Pelath Comments On Bennett Resignation

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August 1, 2013 — story and photo of Scott Pelath (D-Mich. City)

INDIANAPOLIS – Former Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett has resigned from a similar post in Florida just days after reports that he ordered changes in Indiana’s A-F grading system to help a charter school he’d been touting for excellence.

Bennett stepped down as Florida’s education commissioner as he continued to deny wrongdoing.  But a leading Indiana Democrat said Bennett’s resignation doesn’t solve problems the Republican created in Indiana.

“The fact that he was stopped down south doesn’t undo what he did the past four years here,” said Indiana House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City.

Bennett had a press conference Thursday morning in Tallahassee, Fla., to announce he would give up his appointed position. Bennett has insisted that he was not focusing on one school and that the changes were meant to better reflect grades for institutions that served elementary, middle and high school students in one school.

But the emails discuss only the Christel House Academy in Indianapolis, which was to receive a C under the original grading formula, due largely to poor 10th grade algebra scores. Changes made by Bennett’s office in the days before the scores were released raised that grade to an A.

The AP quoted a Bennett email to his then-chief of staff Heather Neal saying that, “They need to understand that anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work.” Neal is now legislative director for Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.

“The ‘A-F’ grading system has never been about shared and common sense accountability,” Pelath said in a statement Thursday morning.  “It’s about telling a story that someone wants us to hear in order to make someone else’s political dreams come true,” he said. “In Indiana, that dream has been a nightmare for many struggling traditional schools forced to compete against selected favorites.”

Already, Senate President Pro Tem David Long has called for annual, independent audits of the A-F system to restore public confidence in the system, according to a story written by the AP’s Tom LoBianco.  And current Superintendent of Instruction of Glenda Ritz, a Democrat who defeated Bennett last November, has said her office is undergoing a “thorough examination of the current A-F model calculations to ensure that every school has the grade they earned in 2012.”

“Nothing more, nothing less,” Ritz said in a statement on Tuesday. She also said the state is creating a new “that will be both fair and transparent based on individual student academic performance and growth.”  Ritz is among public officials and educators who have criticized the current A-F school grading system as unfair.
Pelath said that’s appropriate. “Hoosiers support accountability in our schools. They admire ingenuity and passion in education,” he said.  “But they also support fairness, especially when it comes to how we treat our kids,” he said. “The A-F system needs serious rethinking.”

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