Tony Bennett Resigned: Hoosiers React

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August 1, 2013 — 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 resigned as Florida’s education commissioner, denying wrongdoing while in Indiana, where Democrat House Minority Leader Scott Pelath of Michigan City says Bennett’s Florida resignation doesn’t solve problems the Republican left in Indiana. “The fact that he was stopped down south doesn’t undo what he did the past four years here.”

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

But his directives in 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 he’d sent 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 Governor Mike Pence.

Pelath says, “The ‘A-F’ grading system has never been about shared and common sense accountability. It’s about telling a story that someone wants us to hear in order to make someone else’s political dreams come true. 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.

Current State Superintendent of Instruction of Glenda Ritz, a Democrat who defeated Bennett last November, says 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 also said the state is creating a new process “that will be both fair and transparent based on individual student academic performance and growth.” She 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. But they also support fairness, especially when it comes to how we treat our kids. The A-F system needs serious rethinking.”

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