October 30, 2013

Schools head plans to go ahead with lawsuit

Ritz hopes to push early learning, lower mandatory age.

By Sue Loughlin For the Pharos-Tribune

---- — TERRE HAUTE — Indiana¹s state superintendent of public instruction, Glenda Ritz, told the Tribune-Star Tuesday that she is continuing her pursuit of a lawsuit against other members of the state Board of Education for alleged violation of the Open Door Law.

"Currently, that is my decision," she said in a telephone interview, several hours after she had visited Terre Haute to speak to the Rotary Club.

She filed the suit last week, alleging the board violated state law by secretly drafting a letter to top lawmakers asking them to have legislative analysts calculate A-to-F grades for schools instead of having her department make those calculations.

The action was taken without her knowledge, she said. She chairs the state Board of Education.

Attorney general Greg Zoeller has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, and four state board of education members asked her to drop the suit. Despite the lawsuit, she continues to prepare for next week's meeting of the education board on Nov. 8.

Asked if the lawsuit would create difficulties in her working relationship with the board, she said, "I plan to conduct business at the State Board of Education meeting as I have always conducted business — in a professional manner, moving through the agenda and getting decisions made."

She does not believe the lawsuit and strained relationship with the state board will affect decisions that need to be made regarding education policy in Indiana, she said. "I'm hoping we're about decisions based on what is on the agenda."

She said she hopes the conflict does not adversely affect public education in Indiana. "I hope that common sense prevails," she said. Ritz said she will continue to "work on decisions that are good for kids."

Asked if she would run for superintendent again, knowing the challenges she would face from Republican board members, legislative leaders and the governor, she said the superintendency "is a good fit for me." She described herself as "a strong education leader." Ritz is a Democrat.

During her address to the Downtown Terre Haute Rotary Club, she focused on several themes: the importance of literacy and early learning; the need for more flexibility in Core 40 and a balanced curriculum; and her belief that students spend too much time undergoing unnecessary assessments.

Teachers today "are teaching to the test most of the time," she said. Commenting on ISTEP, she said, "Any fifth-grade teacher that knows their curriculum and knows their students could tell you before we ever spend $25 million on ISTEP which kids are not going to pass. We know that already."

Assessments are necessary to see where kids are performing and where they need to improve — but there's too much of it, she said.

Also, she hopes there will be a push for more early learning in Indiana, including lowering the age for mandatory school attendance. In Indiana, it is age 7, "way far behind other states," she said.

When children enter first grade and they¹ve not attended kindergarten or a quality pre-school and have not had home support, "They are two years behind when they enter our doors," she said. "We spend all of our time trying to catch them up."

She also talked about the importance of reading — and more of it.

"Literacy in my personal opinion is the most important thing we can be doing," she said. It¹s not just about teaching kids to read, "It's about making sure kids are always reading. It can't stop."

Nowadays, young people don't do enough reading outside of school, she said. "They have to. It can't all happen within the time we have them in our classroom," she said.

It has to be ingrained in them and they need to be able to make choices about what they read so they will want to, she said.