I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Monday, July 29, 2013

Tony Bennett: Grade Fixer

One of Jeb! Bush's most prominent "Chiefs For Change," Tony Bennett got drummed out of Indiana last year when he lost reelection for state superintendent of education. No matter: Jeb! pulled a few strings and got him his current gig doing the same job in Florida, where he has presided over one disaster after another.

As Bob Sikes points out, Bennett's role as the "fiscal agent" for the Common Core test consortium known as PARCC actually followed him from Indiana to Florida, compromising his role as an objective evaluator of the testing regime. So between his own conflicts of interest, the conservative backlash against the Common Core in Florida, and the growing distrust over Florida's "statistically invalid" school grading system, the last thing Bennett needs is another scandal.

Well, as they used to say over at Warner Brothers: cue the anvil.
Former Indiana and current Florida schools chief Tony Bennett built his national star by promising to hold "failing" schools accountable. But when it appeared an Indianapolis charter school run by a prominent Republican donor might receive a poor grade, Bennett's education team frantically overhauled his signature "A-F" school grading system to improve the school's marks. 
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 test scores in algebra that initially earned it a "C." 
"They need to understand that anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work," Bennett wrote in a Sept. 12 email to then-chief of staff Heather Neal, who is now Gov. Mike Pence's chief lobbyist. 
The emails, which also show Bennett discussed with staff the legality of changing just DeHaan's grade, raise unsettling questions about the validity of a grading system that has broad implications. 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. [emphasis mine]
Of course, Bennett went straight into denial mode, just like his twerp of a mentor, hypocritical former Indiana governor and current book banner and dishonest scholar Mitch Daniels. I guess it's all he can do, because the evidence is quite damning:
Bennett consistently cited Christel House as a top-performing school as he secured support for the measure from business groups and lawmakers, including House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem David Long. 
But trouble loomed when Indiana's then-grading director, Jon Gubera, first alerted Bennett on Sept. 12 that the Christel House Academy had scored less than an A. 
"This will be a HUGE problem for us," Bennett wrote in a Sept. 12, 2012 email to Neal. 
Neal fired back a few minutes later, "Oh, crap. We cannot release until this is resolved."
Heh - "resolved." Sounds like a mob movie: "Vinnie, we need to resolve this current situation, capiche?"
By Sept. 13, Gubera unveiled it was a 2.9, or a "C." 
A weeklong behind-the-scenes scramble ensued among Bennett, assistant superintendent Dale Chu, Gubera, Neal and other top staff at the Indiana Department of Education. They examined ways to lift Christel House from a "C'' to an "A," including adjusting the presentation of color charts to make a high "B'' look like an "A'' and changing the grade just for Christel House. 
 Dear lord - they changed the colors. Seriously.
Bennett said Monday he felt no special pressure to deliver an "A'' for DeHaan. Instead, he argued, if he had paid more attention to politics he would have won re-election in Indiana. 
Yet Bennett wrote to staff twice in four days, directly inquiring about DeHaan's status. Gubera broke the news after the second note that "terrible" 10th grade algebra results had "dragged down their entire school." 
Bennett called the situation "very frustrating and disappointing" in an email that day. 
"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."
 Tony, buddy, there's really only two choices here:

  1. Save yourself a lot of headaches and hassle and just resign, never to work in education again.
  2. ...
Yeah, OK, there's only one choice. I know it's a tough economy out there, kiddo, but I'm sure you'll land on your feet...

Florida Commissioner of Education Tony Bennett

Where do I find these guys?!


Lee Barrios, M.Ed., NBCT said...

For Shame! And you can bet the entire fraternity of Chiefs for Change, including our own John White (Louisiana) have the same tricks up their sleeve. Our Suoe is tighter with those public I formation requests though, making it difficult. I wonder if he realizes that the penalty for withholding information or destroying evidence makes it a very bad decision. Not that he would try it.

ad77 said...

Welcoming our Louisiana Brethren!

Perhaps you can fill us Jersey Folk in more on the 'tenure' of Paul Pastorek - your former ed leader. As he was the the very first person our Commissioner of Ed, Cerf, visited within weeks upon getting his appointment. Pastorek is a member of the Broad Foundation headed by Joel Klein.