Bennett ethics case a fitting backdrop for Ritz-board spat

It’s an interesting coincidence that news broke of a settlement between Tony Bennett and the State Ethics Commission just as a another dispute between Glenda Ritz – Bennett’s successor as Indiana superintendent of public instruction – and the State Board of Education may be exploding.

The ethics commission opened an investigation of Bennett last year after Associated Press reporter Tom LoBianco disclosed emails that show Bennett directed staff to do political work on state time. We won’t know details until Thursday, but Bennett’s high-powered lawyers announced the deal, so it’s likely he’ll face a wrist-slap or less.

Meanwhile, Wednesday’s state board meeting could be the ugliest yet in a series marked by nearly open warfare between the elected Democratic state superintendent and the 10 board members appointed by Republican Gov. Mike Pence. On the agenda:

  • A resolution that criticizes Ritz for her handling of Indiana’s waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law and seeks to elbow her aside for purposes of responding to a federal critique.
  • A proposal to change procedures so the state board and its staff, not just Ritz, will determine the time, place and agenda items for board meetings.
  • An item that says “initiate rulemaking on accountability.” This could mean almost anything, but one possibility is prescribing how schools evaluate teachers.

Ritz’s supporters, including the Indiana State Teachers Association, have been rallying the troops to attend the meeting and back the superintendent. Ritz issued a statement on the NCLB resolution, saying she’s asked Pence to pull it and warning it “will place our waiver in serious jeopardy.” Continue reading

Glenda Ritz on NCLB waiver, accountability and literacy

Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz spoke recently to the Monroe County Democratic Women’s Caucus. (Men were allowed). Some highlights:

NCLB waiver

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.

Glenda Ritz

Glenda Ritz (Indiana Department of Education photo).

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.

School accountability

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. Continue reading

State Board of Education member visiting schools

State Board of Education member Gordon Hendry is doing a good thing by traveling around Indiana and meeting with teachers, administrators and school board members. Is he hearing what people say?

Friday he visited Bloomington High School North, from which he graduated in 1988. He met with administrators and a school board member, and talked with social studies teachers. Later, we spoke by phone about three big education issues facing the state.

Teacher evaluations

Hendry said much of the discussion at North involved state-mandated evaluations that require all teachers to be rated highly effective, effective, needs improvement or ineffective. He said the trick will be to craft evaluations that are accurate but don’t discourage teachers from collaborating.

“I don’t think I heard anyone say we don’t believe we should be accountable,” he said. “They want evaluations to be fair and to measure the right things. To me that makes sense.”

The 2011 law that required the evaluations says teachers rated needs improvement or ineffective can’t get a raise. With successive low ratings, they can be fired.

“It’s not only to identify teachers who need help,” Hendry said. “Just as important, it’s to identify teachers who are really doing an outstanding job.” Continue reading