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September 14, 2013

Ritz's education shake up

Ritz calls for investment in teachers, young learners, better communication

TERRE HAUTE — A growing divide between the state Superintendent of Public Instruction and the state Board of Education — as well as the creation of a new agency that deals with education — is affecting communication between those parties, Glenda Ritz said during a visit to Terre Haute on Friday.

“It’s affecting communication. It leads to more miscommunication,” said Ritz, Indiana’s superintendent of public instruction, when interviewed by reporters. “It’s starting to feel as if we have an agency overseeing an agency.”

She was referring to Gov. Mike Pence’s recent creation of the new Center for Education and Career Innovation, an agency that includes the state Board of Education, although the board will function independently. The state Board of Education’s budget will be directed through the new center.

On Friday, Ritz said that ever since the state Board of Education was created, it’s not had its own budget under the governor’s office, nor has it had its own staff separate from DOE. It’s “challenging” to work with the new, changing system, she said.

The intent of the new agency is to make sure students graduate with the skills they need to enter the workforce, Pence has said.

Ritz is a Democrat who defeated Republican Tony Bennett last fall. The state board has been appointed by Republican governors Mitch Daniels and Mike Pence.

Also recently, the 10-member state board voted unanimously to embark on a strategic planning process without providing Ritz advance notice.

While challenges exist, Ritz said the DOE “is committed to working with its goals and making sure we accomplish what we want to accomplish for the state of Indiana … we have several things we’re working on, from standards to assessments to a new accountability system.”

Ritz had no comment when asked about news reports indicating that Bennett, while state superintendent, instructed his DOE staff to do election campaign work and kept campaign databases on DOE servers.

After meeting with reporters Friday, Ritz spoke to the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce and later visited programs at Terre Haute South Vigo High School, West Vigo Elementary and West Vigo High School. At the high schools, she toured the Career/Technical Education (CTE) programs.

In introducing her at the Chamber gathering, Vigo County Schools Superintendent Dan Tanoos said, “She is an advocate for education. She is an advocate for us … She understands what it’s all about.”

One of her goals is to change Indiana’s testing model from a pass/fail remediation approach to a growth model, where questions increase or decrease in difficulty based on a student’s prior answer.

ISTEP-plus only lets educators know whether a student is performing at a specific grade level. A growth model would show where students are performing, with a pre-K bottom “and no ceiling,” she said. It would show educators if students are behind several grade levels or if their skills are several grade levels ahead.

While she believes in accountability, Ritz is opposed to labeling, using the A-to-F grading system. “When we label schools, we decrease opportunities for students in our schools,” she said. “A 3.7 in an F school is never going to be looked at the same as a 3.7 from an A school.”

Ending the A-to-F grading system would require a change in law.

Ritz told the gathering of business people and educators how important it is for the Legislature to provide funding to DOE for teacher professional development. Currently, none is provided. “I know of no other business … that does not invest in professional development,” she said. There is much need for teacher training, especially in the area of mathematics, she said.

Ritz also would like to see more flexibility for high school students to pursue “pathways” based on their career interests. Right now, the Core 40 curriculum is “very rigid” in outlining what courses students must take, she said.

She gave the example of a student who loves pottery and knows that is what he or she wants to do for a living. Ritz would like to see the student take classes to advance that goal. That student will be an entrepreneur, she said, and should be taking classes in business and math and studying marketing and web design.

“All kids deserve pathways,” she said. At the same time, all students — whether career or college-bound — need to master the same literacy and math requirements, she said.

While meeting with reporters, Ritz was asked to comment on a proposal by Democratic State Sen. Tim Lanane to provide and fund pre-kindergarten education statewide.

“Early learning is very important,” Ritz said. “We need to have some earnest conversation about early learning. We’re one of just a handful of states in the nation that does not have early learning programming at the state level.”

She said she’s excited about the prospect of the Legislature discussing the proposal during a future session.

In the meantime, “We’re having quite a bit of dialogue amongst agencies at the state level and private partners to talk about how we can work together to get some pre-K programs in place,” Ritz said.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

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