Bush Foundation boss Patricia Levesque predictably came to the defense yesterday of embattled education commissioner Tony Bennett. From Lisa Gartner in GRADEBOOK:
“Commissioner Bennett and his department found and corrected a mistake that would have unfairly penalized 13 schools missing data for grades they did not even serve. They fixed a problem to be accurate and fair – any accusation otherwise is false and politically motivated,” reads the statement released by Bush’s foundation Tuesday afternoon.
It goes on: “A-F school grading empowers parents to know how well schools are serving their children, in a transparent and easy to understand way. In 2012, Indiana was in its first year of its new school grading calculation, and there is always a learning process when implementing a policy new to a state.
“The best thing to do is to lay out the facts, which is what Commissioner Bennett is doing. Political attacks will come and go. The focus must remain on ensuring every student has access to a high-quality education that prepares them for success.”
The Texas Hold-em’ metaphor is apt as Levesque will need to right for the Bush Foundation to remain relevant. Bennett is one of their Chiefs for Change. His fall from grace will crush the Foundation.
Levesque is used to dismissing news reports with partisan assertions but she’s extended herself this time. It was easy to condemn In the Public Record’s report as partisan as they receive significant funding from unions. Levesque took her first swipe at a member of the Florida media last year when she attacked Tampa Tribune reporter William March for his reporting on the Foundation. But this time, she is accusing a respected Associated Press reporter, Tom LoBianco, of being motivated politically. .
It’s not surprising that Levesque want to focus on a small part of the story. It’s quite clear from the emails that Bennett was most concerned about several charter schools with one in particular, Christel House, belonging to a major donor to his campaign. Karen Francisco of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette reports that Bennett’s changes were “successful in pushing more than half of the state’s charter schools to a letter grade of C or better.” This part of LoBianco’ story further imperils Bennett and discredits Levesque’s defense:
Bennett said Monday that email expressed his frustration at having assured top-performing schools like DeHaan’s (Christel House) would be recognized in the grading system, but coming away with a flawed formula that would undo his promises.
When Bennett requested a status update Sept. 14, his staff alerted him that the new school grade, a 3.50, was painfully close to an “A.” Then-deputy chief of staff Marcie Brown wrote that the state might not be able to “legally” change the cutoff for an “A.”
“We can revise the rule,” Bennett responded.
Bennett’s emails, thought processes and decision-making were focused on one school, Christel House, when he said to “revise the rule,” even in the face of his chief of staff’s concerns that it may not be legal to do so. For a seasoned policy wonk like Levesque to ignore this is remarkable, and it calls into question her own credibility and that of the Foundations she represents.