Your Voice, Your Vote 2012: The Race for State Superintendent
Dr. Tony Bennett (R) and Glenda Ritz (D)
With less than a week to go in the campaign, Indiana's state school superintendent says he is still focused on his job, while his opponent says she's focused on what she calls a referendum on his philosophy.
Though no public polling has been conducted in the race, Republican superintendent Tony Bennett is generally considered a favorite for re-election. He is well funded, and the numbers seem to tilt in his favor - the state's high school graduation rate has rised to an all-time high of 85.7 percent, and standardized test scores have also risen statewide during his tenure.
Democratic challenger Glenda Ritz doesn't think much of those numbers. Ritz has been a teacher for 33 years - she is currently a media specialist for Washington Township Schools. She disagrees vehemently with Bennett's approach to education reform, which puts her in line with her biggest supporter - the Indiana State Teachers Association, long one of Bennett's most vocal critics.
Bennett says Indiana has become a national model for school reform under his watch, through a growing school voucher program and through the enforcement of education standards approved by the Legislature more than a decade ago. That includes the hiring of private companies to manage schools that achieve failing grades six years in a row. Ritz and her supporters refer to this as the privatization of public schools, pointing to campaign donations Bennett has received from those with ties to education reform companes.
Ritz says she favors what would be a more fair growth model for schools, one that compares students and schools to their own past performance rather than with their peers at other schools. Bennett says that approach is outdated, considering that Indiana students have to compete with those from across the country to get into the workforce and the best colleges. While Bennett refrains from criticizing Ritz personally, his supporters say she supports the status quo because it protects her fellow teacher's union members from accountability.
Ritz faces a huge disadvantage in fundraising, but she believes she can win with hundreds of teachers association members helping to spread the word about her throughout the state. Bennett dismisses her criticism that he doesn't care about public schools, considering that he used to be a public school teacher and principal and his daughter just became a public school teacher. He says he is focused on touting the achievements of Indiana schools during his four years as much as he can, and hopes he will have another four years to tackle issues such as the funding of public schools and whether or not the state should expand pre-school programs...