Why Bennett Failed in Indiana and Why He May Again in Florida

From Orlando Sentinel Columnist Scott Maxwell:

You may know Florida is getting a new education secretary named Tony Bennett. (No, not that Tony Bennett … though that’d be kind of cool.)

What you may not know is we’re getting him only because Indiana tossed him out. Voters of that very conservative state — Mitt Romney won by 10 points in Indiana — booted this conservative reformer from office just last month.

Apparently a big reason is that Bennett’s version of “reform” involved a whole lot of teacher-bashing.

Don’t take my word for it. Take it from one of Indiana’s leading voices of conservative school reform, lawyer and blogger Paul Ogden. He penned a piece titled: “Why Tony Bennett Lost —The Folly of Beating Up Teachers for Public Education’s Problems.”

We all know our schools need help. And maybe Bennett learned a lesson. But the last thing this state needs is another teacher-trasher.

Florida’s teacher trasher-in-chief, Jeb Bush, who is close to Bennett, likely used his political capital to assure Bennett was appointed.  But Maxwell goes to the politics of the matter and looks to one of Indiana’s most influential political columnist in Paul Ogden. Here’s a key part of Ogden’s bomb damage assessment of the aftermath of Bennett’s defeat:

When Tony Bennett was elected four years ago, I was puzzled when he made classroom teachers a primary target. I didn’t think that part of his reform philosophy was correct. As it turns out targeting classroom teachers is also bad politics. Teachers are great at networking and voting as a coalition. Unlike what many conservatives think, however, many teachers are, in fact, Republican.

My Democratic friends though are going to be pretty disappointed when they find out that electing Glenda Ritz Superintendent of Public Instruction is unlikely to stop the pace of education reform in this state. Education reform is driven primarily by the Governor and the Indiana General Assembly. Working around Ritz will be a piece of cake. In fact, an untold story is that Bennett’s abrasive style and reluctance to listen to input from others had actually started alienating supporters of education reform, including Republican state legislators.

Bush has been able to stay out of the line of fire during Florida’s recent debacles of its accountability systems that are of his doing. Bennett’s presence will allow his to continue to do so. Yet Bennett has been put into a job where he’s got to be a fixer and not a changer like he was back in Indiana. This may not what he’s all about. I lost count of how many times he used “accountability” during his interview.

Some board members coaxed contrition out of Bennett during his public interview on Tuesday, but he still has to prove it’s genuine. Rick Scott wasted several months on a good will tour he obviously had no intention of following through on, but he has a lightening rod in Bennett and a partisan state board to hide behind now. But the realities of Indiana politics translate to Florida. Republican voters will throw out republicans.





About Bob Sikes

A long time ago and a planet far, far away I was an athletic trainer for the New York Mets. I was blessed to be part of the now legendary 1986 World Series Championship. My late father told me that I'd one day be thankful I had that degree in teaching from Florida State University. He was right and I became twice blesses to become a teacher in the late 1990's. After dabbling with writing about the Mets and then politics, I settled on education.
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2 Responses to Why Bennett Failed in Indiana and Why He May Again in Florida

  1. Hi Bob.

    If any state, Indiana, Florida, whichever, wants better education, work on the following:

    Eliminate child-poverty
    End all high stakes testing
    Fully fund public education (eliminate the siphoning of billions to for-profits and vouchers)
    Reverse consolidation (CCSS, parent-triggers, takeovers, etc.[Can we really expect greater parent involvement when we continually make the education system more distant and more intimidating?])
    Raise teachers standards and compensate them for it (The compensation teachers consistently want most: not cash, but academic freedom)

    But here we are, muddling through whether Bennett has changed, or learned his lesson, and whether Florida can get “reforms” to work. It’s all a distraction from bettering public schools.

    Bennett does not mind. He’ll make a quarter million a year for awhile, plus perks, continue to travel the country speaking about “bold and courageous” reforms, blah, blah, blah. They’ll all continue to greedily profit (and let’s be honest here: self-convinced, they’ll also convince others they are deserving of these profits for their tireless efforts to make our country proud, strong, secure…)

    And so it will continue to go until we decided to tune out all the distractions, like Bennett, and take back our public education system.

  2. Pingback: Why Bennett Failed in Indiana and Why He May Again in Florida | FPEP Blog

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