Indiana Moves to Fix Failing Schools Faster, Ritz Balks

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Recommendations have been approved by the Indiana State Board of Education that will permit earlier intervention in low-performing schools and, in the process, will further usurp the authority of schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz.

At this time, the Indiana law requires the state board to intervene when a school receives an “F” grade for six years in a row. Now, an intervention can occur after a school receives a “D” or “F” for four years in a row, reports the Associated Press.

Oversight of the federal turnaround school funds has been transferred from the Indiana Department of Education to the state board.  Ritz says this is an attempt to strip her of her authority and adds that there are 23 employees who are in place to handle that activity, as well as the Outreach Division for School Improvement, which is under her administration. The superintendent is the only Democrat in the administration and has been at odds with the board since taking office.

As a last ditch effort, the board decided that, if it became necessary, it would take over an entire failing school district. One school, Arlington High School, had been under outside control, but the board returned it to the control of the Indianapolis Public Schools under the condition that the district creates its own plan to improve the system.

Superintendent Ritz asked if the State Board of Education was going to become the state’s education agency in place of the Indiana Department of Education. Board members said it was more of a consolidation of efforts that are ultimately under the State Board of Education’s authority.

“I am all about this,” she told the State Board about her work on turnaround interventions. “This is my job. This is what we do at the Department of Education.”

“I have authority,” she added, and reiterated throughout the meeting. “I have full authority.”

Finally, the board voted 9-2 to approve the changes even as Ritz adamantly protested.

The changes could be the first positive adjustments to state-mandated interventions since 2011. Some of the changes include: embracing the “Transformation Zone” strategy of grouping struggling schools and providing district instigated supports;  extending a charter-like strategy in any districts with at least one failing school; supplementing federal funding with state funding to assist in areas of need like hiring and keeping talented teachers.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence announced this week in his unveiling of the 2015 “Making the Grade” speech that he was abolishing the Center for Education & Career Innovation, the controversial move he made last year in the name of driving education policy in the state. Tim Swarens, reporting for the IndyStar, says the governor closed the agency to take a step toward ending the two years of fighting over education policy issues among his staff.

Ritz regarded the CECI as an attack on her authority, so she likely sees the move as a victory.  The removal will also put the responsibility on Ritz to attempt to reconcile and bring together other education leaders and officials. Pence is giving the State Board of Education the authority to elect their own chair, which will probably move Ritz out of that position.

Another controversial announcement from Pence was his plan to ask the legislature to increase school funding to boost per-student spending for charter schools. Asking for this $10 million a year will take away from the possibility to expand support for preschool, however. He is also planning an effort, “Freedom to Teach”, which will allow schools to obtain more flexibility in paying teachers based on job performance. The governor also wants to increase the number of students who attend A- or B-grade schools by 100,000 by 2020, and to increase the number of students who graduate from high school with industry-recognized certification from 4,000 to 20,000 by 2020.

Other announcements in the governor’s education agenda announcement included rewarding K-12 schools for student achievement, removing the cap on Choice Scholarships and expanding the related tax credit, reports WTVW-TV. He also shared that $30 million in teacher bonuses will be distributed to thousands of Indiana teachers this month.

“I understand what a December bonus means to Hoosier families,” said Governor Pence.