Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz spoke recently to the Monroe County Democratic Women’s Caucus. (Men were allowed). Some highlights:
Ritz said the U.S. Department insists Indiana must test students on new “college and career ready” standards in 2015 to keep its waiver from the No Child Left Behind law. The new standards were just adopted by the State Board of Education, so teachers will have only about seven months to teach them before students are tested next spring.
The superintendent said staff at her Department of Education are talking with officials in Gov. Mike Pence’s office about offering more flexibility in test-based school and teacher evaluations until everyone can get up to speed on the new standards.
“I’m concerned about the accountability,” she said. “We want to figure out how to lessen the impact.”
Giving up the NCLB waiver isn’t a good option, she said. Without the waiver, most schools would fail to achieve the 100 percent proficiency for all students required by the law. That means they would lose control of spending decisions for 20 percent of the federal dollars they receive.
Ritz said she’s pleased with the work of a state Accountability System Review Panel, which includes 13 educators among its 17 members and was charged with creating new criteria for Indiana’s A-to-F school grading system.
“I’m all about a fair, transparent, strong accountability system,” she said.
Ritz said she doesn’t like using letter grades to label schools, but the grades are now required by state law. She worries, however, that a diploma from a high school that gets an F from the state will be worth less to employers than a degree from an A school.
“Students in these schools are getting less credit, and that’s just not right to me,” she said.
Asked about the status of teacher licensing, Ritz said the State Board of Education is in the process of adopting new rules, taking over a responsibility that once belonged to the state Professional Standards Board.
The current licensing controversy involves creating a career specialist permit, which would let a college graduate with three years of professional experience begin teaching without any training in educational methods or pedagogy. Ritz opposed the permit, but the board voted 6-5 to include it in proposed rules.
“I’m trying to move the conversation forward,” she said. “The conversation is not over. It’s probably not even close to being over.”
Hoosier Family of Readers
It’s easy to tell this statewide initiative to tap volunteers and community organizations to promote reading is near and dear to Ritz’s heart. Her voice brightens noticeably when she talks about it. She’s especially excited about a partnership with the Indiana National Guard.
“It’s not that we have bad parents,” she said. “We have parents who are working two or three jobs to make ends meet and they don’t have time, literally, to read to their children.”
Unlike the dry procedures and partisan politics that make up so much of the superintendent’s job, Hoosier Family of Readers is an easy step from her previous job as a school media specialist. And while those of us who obsess over policy may not want to admit it, the initiative could have a bigger impact on student learning than debates in the legislature or state board meetings.
“Literacy is the No. 1 thing we can do,” Ritz said. “And we have to have those community connections in place. These are our children.”