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In election shocker, voters bounce schools chief Bennett

 IBJ Staff
December 28, 2012
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After becoming a celebrity in national education reform for spearheading sweeping changes in Indiana’s schools, Tony Bennett was bounced out of office by strong opposition from teachers, parents and their friends.

But with Republicans in firmer control than ever of the rest of state government, it is likely Bennett’s reforms will live on even after he is replaced by Democrat Glenda Ritz.

Bennett landed on his feet. He was appointed commissioner of education in Florida little more than a month after his election loss. His new gig will pay him as much as $275,000 a year—nearly $200,000 more than what Bennett has been making as Indiana’s superintendent of public instruction.

education-reform-15col.jpg Tony Bennett’s aggressive overhaul of Indiana’s K-12 education system generated national attention. But pushback from teachers and parents cost him his job.(IBJ file photo)

And he squeezed in one more reform before walking out the door. On Dec. 5, the State Board of Education—which Bennett chairs—passed a new system of teacher licensing that will allow more on-the-job pedagogical training versus formal training at schools of education.

The proposal was denounced by most teachers, including Ritz, a veteran librarian and reading instructor at Crooked Creek Elementary School in Indianapolis.

Ritz wants to de-emphasize the system’s reliance on standardized testing by redoing the A-F grading system for schools that Bennett built. She has also spoken against private school vouchers and the expansion of charter schools—both causes that Bennett championed.

But Ritz will have little formal ability to roll back Bennett’s reforms. They were approved by either the Republican-dominated Legislature or by the State Board of Education. Its members are appointed by the governor, and incoming Gov. Mike Pence, a Republican, has indicated little difference in education policy from his predecessor, Republican Mitch Daniels.

That dynamic has private schools that accept vouchers and privately run charter schools cautiously optimistic that Indiana will remain friendly to them.

“We’re just keeping our eyes on it and are optimistic that a lot of the work Mr. Bennett and others have done doesn’t get undone,” said Kristoffer Haines, vice president of national development for Rocketship Education, a California-based charter school network that plans to open eight charter schools in the Indianapolis area beginning in 2015.

What Ritz can do—if she wants—is to make it more difficult administratively for charter schools and private schools.•

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  1. Great article and post scripts by Mike L (Great addition to IBJ BTW). Bobby's stubborn as a mule, and doubt if he ever comes back to IU. But the love he would receive would be enormous. Hope he shows some time, but not counting on it.

  2. When the Indiana GOP was going around the State selling the Voucher bill they were promising people that the vouchers would only be for public charter schools. They lied. As usual.

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  4. Jim, your "misleading" numbers comment is spot on. This is the spin these posers are putting on it. News flash, fans: these guys lie. They are not publicly traded so no one holds them accountable for anything they say. The TV numbers are so miniscule to begin with any "increase" produces double digit "growth" numbers. It's ridiculous to think that anything these guys have done has awakened the marketplace. What have they done? Consolidate the season so they run more races on consecutive weekends? And this creates "momentum." Is that the same momentum you enjoy when you don't race between August and March? Keep in mind that you are running teams who barely make ends meet ragged over the summer to accomplish this brilliant strategy of avoiding the NFL while you run your season finale at midnight on the East Coast. But I should not obfuscate my own point: any "ratings increase" is exactly what Jim points to - the increased availability of NBC Sports in households. Look fans, I love the sport to but these posers are running it off a cliff. Miles wants to declare victory and then run for Mayor. I could go on and on but bottom line for God's sake don't believe a word they say. Note to Anthony - try doing just a little research instead of reporting what these pretenders say and then offering an "opinion" no more informed than the average fan.

  5. If he's finally planning to do the right thing and resign, why not do it before the election? Waiting until after means what - s special election at tax payer expense? Appointment (by whom?) thus robbing the voters of their chance to choose? Does he accrue some additional financial advantage to waiting, like extra pension payments? What's in it for him? That's the question that needs to be asked.

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