In the aftermath of revelations that then superintendent of public education Tony Bennett changed a school grade for the charter school belonging to a wealthy campaign donor, editorial boards from Indiana’s newspapers are weighing in. This from the Lafayette Journal and Courier:
Everyone wondered what took the Indiana Department of Education so long to report its A-to-F grades — a cornerstone of the state’s school accountability push during former Superintendent Tony Bennett’s term.
Now, Hoosiers know why. And it shapes up as one sorry story.
According to emails uncovered by Associated Press reporter Tom LoBianco, Bennett bent over backward — and contorted the system in the process — to find a way for a charter school sponsored by school choice patron Christel DeHaan to do well.
The Journal and Courier includes a batch of the emails that LoBianco obtained at it helps shed light on one quote which appeared in his story yesterday.
“I am more than a little miffed about this,” Bennett wrote. “I hope we come to the meeting today with solutions and not excuses and/or explanations for me to wiggle myself out of the repeated lies I have told over the past six months.”
The above paragraph is the final one in an email he sent out the morning after getting the head’s up on Christel House’ poor grade. Here’s the entire email.
I need to get this off my chest. I never blame anyone except myself for anything that is said and done by this department. I must say that this situation is very frustrated and disappointing to me. I cannot count the number of times we have been in meetings with Christel, The Chamber, Brian Dosma, David Long and others when I have said that we count Christel House and an A school. I have repeatedly said to all of them that we checked their data and given the 162 day calculation we were certain they are an A school. We specifically cited Christel House, Herron, Signature an Tindley as A schools, and everyone sat around and nodding their heads in agreement as I defended our system with that argument.
Now here we are and they are not an A school. We have two problems. First I either lied or twisted the truth in order to get what we want. Regardless neither of those are things I do. Our second problem is that legislative leadership as well as our critics of A-F are going to use this against us to undo our accountability metrics through legislation. Futhermore, as I said earlier we have NO chance of advancing accountability during the session with this problem in front of us.
If you can’t tell, I am more than a little miffed about this. I hope we come to the meeting today with solutions and not excuses and/or explanations for me to wiggle myself out of the repeated lies I have told over the past six months.
Tony Bennett is advancing the “this is old news” line and explaining that the grade changes were applied to more than one school. Maybe, but the only schools he’s concerned about in this email are charter schools, and with the one belonging to a major donor to his campaign being the one he is most concerned.
Moreover, Bennett’s insistence on finding a “solution” to Christel House’s C demonstrates his intention to find a way to change the grade. So much for “leveling the playing field.”
The Journal and Courier finish their editorial this way:
The machinations of the following days produced an A for Christel House.
The lesson: The system can be — and apparently was — rigged for the well-connected. Accountability belongs to the rest.
Bennett was pushed out by voters in November, largely on the angry backs of public school fans who rallied around Democrat Glenda Ritz, a relative unknown at the time. Since then, Bennett has found a similar, but more lucrative appointed position in Florida, where he was hired to manufacture aggressive school reform along the lines of Indiana’s version.
Keep your eyes open, Florida.
Bennett and his staff were obviously the perfect guys to design Florida’s recent tweak to school grades. Two members of Bennett’s Indiana conspiracy, Dale Chu and Will Krebs, are his top lieutenants now in Florida.
The emails make clear what Tony Bennett’s agenda involved. He was making promises to charter school operators and donors to curry favor. Bennett’s zealous fixation on a school grade formula at any cost is disturbing. Small wonder he was so willing to make changes in Florida’s. Especially since he’s already figured out a way to manipulate it for the well-connected. Florida is well advised to keep it’s eyes open to the Bennett-Chu-Kreb’s troika.
UPDATE: Jeff Solochek at Gradebook provides more emails.