Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

StateImpact's Moderating The Debate Between Bennett & Ritz — And We Want Your Questions

Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

Republican state superintendent Tony Bennett (left) and Democratic challenger Glenda Ritz will debate on live radio this Friday evening in Fort Wayne — and StateImpact is asking the questions.

You may remember the candidates for Superintendent of Public Instruction are planning to to debate on live radio this Friday evening, a week-and-a-half before voters select which will hold Indiana’s top elected education post for the next four years.

I am honored and humbled to announce the debate’s organizers — Northeast Indiana Public Radio and The Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics — have chosen me to moderate that debate. I couldn’t be more thrilled.

So I put it to you, my trusted StateImpact audience: What should I ask the candidates? We’re opening up our comments section to your suggestions and submissions.

Of course, representatives of Northeast Indiana Public Radio, The Mike Downs Center and I will all have the final say on which questions we ask Republican incumbent Tony Bennett and Democratic opponent Glenda Ritz.

We may use submitted questions verbatim, or we may use the spirit of your comments to inform us in crafting our own questions.

A word about format: There will be roughly 10 questions designed to elicit longer-form responses and rebuttals from each candidate. As the hour-long debate wraps up, there will be roughly 10 more short-answer questions directed to each individual candidate in a “Rapid Fire” round. Finally, each candidate will be allowed to deliver a closing statement.

There will be no studio audience for the debate, but NIPR will stream the debate live on its website,, on Friday night at 7 p.m. Eastern.

Let me know in the comments section below, on our Facebook page or on Twitter (use the hashtag #EdDebate).

  • What specific questions should I ask Bennett and Ritz? What questions haven’t you heard answered that we can clear up in this debate?
  • What type of questions should I ask them — questions about specific policies? About broader visions for statewide policy?

I eagerly await your responses — and I’ll ‘see’ you on the radio on Friday!



  • Kimberly Howell

    My question would be, “Do they believe that every child deserves quality education?” If so, then how do they see Indiana’s Education changing to meet the needs of thousands of Autistic children? I am a parent of 2 autistic young men. As a tax payer, and as a parent, I would like to know their plans to bring the Autistic population in our schools to reach their full potential? I live in a small rural community. We took our oldest out of school because the Special Ed Co-op, decided to bus severely impaired students (wheel-chairs, feeding tubes, diapers. . . ) to my son’s school without additional teacher’s, aides or care-givers. Since my son was high functioning, he was put to the side and allowed to watch movies all day. THAT is not my idea of “free and appropriate education”. Since removing him from school, and having someone work with him all day, he is now able to prepare his breakfast, change his bed sheets, make his bed, do all of his own laundry, and cleans his room. Skills that the school system did not have the time, or staffing to address. Each special needs child is different. My younger son was able to be main-streamed and obtained a high school diploma. But for those “circle pegs that cannot fit into the square holes”, life is an extremely difficult challenge. My dream is to have an educational system that will address the needs of ALL children, and help them to become productive members of society. Today’s educational system is broken. We are going to have a huge (1 in 88) population of Autistic people, that are not employable, and will become dependent upon the State to take care of them through Welfare, Social Security, Medicaid, Food Stamps. . . . . What is YOUR plan to FIX our BROKEN educational system?

    • kystokes

      Hi Ms. Howell, thank you for your comment. What a conundrum for the son who needed to be homeschooled — is that right, would you say he was homeschooled then? How old are your children?

  • inteach

    1. Dr. Bennett…increasing the use of vouchers, school choice, and merit pay is a cornerstone of your reform efforts.

    Considering no major study of vouchers, school choice, or merit pay has consistently shown they increase student achievement, why do you continue to advocate for their expansion?

    You support data driven decisions in the classroom. Shouldn’t decisions on education policy be driven by data and research as well?

    2. Overall, research shows charters perform no better than traditional public schools. Why do you continue to advocate for their expansion?

    3. How have you specifically supported and strengthened the ideal of local control of school districts?

    • kystokes

      Thanks for the submissions, INteach.

    • kgrimmet

      I echo these questions! Great job inteach! It is important that the community understands that the mindtrust “research” (which the DOE likes to use) would not be considered true reasearch! The information they cite is their own…and that does not lead to evidence-based practice. The “research” used by the DOE does not follow research standards/rigor, which leads to QUALITY! Therefore, should not be used to drive their agenda.

  • inteach

    Dr. Bennett…a large percentage of your campaign money has come from wealthy, out-of-state donors. Do you think this compromises your ability to be an independent voice for Hoosier children?

    • kgrimmet

      Dr. Bennett, do you believe it is ethical to allow these out-of-state donors to influence a state race like this one? If you were to win this election, could the taxpayers and voters of this state say, with full confidence, that the “voice” of hoosiers were heard and represented…or would you admit that out-of-state influences impacted the election…and again, I would ask…is this an ethical practice?

      • kystokes

        Thanks kgrimmet! Appreciate your submission.

  • Bill Russo

    Why is it assumed that the cause of a struggling school district is bad teachers? What will you do to hold the students and parents accountable?

  • Hoosier66

    Emphasis on local control is heard from both candidates. Every school system has a local school board. Yet the Indiana Department of Education basically ignores school boards regarding communications and training. What will you do to better engage local boards directly as they fulfill their responsibilities? (Saying this is the role of the Indiana School Boards Association does not answer the question.)

  • Hoosier66

    During the last couple years requirements have been loosened for licensing teachers, principals and superintendents. For my school system with a small (752 students) and decreasing enrollment in a small town/rural location this has been helpful.

    Just because requirements have been loosened does not mean the local school system must hire such an individual. Our system does not always have a large pool of applicants. This past summer we hired an individual who was from a transition-to-teaching program and had many years of experience outside education. For our system to be able to hire this individual is local control at its best.

    Similar flexibility also exists regarding the positions of principal and superintendent. For a system such as ours this can be critical. State regulations need to be flexible enough that systems by virtue of local control can make decisions they feel best for them.
    Do you support this change for licensing teachers, principals and superintendents and why or why not?

  • Carissa Dollar

    Studies show that parental involvement in education is a big key to student success. How would you bring parents to the table on the state level to help ensure the success of our school and students? What role do you believe parents should play in education?

  • Susie Highley

    Please follow up on your excellent posting about the delay in the A-F school ratings. The entire process seems very convoluted. Also, the school information online in the “Compass” section is not up to date. One of my schools is still listed as having 4 teachers, for a teacher-student ratio of 158-1; I believe it’s been that way for at least a year. I realize the Lafayette Journal-Courier also posted an informative story about this. With so many decisions based on data in today’s times, it does not make sense to make the data so difficult to find.

  • Jill Jenkins

    I would ask how the candidates are going to address the serious decline in applications to education schools in the last two years, and the dramatic increase in retirements over the summer.
    As an educator, I love my job, but I cannot in good conscience encourage young people to enter the field without a serious discussion on the realities, financial and emotional, of having a career which opens you to be the scapegoat of society and now leaves you with little possibility of financial security. None of us goes into this career thinking that we are going to be well-off, but if I believed that at the beginning of my career that I would still be making essentially what I did as a first year teacher, I would have rethought my career choices. I am lucky in that I have been teaching 27 years and have topped out on the salary scale; therefore, I will be okay, that is not the case for young teachers just entering the career. The idea that a merit pay ‘bonus’ in any way compensates for this change is a cruel joke. Even if you jump through all the paperwork hoops to ‘earn’ merit pay, the state is not providing enough money to the local schools to provide the possibility of it.

  • Horace Mann

    With all due respect, Tony Bennett…

    why are schools being penalized by your flawed model even
    when students pass the ISTEP? With all due respect, why are you comparing
    students’ individual scores to other scores across the state to determine your
    flawed “growth” numbers?? Doesn’t this violate IC 20-31-8-2(b)?

    how do your policies intend to support students with

    how can you hold schools to timelines when the DOE
    consistently does not have data uploaded to the learning connection? How do you
    expect the educators to use the data effectively when you still have growth
    listed from the students’ 2011 test? When you think your team will have the
    data current?

    why did you tell a teacher at one of your town hall meetings
    you would be the most surprised person in the world if anyone ever took away
    bargaining rights…and then did it yourself a week later?

    why do you not fight harder to restore $300,000,000 in cuts
    made to education over the last three years?

    your last year as principal of Scottsburg High School, the
    percentage of 10th graders passing both math and English was 61.0%. At Crooked
    Creek Elementary in 2010, where Glenda serves as a teacher and media
    specialist, 5th graders scored 97% in math and 92% in E/LA. According to your
    own standards of merit, how can you justify your belief that you are the better
    candidate? Before answering, please keep in mind that your own vision, which
    demonstrates the exchange of human beings for numbers, will require that you
    must use only measurable data to outline your response.

    why do you think you get to choose where I teach? Due to
    your A-F grading scale, I now have to leave my urban school so I’m not labeled
    “needs improvement or ineffective”. My primary students don’t even
    take ISTEP, which earned us our D. I was my district’s teacher of the year my
    2nd year teaching, and now have to leave where I’m needed the most.

    how do you expect new teachers to be able to afford to stay
    in education? With the introduction of merit-based pay, I am stuck at a low
    base pay level for the rest of my career. Even if I am rated as highly
    effective, I will never make more than $35,000. I knew coming into education
    that I would never be a millionaire, but I never thought I would have to worry
    about money for the rest of my life. How will I afford to remain a teacher and
    still raise a family, buy a house, save for my children’s college expenses, and
    pay off student debt?

    does “parent choice” mean parents would have the
    right to opt their children out of standardized tests and, instead, focus the
    licensed education professional’s year-long, diversified student evaluations?

    why are you ignoring the fact that higher performing schools
    are in higher income districts? What are you doing to attack the real issues
    that are causing these schools to struggle? How will one voucher to a good
    student help the students that are left behind in the struggling school

    how can you justify requiring school districts with fewer
    than 2,000 students to consolidate to become more efficient, but then turn
    around and support small charters to start up who are “top-heavy?”

    why do you believe that allowing people to teach when they
    have not had the proper training or degree will produce better results?

    you agree that state funds should be allocated for business
    people who run ‘for-profit’ schools. What do you think their priority will
    be…a quality education or profits?

    how do you truly believe that basing education on so much
    testing is logical? As students, we learn enough to pass one test, and then
    have to cram for the next test, not truly learning. We miss out on valuable
    life lessons, as well as the chance to have a quality experience in school. So
    what have I as a senior in high school learned in my education? How to prepare
    for standardized tests.

    why do you think that teachers with experience are not as
    effective as teachers with less experience? In addition, why do you think it is
    okay for somebody to become a teacher that has no training in education?

    why do you follow the agenda of the American Legislative
    Exchange Council ( whose ultra-right-wing conservative Report Card
    on American Education blames teachers, teacher unions and teacher preparation
    for what is wrong with Indiana’s educational system?

    why don’t we fund and promote early childhood education and
    mandate kindergarten in the state of Indiana (fully funded, of course)? If it’s
    optional to have any education at all until the age of, say, six years old how
    can a teacher be responsible for the choices of the parents – especially when
    the child could be essentially two years behind his/her peers?

    do you feel responsible for the untested policies that you
    have instituted and for your power grabbing of our public schools? Do you feel
    proud that you have driven master teachers from the profession and that you
    have made small children cry?

    do you realize for the first time in my life I’m telling my
    students who say they want to be teachers to NOT do it?

    how have the hundreds of thousands of dollars from Pearson
    Education, Walmart, and Michael Bloomberg shaped your philosophy on public

    why did the Charter Board that you created to allow charter
    schools, approve a charter school in Scott County. The charter was full of
    holes…the board was not 5 members since one resigned before the public
    meeting, the sunshine law regarding public meeting notice wasn’t followed, we
    are NOT a failing school system (even by your standards you set), and public
    opinion at the meeting was ignored. Why don’t you follow your own rules on
    charter schools?

    how do you explain retaining students who fail the IREAD3 but
    pass the ISTEP?

    why are you trying to drive me out of the career I once

  • Karynb9

    To both candidates: if you were to survey public school teachers and administrators across the state, which one of you do you believe would be supported by the majority of them and why? Is their support even important to you? Why or why not?

  • Concerned teacher!!

    I have a question for Bennett. He seems to blame teachers for failing schools, so ask him this…if we take the teachers from a failing school from Gary, Indiana and send them to a little town with excellent scores, like Ferdinand, Indiana, and send the teachers from Ferdinand to Gary, will Gary’s scores suddenly skyrocket and Ferdinand’s scores suddenly plummet? According to Bennett, it is all dependent on the teachers.

  • Ghangis Carter

    Please discuss your position and possible plan, if any, on culturally diversifying the Hoosier state’s teacher population, specificially a statewide teacher of color recruitment initiative. Is there a need for more Black, Latino and teachers from other historically underrepresented populations in the Hoosier state? And, if so, how does the Hoosier state become a national model for this teacher recruitment imperative?

  • taxingquestions

    Dr. Bennett, you repeatedly say, in the video ( you accepting the award from the national charter school organization, that Gov. Daniels gave you an open checkbook and told you “to write the checks to get it done.” Just how much has the quest for charter schools cost? The taxpayers have a right to know.

  • taxingquestions

    Dr. Bennett, one of your Assistant Superintendents, Dale Chou, told me, when I asked about a IDOE mandate vs. State law, that my problem was that I “see the law as being up here, like the roof. IDOE sees the law as being the foundation on which to build.” Is this the reason your “growth model” does not follow Indiana code?

  • Kate

    Please ask how they plan to attract new teachers after all the cuts Bennett and Daniels have made to education.

  • bigcarpy

    1) Should private schools that accept public funded vouchers be required to accept any student, reguardless of their behavior or disability, or should they continue to be allowed to discriminate against some students while accepting public money?
    2) In an op ed in the Indy Star shortly after elected, Dr. Bennett contested no amount of intervention can be successful if teachers do not have the ability to retain struggling students. This is the opposite of what 100 years of reseach on retention clearly indicates. What is each candidates opinion on the effectiveness of retention vs intervention, and what, if any, legitamate evidence do you have to support your position? (Moderator be informed: when comparing similarly achieving and socially matched students who are retained or socially promoted, those retained are more likely to have behavior & emotional difficulty, at an early age experiment with drugs (including tobacco & alcohol), be sexually active at an early age, be much more likely to drop out of school, be incarcerated, and have POORER ACADEMIC AVHIEVEMENT! The list of poor outcomes is much longer. While social promotion is apoor alternative to intervention, it is clearly less harmful than retention. See the National Association of School Psychologist meta analysis of recent research findings).

  • bigcarpy

    In light of my second question; I am specifically referencing the retention requirement embedded in the IREAD 3 testing of third graders.

  • Bigcarpy

    Do you believe private, for-profit corporate entities can do a better job educating students than public schools?

  • Bigcarpy

    Do you believe in the concept of legitimate rape, or that pregnancy resulting from rape is God’s will?

  • Mary Jo Moldraski Bookwalter

    How do you justify putting teachers into sub groups and evaluating them differently?Treating similarly situated teachers differently by having one set of rules for one subgroup and another set of rules for another does not provide equal protection under the law. Teachers who have classes that are ISTEP tested are held to a much higher and different standard than teachers of non-ISTEP grades/subjects.

  • Indiana Parent

    If Mike Pence is elected governor and Tony Bennett is re-elected, they will outsource the RISE evaluations. The evaluations will not be done by school principals. The people hired to evaluate Indiana teachers may possibly be from out of state. Most likely they will not be from the local school corporation.

    The evaluators will not know the faculty member being evaluated or anything about the teacher. Mike Pence has stated that having the local principal do the evaluation of his teachers is not “getting a true read”.

    The obvious goal is this: create a situation where public schools will fail and replace them with charter schools that will earn money for private investors.

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