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March 9, 2013

Ritz in Anderson to discuss education issues

Schools chief criticizes testing, grading policies

ANDERSON, Ind. — Indiana Superintendent Glenda Ritz led a panel of community leaders in a discussion of current education topics Saturday morning in the Miami Room of the Anderson Public Library.

More than 100 attended the event, sponsored by The League of Women Voters of Anderson and also featuring State Representatives Terri Austin and Sue Errington and Anderson Community Schools Superintendent Felix Chow.

Ritz, a Democrat who unseated Republican incumbent Tony Bennett in the November election, outlined an overhaul of the education system she is championing. The proposed changes include rescinding the A-through-F scale used to grade how public schools are doing and replacing it with a progressive growth-measured percentage scale. She also denounced a proposed increase in charter and private school vouchers she said are siphoning funds from public schools that need them.

The panel agreed with Ritz.

“It’s creating a three-tiered school system,” Errington said. “And it’s something taxpayers can’t afford.”

Ritz also said schools are putting too much emphasis on testing rather than educating, which engenders a pass or fail mentality. The practice discourages students from a young age and prevents real learning from happening, Ritz said.

“A growth-intervention model should be replacing this pass-fail model. I want to test true growth measures,” Ritz said. “Individualization is my passion.”

The panel panned voucher expansion bills like HB-1003 and HB-1004, currently being discussed in the general assembly. Chow said the voucher program is hitting school districts like Anderson especially hard. He also said the legality of public funds going toward private and parochial programs is questionable.

“The vouchers are the biggest issue,” Chow said. “In just this year, we have 267 voucher students in our system, and down the road this is costing the public a lot of money. And we also aren’t sure it’s constitutional.”

Austin raised concerns that charter schools funded by voucher money also aren’t subject to the same set of rules and standards as public schools.

“It’s like picking and choosing your own set of rules,” Austin said, “and I feel if you’re getting public money, you should be held to the same standards.”

Chow said Ritz’s growth evaluation approach is one he personally endorses. He said his teaching style draws heavily from the Socratic method that encourages constant learning and assessing, but not artificial testing.

“Today’s system is so industrialized, we time it by the clock,” Chow said. “It’s not true education. Not everyone learns the same or at the same rate. I always tell my students, ‘Don’t look for the answer alone, look for the process.’”

Find Jack Molitor on Facebook and @AggieJack4 on Twitter, or call 640-4883.

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