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Debate highlights differences between Indiana superintendent candidates

Saturday, October 27, 2012 - 9:07 am

The two candidates for state superintendent of public instruction engaged in a lively debate Friday evening, detailing their positions on various topics including vouchers, standardized testing and teacher evaluations and compensation.

Current officeholder Tony Bennett and challenger Glenda Ritz answered numerous questions posed by a moderator and got to ask some of their own to their opponent, all for interested listeners of Northeast Indiana Public Radio. The event was held at NIPR's studios and sponsored by the broadcaster, IPFW and the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics.

The debate made clear the numerous differences between the two on issues, as well.

For the past four years, Bennett has been one of the leading proponents in the state of more school choice in the form of charter schools and vouchers, as well as the increased accountability of teachers using various metrics, including results of standardized testing.

Ritz, with more than 30 years of teaching experience, backs traditional public schools and teachers and prefers that the system get more support, not less. Ritz was critical of what she described as a negative atmosphere for teaching, with things like pass-fail reading tests for third-graders and frozen salaries for teachers taking the humanity out of classrooms and reducing the process to data and outcomes.

“I think voters are ready for a referendum on education,” Ritz said.

If that's the case, then here are the highlights from the debate between Bennett and Ritz:

•Bennett was consistent in explaining that teacher assessments and evaluations are part of the teaching process and that compensation is, and should be, a factor in rewarding what he termed as “the best teachers.”

•Ritz dismissed the validity of charter schools offering more choice by reminding listeners that students in public schools now have the opportunity to go to their school of choice.

•Bennett acknowledged that while some believe that poverty has the biggest negative impact on education, his personal belief is that “education breaks the poverty cycle.”

•Ritz described vouchers as “a fallacy” due to the difference in how much students are awarded and the actual tuition to schools that accept vouchers.

The two candidates also clearly disagreed on the perception of standardized testing being a metric that teachers attempt to satisfy above all else due to its potential weight on their evaluations, with Bennett saying, “I really don't see us teaching to the test in Indiana,” while Ritz, after the debate, said that “If you only have teachers and students focused on taking the tests – and that's what we have – you don't get students who learn how to think.”

The entire debate can be streamed or downloaded as a broadcast. It can be found on the Northeast Indiana Public Radio website at www.nipr.fm.

Follow Elbert Starks III on Twitter @EStarks3rd