Glenda Ritz vs. Tony Bennett for Indiana State Superintendent: What’s Interesting to Me

It’s the day before Election Day.

Believe it or not, a number of my politically and religiously conservative friends in Indiana are voting for Democrat Glenda Ritz for Indiana State Superintendent of schools, rather than Republican Tony Bennett.  (See here for a story about that race.)  Why?  A number of these friends are public school teachers, and my impression is that their problem with the right-wing Bennett is that he appears to be inflexible, in areas.  On the surface, merit pay and standardized testing look like appropriate ways to measure the success of teachers and public schools.  But that may not work so well if a teacher has a challenging group of students and thus misses out on merit pay, or if a public school’s success (or lack thereof) is measured primarily by standardized tests that take place over limited periods of time, or if the state punishes “failing” schools (through mass firings, for example) rather than working with them to see what their needs are.  Moreover, there is concern that Bennett is being influenced by people with power, money, and influence (see here), rather than allowing local communities to have more control over their own school systems.  Bennett is a strong proponent of charter schools, some of which are operated by out-of-state companies.  And Bennett hired private interests, including two for-profit companies from out-of-state, to operate low-performing schools.

Some of Ritz’s supporters note that Ritz is a strong proponent for pre-school (including for kids in poverty), early kindergarten, and professional development for teachers (which Bennett cut, according to one Ritz supporter—-but see here for more on that issue).  They deny that she is against accountability, or that she is against all testing, but they question whether Bennett’s reliance on high-stakes testing to measure public schools’ success is the best approach to take, even as charter schools and homeschoolers are not subject to rigid evaluation.

It’s refreshing to read about some of my right-wing friends supporting Ritz, as well as some of my right-wing friends at least being open-minded about whom to support.  I should probably do more reflection about why public schools are in the mess they’re in.  I’ve long blamed the teachers, but there are probably a variety of factors: students from broken homes, parents who don’t care, short attention spans among students, etc.  I believe in accountability, but perhaps some measures are too draconian and driven by ideology rather than pragmatism, and so alternative measures should be taken, as schools and administrators work together to come up with ideas about how to meet schools’ needs and to make teachers more effective. 

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