Indiana has had an office of the superintendent of public instruction for more than 100 years, and the leader has always been the chairperson of the state board of education.
But in recent months, Republican Gov. Mike Pence worked to take that power away. Glenda Ritz, the Democratic superintendent of public instruction, said she couldn’t believe it.
“When I saw how much authority is now being given to the state board of education, it is very clear to me that the governor is headed toward dismantling public education,” she said Friday night during the Jackson County Democratic Party’s annual Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner at The Pines Evergreen Room south of Seymour.
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“Giving authority over to the state board of education — a centralized, unelected, appointed board — to give oversight of our education system, it just can’t happen,” she said.
Soon after she heard the news, Ritz was at a news conference, and she was asked about running for governor. She had a quick response.
“I said, ‘Absolutely nothing is off the table now,’” she said, drawing a round of applause from Friday’s crowd.
“When you’re dealing with a party who is bound and determined to do things like that, you have to stand up for your principles, and you have to stand up for what you believe is right,” she said.
Ritz didn’t announce her candidacy Friday night, but she let everyone know that she is considering it. She said there is a lot of work going on to finish out the school year, and she will have to talk everything over with her family.
“My decision will be based upon what I feel I can do to champion the education cause for the children and the families in the state of Indiana because the well-being of our state actually depends on it,” she said.
Ritz then turned the crowd’s attention to the work going on in the state to educate children. The three main areas are standards, assessment and accountability.
Ritz said she is excited about the standards, but assessments are not where she wants them to be.
“I’m headed toward no pass-fail assessments and having growth assessments throughout the year where we really know where our kids actually perform,” she said, resulting in applause.
For that to happen, she said states need flexibility. For the first time in eight years, talk of reauthorizing No Child Left Behind is taking place, and Ritz said she is ready for Congress to get it done.
“I’m excited about that, and I want to be poised to be ready to take advantage of that as soon as it happens,” she said. “It’s our way of having flexibility in our state to move forward with what’s right for our kids.”
Ritz said when she was elected, the Indiana General Assembly was worried that she would not assign A-F accountability grades to the schools. So the first thing they did was put it into law.
She said it will take a change of people in the General Assembly to change that.
“On the outside, you say, ‘Hey, it’s a great thing that we label schools A, B, C, D and F’ until you know what it’s doing to the children, so it’s not about the schools, really,” she said.
“When you’re using test scores as one of the main measures, you’re really just talking about test scores,” she said. “You’re not talking about the great things that are going on at the schools. You’re not talking about the clientele of our children. You’re not talking about the needs that we have of wrap-around services in order to be sure they have opportunities.”
It’s labeling children, she said.
“A 3.7 grade-point average of a child in an F school will never be treated the same in postsecondary work as a student with a 3.7 from an A school,” she said. “Children should leave with what they earned, not what we impose upon the schools as a label. That’s what we’re doing to our children. I am totally against it.”
Until there is a change in the General Assembly, she said all she can do is make sure the accountability system is fair and transparent.
This past week, Ritz said the state board of education approved a rule change to go forward with a fair, transparent system in 2015-16. It’s going from three to seven or eight areas to show improvement and growth.
“I couldn’t be more excited about it because for the first time in the state of Indiana, schools will not have a punitive approach to the accountability system,” she said, again drawing applause.
“It will be all cognitive, all positive,” she said. “Every individual student will earn points for their schools for their good performance and for their growth, and it’s very important that we have that in the state of Indiana to really know and have a sense of where our students are headed.”
With all of the education issues going on in the state, Ritz said it is “absolutely vital” to elect a Democratic governor in 2016. Whether she will be on the ballot is still up in the air.
“I don’t know if I’m going to be that person stepping up to the plate,” she said. “But what I can tell you is my heart is in education, and I know that it’s the key to what we need to do as a state as a whole. We have to make sure we’re headed in good directions for what’s right for the state of Indiana.”