Friday, June 14, 2013

Commentary: Test questions for Glenda Ritz

Posted By on Fri, Jun 14, 2013 at 1:48 PM

click to enlarge Cam Savage - THESTATEHOUSEFILE.COM
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By Cam Savage

Indiana's Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz has made no secret of her disdain for what she calls "high stakes testing" and is currently investigating problems that occurred with the 2013 ISTEP+ exam across the state.

With all the talk of testing as we near the midway point of her first year in office, here a few test questions of interest to Hoosiers for Superintendent Ritz.

Indiana taxpayers spend 55 percent of all state tax dollars on K-12 public schools, a higher percentage than any other state, but you have accused the legislature of not spending enough money on K-12 education. If 55 percent of all state tax dollars isn't enough, what percentage of state dollars should be spent on K-12 schools? What dollar amount would be "enough?" What should citizens expect for this investment?

You recently stated that the funding formula for Indiana schools is "really all about privatization of schools."

Indiana spends around $37 million, about .5 percent, of its annual $6.4 billion public school budget on the school voucher program. If the legislature's goal is to privatizeeducation, wouldn't you say they are doing a terrible job?

If the state's objective is to fund the education of students, why is it important for the taxpayers to pay only for the education of students who agree to attend government-run schools? Put another way, if the public interest and the public responsibility is to provide an education for all children, why should it matter to taxpayers where a given student chooses to receive that education as long as it is of high quality?

You oppose school vouchers because you say they take money away from traditional public schools, but since schools are funded on a per-pupil basis, don't schools receive less funding only if they serve fewer students?Do you support the current state policy of funding schools on a per-pupil basis? If not, how should schools be funded, and who should decide how much money schools receive from taxpayers? If schools are not funded based on the number of students they serve, what factors should be considered when determining how much taxpayer money each school corporation deserves?

Since you oppose allowing students to use vouchers to attend the private school of their choice, do you also oppose taxpayer-funded higher education subsidies like the G.I. Bill and Stafford Loan Program that permit students to use public tax dollars at private colleges and universities?

The Indiana General Assembly recently passed legislation that would give school corporations the flexibility to hire a district superintendent who does not have an education doctorate degree and traditional superintendent training obtained by a college or university school of education. As a state superintendent of public instruction who does not have a PhD or a traditional superintendent certification, do you believe you are qualified to serve as the superintendent of a school corporation in Indiana? Is U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who is the former superintendent of the Chicago Public School system, but lacks an education PhD? Are Purdue University President Mitch Daniels and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, neither of whom holds doctorate degrees in education?

Studies indicate that students who cannot read at grade level by the end of third grade will continue falling behind in other subject areas throughout their academic career.

Yet, you support doing away with the recent requirement that third grade students show proficiency in reading before being promoted to the fourth grade. Why? Do you support the social promotion of students who have not mastered basic skills in other subject areas like math and science, or do you only support passing kids who are behind in reading?

Your department recently released the Indiana High School graduation rate percentage for 2012. This is a key measure of how our system is performing, one of great interest to the public, and despite a graduation rate increase for the fifth consecutive year, this information was released in a 19-word press release that includes no quote from you or anyone in your department.

In contrast, you recently held a Statehouse press conference and issued a 300-word press release announcing your office's Facebook page and Twitter account. Why the disparity in these two important announcements? Also missing from the graduation rate announcement was any mention of schools that improved the graduation rate over the previous year or years. What factors led your department to downplay the announcement of this important statistic?

Bonus question: should the position of superintendent of public instruction be filled through appointment of the governor of State Board of Education as it is in 37 other states, or should Indiana continue to elect superintendents off public instruction?

Cam Savage is a principal at Limestone Strategies and a veteran of numerous Republican campaigns and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. He also worked at the Department of Education for former Superintendent Tony Bennett. He is a graduate of Franklin College. He can be reached at Cam@limestone-strategies.com.

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