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Web letter by Janet Stedman Gibson: Opposition stalls Ritz in needed school reforms

As a long-time Indiana voter and supporter of public education, I am angry.

The media in Indiana and beyond have carried story after story about unethical education practices by Tony Bennett and his staff when they had control of the Indiana Department of Education.

Now we have an intelligent, informed educator, Glenda Ritz, serving as superintendent of public instruction, and she is being undermined in her attempts to improve learning for all children, reduce unnecessary testing, and offer outreach support to struggling schools instead of closing them and turning them over to for-profit corporations.

Who is sabotaging her efforts? Our governor, many of our legislators and most of the members of the State Board of Education.

Gov. Mike Pence talks about providing the best education for Indiana’s children, but he promotes vouchers, which take money away from many of our neediest students and put it into the accounts of private (often religiously affiliated) schools where it is out of sight of the taxpaying public. Pence supports the A-F grading of schools, the unfair system that got Bennett into trouble. This is not accountability. It’s resegregation. Many of our legislators support these ideas and have continued or expanded the misguided programs that former Gov. Mitch Daniels and Bennett pushed.

Now, with Pence’s help, the State Board of Education (made up of Daniels and Pence appointees) is poised to hire its own staff using money that should be controlled by the DOE and Ritz. They need to step back and let Ritz do her job.

During the recent State Board of Education meeting, Dan Elsener and some other members of the board were condescending and disrespectful to Ritz, interrupting her proposal to revamp the pass/fail IREAD-3, a test that is often traumatic for students and not instructionally useful for their teachers. She tried patiently to explain that testing reading growth periodically throughout elementary school would tell far more than a single high-stakes test. It would present a more accurate overall picture of literacy progress statewide and allow for earlier specific intervention, which research shows is more effective.

Elsener was determined to cut off her presentation and to maintain the status quo, which uses a test that tells little beyond pass/fail and results in repetition of the already-unsuccessful (for children who fail) third grade curriculum. I am saddened that such disrespect for our only elected officer on this board was on display at this meeting.

Ritz deserves our thanks and support for all that she is so intelligently and respectfully trying to do for the students of Indiana. And, voters take note, the elected officials (as well as their appointees) who are undermining her work should be removed from office as soon as possible.

JANET STEDMAN GIBSON

Fort Wayne

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