Give Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz credit for putting the initial focus of her State of the Classroom message where it belongs: on Indiana’s students.
In a video message posted to the Indiana Department of Education website, Ritz urged Hoosiers to “look beyond the school walls” and address the challenges that students face in their communities, which are reflected in the issues they encounter in school.
“As a 34-year veteran teacher, I have never been able to meet the needs of children in my classroom from within the school walls,” she said. “I have always had children who were in need of food, clothing, adult and community support.”
Ritz said many students enter the classroom “burdened with the weight of poverty”:
- 22 percent of Indiana youth are part of families living below the poverty line, and 48 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches.
- 519,000 Indiana children live in single-parent families. Working parents “are the norm, with many adults each working two jobs to provide for their families.”
- Over 16,000 Indiana students are homeless.
- The state ranks second in the nation for teen prescription drug abuse.
- 17 percent of Indiana high-school girls report having been sexually assaulted.
“All children can learn,” she said, a line apparently added to her prepared text. “But ultimately these stresses can have a terrible impact on students’ ability to learn, especially in the area of reading, a critical life skill that opens doors of opportunity for our students.”
Ritz encouraged listeners to volunteer with the Department of Education’s Hoosier Family of Readers or with a dozen mentoring and tutoring organizations highlighted on the website. She called for candid conversation about meeting students’ needs, incorporating the views of “parents, grandparents, guardians, educators, religious and community leaders.”
Former Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett initiated the idea of annual messages to the public with his State of Education addresses urging listeners to support his policy proposals. Ritz seems to be taking the concept in a different direction, suggesting an honest and clear-eyed assessment of classroom realities should be the starting point for discussions of education.
The message on students was the first of three that will make up the State of the Classroom report, Ritz said. The next will focus on teachers.