Thursday, February 5, 2015

Testimony at the State Board Meeting, February 4, 2015

by Phyllis Bush

On behalf of over 161,000 people across the country who have been following our NEIFPE Facebook page, I want to thank Superintendent Ritz for remaining focused on children and on education despite all of the legislative frenzy. As parents, grandparents, and teachers, we know how important it is to model behaviors which we think are important, and you, Superintendent Ritz, have modeled courage, and we appreciate your grace under pressure.

I have been following this recent spate of bills regarding education, and most of these appear to be thinly veiled power grabs by the State Board. Even though the target of these bills is apparently Superintendent Ritz, there are other things in these bills that are even more bothersome. These bills make fundamentally disturbing changes to education in Indiana. They don't just affect Ritz or the current Board, but all that follow.

The summary of HB 1486 states that the records of the State Board shall be kept by the State Board rather than by the state Superintendent of Public Instruction, and it provides that the SBOE will oversee the operation of the turnaround academies, will allow them to appoint the executive director of the State Board, and will allow them to employ 3rd party “experts” and “consultants" to assist the State Board in carrying out its functions.

Since the State Board is a part time, appointed job, I wonder why the SBOE would wish to develop the ISTEP tests rather than to have this completed by the Indiana Department of Education, which is charged with this duty? I wonder also why you need to be in charge of student data? I wonder why you need to be in charge of teacher evaluations? I wonder why you want to add more weight to test scores for teacher evaluations since research shows that test performance of students is not driven solely by the classroom teacher. Finally, I wonder why you continue to find new ways to grade schools, communities, teachers, and children when there is no evidence to support the value of such grades?

Even though I am bothered by what I have mentioned, I come to you today not to speak to those horrors. Among all of the phrases that I use to describe myself, the word Grandma Grizzly has now come to the front of that list.

My 4th grade grandson is very bright, yet he has been struggling this year. Even though he attends a private Catholic school which prides itself on its rigor, there is a great deal of pressure to achieve. Unfortunately, he is having anxiety attacks, and he is depressed. Sadly, this school has no system in place to help my grandson. Prior to this pressure to achieve, he loved school, and he loved his teachers. With nearly two hours of homework per night, those good feelings have been replaced with drudgery and despair.

For those of you on this Board who are educators, is this really what you want of the accountability measures that you are promoting? I understand that you are just following the laws that have been passed by our General Assembly. However, since you keep describing yourselves as the EDUCATION POLICY MAKERS, should you not be pushing back against these instructionally unsound laws? Should you not be meeting with legislators to tell them that their legislation is harming children?

By not doing this, are you not complicit in this horror show that has been envisioned and promoted by Governor Daniels, former Superintendent Bennett, and Governor Pence?

While I realize that my comment here has little chance of being acted upon, let the record show that those of you who are educators know better, and yet you have gone along with practices that you know are developmentally and educationally inappropriate.

Let it be on the record that what is happening to Indiana children, to Indiana teachers, to Indiana public schools, and to Indiana communities is an abomination.

Phyllis A. Bush, Fort Wayne


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