By DANIEL SUDDEATH
Dubbing the November election as a referendum on the course of public education, Glenda Ritz spoke about tightening charter school distinctions and instituting different teacher and student evaluation models Tuesday.
Ritz — the Democratic candidate for Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction — attempted to distinguish herself from incumbent Tony Bennett by assailing programs largely backed by the current administration including the voucher system.
“I believe that public dollars should go to public schools,” Ritz said of vouchers, which essentially allow parents a choice of where to send their children to school.
With funding already at a premium, Ritz said such programs further retract from public school resources. The Indiana Supreme Court is slated to consider the voucher program Nov. 21, as an argument has been made the system violates the state constitution.
On the day Bennett was slated to give his State of Education address in Indianapolis, Ritz addressed a small crowd at ivy Tech Community College Southern Indiana in a forum sponsored by Leadership Southern Indiana, One Southern Indiana and the News and Tribune.
Bennett is slated to appear at a forum sponsored by the organizations Oct. 24.
Ritz said she’s a proponent of greater local control in school systems, and that means addressing charter schools, vouchers and “take over” schools.
“We really need to get a handle on the approval process for charter schools,” Ritz said.
She also criticized the ISTEP+ testing model, as Ritz said it doesn’t provide a true assessment of what levels students are performing at in the classroom because it’s centered around pass or fail distinctions.
Teachers can’t always discern what curriculum their students are ready for based on current testing, as children learn at different rates and therefore need varying courses of study, Ritz said.
For example, having an entire classroom read the same book may not be applicable if each student isn’t on the same level, she said. Instead, students could each be responsible for reading a book that teaches the same lessons but may be more suitable for their comprehension level at the time, Ritz continued.
“The more you read on your own level, the faster you improve,” she said.
Ritz added she supports teacher evaluation models that provide the instructor with the opportunity to prove their skill. She criticized Bennett’s support of a plan to allow people with degrees in other fields of study beyond education to receive a teacher’s job based on their performance on two tests.
Ritz said it “won’t be very long until we have unqualified people teaching in our classrooms” if teachers without educational training are hired.
Ritz fielded questions from the group that attended the meeting as well as from LSI leaders.
One inquiry centered around her approach to bridging the achievement gap between minority and low-income students and other children.
“I think we do a terrible job of recruiting black teachers,” Ritz said.
She added there needs to be more outreach programs centered around minority and low-income students.
Though she conceded her support for Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg, Ritz insisted she would maintain autonomy from a governor’s agenda if elected.
She said Bennett hasn’t separated himself from Gov. Mitch Daniels’ platform, adding that the State Board of Education appointed by the governor is more pro private schools than public schools.
“It’s about education, it’s about children — it’s not about political partisanship,” she said of her platform.