IBJNews

Review, resignation urged in Indiana grading flap

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

Indiana education leaders on Tuesday pledged a thorough review of the state's system for evaluating schools after The Associated Press reported a former official who now serves as Florida's education commissioner worked to alter a grade for a school founded by a top Republican donor.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz said the Department of Education is examining the current A-F grade calculations "to ensure that every school has the grade they earned in 2012; nothing more, nothing less."

Tony Bennett, who was appointed Florida's top education official in December, denies any wrongdoing. He says the changes to Indiana's grading formula weren't solely directed at Christel House Academy. But emails obtained by The Associated Press show Bennett and his staff scrambled last fall to ensure influential donor Christel DeHaan's school received an "A," despite poor 10th grade algebra scores that initially earned it a "C."

Jim Stergios, executive director of the conservative-leaning Pioneer Institute in Boston, said Bennett needs to resign his Florida position for violating the trust of Indiana students and parents.

"All you have as an official is your credibility. And that people trust you to do the right thing," Stergios told The Associated Press. "He has been entrusted with the hopes of parents and the aspirations of children. That's a sacred trust."

But in Florida, at least one member of the State Board of Education, which hired Bennett, said she remains confident in the job he is doing.

"If true, it is troubling," said Sally Bradshaw, a board member and former chief of staff under former Gov. Jeb Bush. "But Florida has had to adjust our own school grading system to ensure that the grading formula is applied uniformly, and my sense is that that may be what happened in Indiana in this case."

Indiana uses the A-F grades to determine which schools get taken over by the state and whether students seeking state-funded vouchers to attend private school need to first spend a year in public school. They also help determine how much state funding schools receive. A low grade also can detract from a neighborhood and drive homebuyers elsewhere.

After Bennett learned about a likely low grade for Christel House, he fired off a Sept. 12 email to his chief of staff.

"This will be a HUGE problem for us," Bennett wrote. "They need to understand that anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work."

Ritz, a Democrat who defeated Bennett in his re-election bid last November, said the department also will work to create a new accountability system based on individual student academic performance and growth.

"Accountability only works when the people making decisions are both fair and transparent," she said in a statement.

Republican Senate Pro Tem David Long called for annual third-party audits of the A-F grades to restore public confidence in the ratings.

"The big issue is the fact that it would appear one or more school's grade was manipulated. That's completely unacceptable," Long said. "The system has to be one that all the schools, parents and kids can count on as being fair and impartial. If there's one thing that can't be allowed, it's that any school grades can ever be allowed to be manipulated again."

Bennett, who now is reworking Florida's grading system as that state's education commissioner, denied that DeHaan's Christel House Academy school received special treatment. He said discovering that the charter would receive a low grade raised broader concerns with grades for other "combined" schools — those that included multiple grade levels — across the state.

Bennett downplayed the emails on Tuesday, repeating his assertion that he took action because he was concerned there was a flaw in the formula.

"It is absurd that anyone would believe that I would change the grade of a school based on a political donor or trying to hide schools from accountability," Bennett said. "That's fictitious at best and it's totally unfounded."

He acknowledged that the problem was identified and fixed prior to the release of school grades but maintained the change affected as many as 13 schools.

"We did nothing wrong. We did nothing covert. We did nothing secretive," Bennett said.

The revelations that Bennett and Indiana officials scrambled to change the grade of one school come amid a strong debate over Florida's grading system.

Bennett earlier this month pushed the Florida board that oversees education policy to adopt a "safety net" provision that prevented the grades of more than 500 schools from dropping more than one grade this year.

That provision was adopted by a 4-3 vote amid much debate and criticism that the move would "mask" the true performance of schools. Bennett's plan was even opposed by the education foundation set up by Bush. The grades released last week still showed a sharp drop in the number of A-rated schools and a jump in the number of F-rated ones.

ADVERTISEMENT

  • IN Wins; FL Loses
    Too bad he's been appointed - not elected - to disband the public schools in another state and do further damage to education and the children.
  • Read his emails!!!!
    To DRT: Did you actually read Bennett's emails? Let me remind you of one particularly egregious one: ""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."" There is no left wing fabrication going on here, he clearly never envisioned his emails making the light of day.
  • wow oh wow...
    I can hardly believe that ANOTHER Republicon in Indiana is guilty of corruption by their political donors, and here I thought Tony 'Soprano' Bennett really CARED about the children of Indiana!
  • Hit Piece
    Why does the IBJ continue to publish this hit piece? It is factually inaccurate to say that worked to alter a grade for a school founded by a top Republican donor. The change affected EVERY school. It was clear from the emails that the low grade received prompted them to review the whole system. Perhaps there should have been more transparency involved but this story is nothing but circumstantial evidence and hearsay. The AP author clearly has an agenda and this is journalistic integrity at its worst.
  • Is the IBJ concerned, does not seem so
    So now Mitch dances away to Purdue with the States School System in shambles and now THIS! ....MITCH ! MITCH ! are you there? We have not heard from you on this deception(Some say FRAUD) that occurred on your watch. Are you there MITCH?

    Post a comment to this story

    COMMENTS POLICY
    We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
     
    You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
     
    Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
     
    No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
     
    We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
     

    Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

    Sponsored by
    ADVERTISEMENT

    facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

    Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
    Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
     
    Subscribe to IBJ
    1. So much for Eric Holder's conversation about race. If white people have got something to say, they get sued over it. Bottom line: white people have un-freer speech than others as a consequence of the misnamed "Civil rights laws."

    2. I agree, having seen three shows, that I was less than wowed. Disappointing!!

    3. Start drilling, start fracking, and start using our own energy. Other states have enriched their citizens and nearly elminated unemployment by using these resources that are on private land. If you are against the 'low prices' of discount stores, the best way to allow shoppers more choice is to empower them with better earnings. NOT through manipulated gov mandated min wage hikes, but better jobs and higher competitive pay. This would be direct result of using our own energy resources, yet Obama knows that Americans who arent dependent of gov welfare are much less likely to vote Dem, so he looks for ways to ensure America's decline and keep its citizens dependent of gov.

    4. Say It Loud, I'm Black and Ashamed: It's too bad that with certain "black" entertainment events, it seems violence and thuggery follows and the collateral damage that it leaves behinds continues to be a strain on the city in terms of people getting hurt, killed or becoming victims of crimes and/or stretching city resources. I remember shopping in the Meadows area years ago until violence and crime ended make most of the business pack you and leave as did with Lafayette Square and Washington Square. Over the past 10 to 12 years, I remember going to the Indiana Black Expo Soul Picnic in Washington Park. Violence, gang fights and homicides ended that. My great grandmother still bears the scares on her leg from when she was trampled by a group of thugs running from gun fire from a rival gang. With hundreds of police offices downtown still multiple shootings, people getting shot downtown during Black Expo. A number of people getting shots or murdered at black clubs around the city like Club Six on the west side, The Industry downtown, Jamal Tinsley's shot out in front of the Conrad, multiple fights and shootings at the skating rinks, shootings at Circle Center Mall and shooting and robberies and car jackings at Lafayette Mall. Shootings and gang violence and the State Fair. I can go on and on and on. Now Broad Ripple. (Shaking head side to side) Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Ashamed.

    5. Ballard Administration. Too funny. This is the least fiscally responsive administration I have ever seen. One thing this article failed to mention, is that the Hoosier State line delivers rail cars to the Amtrak Beech Grove maintenance facility for refurbishment. That's an economic development issue. And the jobs there are high-paying. That alone is worth the City's investment.

    ADVERTISEMENT