pushed by Eric Feaver, she comes with key easily exploitable flaws. Quist, as a political newcomer, has no baggage, excellent name recognition (at least for anyone over 50), enviable likability and, as James points out, can use his outsider status to expand the Democratic base.

If Democrats are smart, they will go with Quist.

Pete Talbot
Admin

You wouldn’t be throwing us a curveball here, would you Pogo? Not that I don’t trust you or anything, but I get worried when Republicans advance Quist.

Pogo Possum
Guest
Pogo Possum

No curveballs Pete, just an honest opinion. I hope your party picks Curtis and so do most Republicans. Most GOP insiders preparing for the upcoming Congressional race are expecting the Democrats to nominate Curtis and are looking forward to the treasure trove of public statements and videos Amanda has provided over the past few years. Expect to see her “I am an anarchist at heart”, anti-gun (“Really”) and derogatory comments about religion and family videos played on TV ads. While she is definitely the liberal darling for the left leaning side of Montana’s Democratic party, she will have a difficult… Read more »

Pogo Possum
Guest
Pogo Possum

On the issue of the recent Arntzen, Juneau test score dustup, the point many are missing is the report that this issue was revealed by a “whistleblower” within the OPI. While I have met Juneau and personally like her as a bright, capable and well-spoken person, she had employees within the OPI that were not happy with how the agency was being run during her term. Some of the revelations and criticisms against Juneau during the recent election came from people within her office. I know James has questioned how I knew about the DUI issue before it became public.… Read more »

Pete Talbot
Admin

Pogo, do you think there are any state agencies that don’t have a disgruntled employee or two, no matter who is in charge of that agency or who is in the administration? I can’t think of any.

Eric
Guest
Eric

I think POGO is on to something.

The State GOP would wet its pants with joy if the Dems run a ‘retreaded’ candidate, who isn’t going to have a lot of money or time to campaign.

I never could resist a good magic show – I’m popping up some popcorn, opening a coke, and I can’t wait to see how the special election shakes out.

Just coming off the Nov election, and a large GOP advantage in the house, I see the Dems (the party of the rich) sitting on their wallets on this one.

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