- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Evansville Courier & Press. August 10, 2015

Register to vote; it’s easy

Last week brought us the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which outlawed discriminatory voting practices.

In order to commemorate the anniversary, Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson is encouraging Hoosiers to register to vote, reports the Associated Press.

The voting rights act outlawed such actions as requiring potential voters to take literacy tests and pay poll taxes. And it established new legal protections for minority voters at the polls.

Lawson said in the AP report that Indiana residents could honor those whose bravery and courage led to the landmark legislation by registering. She said it only takes a few minutes and can be accomplished with a smartphone.

She said Hoosiers can register to vote online by using the Indiana Voters app, or by visiting IndianaVoters.com, or they can submit an application to register in person at either a county clerk’s office or a Bureau of Motor Vehicles license branch.

Lawson’s point should be well taken.

It is an uncomplicated process to register, one that allows you to honor those who struggled for the right to vote.

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The Herald-Times. August 12, 2015

Ritz has now thought twice on making that run for governor

On second thought …

That seems to be Indiana schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz’s realistic view on the idea she should run for governor of Indiana. Her second thought is much better than her first, which was the candidacy she announced less than two months ago.

Ritz has clashed with Gov. Mike Pence and the Republican-controlled Indiana General Assembly openly and often over the direction of education in the state. Often she’s right, though her messages get overshadowed by the political conflicts and rhetoric.

In June, her dissatisfaction with Pence apparently got the better of her and she became the third Democrat to announce she would run for her party’s nomination to face the Republican governor in November.

Last week, she thought better of the decision and dropped out of the race. In a statement she released Friday, she said “now is not the right time for me to run for governor.”

She would have elevated the campaign debate about education, but it’s difficult to see where else her experienceand expertise would have served Hoosiers. She simply wasn’t a well-rounded candidate, though maybe she’ll build her credentials before 2020.

And maybe she’ll also build financial support. At the end of June, she had about $110,000 in total campaign funds, a fraction of the $1.8 million former Indiana House Speaker John Gregg has raised. That had to be a factor.

Ritz has decided to avoid that uphill battle, and will focus on running for re-election to her education post.

Smart move.

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The Journal Gazette (Fort Wayne). August 13, 2015

Failing its students

State’s testing problems reveal broken system

A back-to-school exam for taxpayers, parents and lawmakers:

Indiana’s statewide standardized test for students:

A. Was administered without problems for the third consecutive year.

B. Produced scores in a timely fashion.

C. Provides an accurate and cost-efficient measure of student achievement, school quality and teacher effectiveness.

D. None of the above

If you chose anything but the final answer, give yourself a failing grade - the same grade due Indiana’s broken accountability system and the policymakers who continue to support it at untold expense.

The State Board of Education learned last week that spring ISTEP+ scores will again be delayed, along with the A-F school accountability grades that are based, in part, on those scores.

Ellen Haley, president of CTB/McGraw-Hill, the testing vendor, said the delay was caused by new math problems requiring students to show their work. The test writers didn’t anticipate some of the methods that students used to arrive at the correct answer, so the company’s scoring system incorrectly marked the answers as wrong.

Haley blamed the decision to adopt new statewide academic standards, after Indiana became the first state to withdraw from the Common Core State Standards.

“This is the nature of switching so dramatically,” Haley told the board. “There’s nothing left over from the previous test. We can’t use the scale. We can’t use the weighted formula. You started over again.”

But don’t feel sorry for Haley and her company.

“What’s happening is girls and boys are just being damaged, and teachers are being damaged, by the ineffective practices of your company,” said board member Steve Yager, retired superintendent of Southwest Allen County Schools, “I’m looking forward to you delivering on what you said you can deliver, because we educators are extremely disappointed.”

Indiana has already ditched CTB/McGraw-Hill in favor of British-owned Pearson, but don’t expect anything to improve. Pearson is the biggest of the testing-vendor giants - with 60 percent of the U.S. testing market - and its two-year Indiana contract is estimated at $38 million.

The company just reached a settlement with Minnesota worth more than $5 million after the state was forced to cancel two days of testing because Pearson faced a cyberattack. Similar to Indiana’s 2014 experience with CTB/McGraw-Hill, Minnesota students were booted offline during the exam and faced long lag times.

This year’s ISTEP+ delays are expected to push the release of scores into early next year. That will push back the release of school letter grades and, in turn, scores used in teacher evaluations required for salary and bonus determinations. In other words, the accountability system Indiana lawmakers have constructed has failed them once again.

The real question for taxpayers, parents and voters is why does this continue? Who benefits from this broken system? Certainly not students. We challenge any legislator to show how the cumbersome and costly testing monstrosity fosters learning.

The General Assembly, in fact, seems to have lost sight of the purpose of schooling to instead focus on testing. How much stronger would Indiana’s schools be - and how much better prepared for college, careers and civic responsibility would its young adults be - if a fraction of the attention and money devoted to testing was invested in proven methods like early childhood education?

In other states, parents are challenging the corporate education lobby’s vise grip on legislators by holding their students out of school on exam days. That sort of protest doesn’t suit Hoosiers, but they should at least demand accountability from the General Assembly. What are we gaining from tax dollars spent on flawed tests and, more important, what are we losing?

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The South Bend Tribune. August 12, 2015

Elkhart magistrate made the wrong call

Elkhart Circuit Court Juvenile Magistrate Deborah Domine said she had the best interests of the child in mind when she chose to bar the public and reporters from a hearing Friday at the county’s Juvenile Detention Center in Goshen.

But this was no ordinary hearing. The juvenile, a 12-year-old girl, stands accused of stabbing and killing her stepmother at an Elkhart apartment complex last month.

Sensitive issues arise when young people are involved in the criminal justice system, but in this case Domine was wrong in shutting out the public and journalists.

Indiana law requires open court proceedings for juveniles accused of murder or other offenses that would be felonies for adults. Domine acknowledged that, but added that the Supreme Court has allowed for flexibility in juvenile court hearings under such circumstances. In fact, the magistrate was so firm in her convictions that she threatened to withhold information from The Tribune at one point.

We would expect Domine, who early in her career worked as a television reporter for several years, to have more understanding for the role journalists play in reporting on the judicial system.

Steve Key, executive director and general counsel for the Hoosier State Press Association, said the law is clear and that the intent of the General Assembly in changing the statute years ago was to open to public view juvenile court operations. Because it took place outside of a courtroom doesn’t change that fact.

Friday’s hearing was a routine step in the legal process. It reportedly lasted only minutes in which the girl’s attorney entered a denial - the juvenile equivalent of a not-guilty plea - to the murder accusation.

Domine cited mental health and safety concerns in ordering the hearing closed. Police officers transport defendants to the courthouse from jail every day and are trained to do so in a way that protects the public and the defendant. We expect this process would not have been handled any differently.

Most detention facilities and courtrooms are equipped with video systems. If the magistrate was concerned about safety, the hearing could have been conducted by video with the public and journalists allowed to view the proceedings.

There is a need to be sensitive to the unique circumstances involving juveniles in court, but in this case Domine got it wrong.


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