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

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Tony Bennett's Own Staff Contradicts His Denials

Rick Hess (who else?) gives Tony Bennett a platform to make the case that he only changed the grade for a charter school - whose founder gave him $90,000 in campaign contributions - to correct a small statistical anomaly:
Rick Hess: So, Tony. You know that the story here is disconcerting at first look. Can you offer any more context or backstory that we should know?
Tony Bennett: The backstory is simple here, Rick. In our first run of the new school calculations in Indiana, we turned up an anomaly in the results. As we were looking at the grades we were giving our schools, we realized that state law created an unfair penalty for schools that didn't have 11th and 12th grades. Statewide, there were 13 schools in question had unusual grade configurations. The data for grades 11 and 12 came in as zero. When we caught it, we fixed it. That's what this is all about.
RH: And Christel House is one of those 13?
TB: Because Christel House was a K-10 school, the systems essentially counted the other two grades as zeroes. That brought the school's score down from an "A" to a "C". [emphasis mine]
Now, that actually appears to be true: the high school grade as calculated by IN-DOE includes a score given for graduation rates, which a school like Christel House - which doesn't yet have a senior class - couldn't earn. There's also a chance for a boost if a high school gets enough students to pass an AP or IB test (talk about a bias towards affluent schools; and does the IN-DOE pay for the administration of AP and IB tests?). So, sure, maybe Christel did suffer because it didn't yet have upperclassmen.

But Bennett's implication in making that case is that the school was doing fine otherwise. Was it? In the emails published by the AP, Bennett's staff didn't seem to think so (annotation mine):

Jon Gubera is the Chief Accountability Officer at IN-DOE, and it was his assessment that Christel House's 10th grade Algebra I results were "terrible." Indeed, the 2012 School Performance Report for Christel House Academy shows only 23.1 percent of students who took the Math End of Course Assessment (ECA) passed, compared to a 69.4 percent of students statewide.

And when you look at the historical data, it's even more damning for Christel House. The Indiana state database for the ECA reports no test results for Christel House in Algebra for 2011 (they did report scores for Biology, which, to my mind, lessens the chance that this is a reporting error). In 2010, 21 8th graders took the Algebra ECA; only 4 passed, a rate of 19%. I think it's safe to say all of last year's sophomores were dissuaded from taking the ECA as freshmen; unfortunately, the delay didn't help much.

Let me be clear: this is not an indictment of the school. Given the high poverty rates at Christel House, this pass rate may be the result of good instruction, given challenging students. It's worth pointing out that 77.5 percent of Christel House's ECA test takers in English passed, compared to 77.0 percent across the state: that's obviously something to be proud of. I commend the students and staff of Christel House for their hard work.

Too bad they were being judged by a state commissioner who wasn't worthy of their diligence:
RH: Christel is obviously a longtime supporter of Republican candidates, including yourself. How do you respond to concerns that you reacted as you did to the Christel House results for political reasons? 
TB: It's unfair to characterize Christel as only a donor to Republicans. If you look into it, you'll find that she's donated to both parties. She's a champion for underprivileged children. Her work around the world and in Indianapolis is an inspiration to me. It's absurd that anyone would believe that I would do any of this for a donation. In fact, if you talk to some of my friends, they'll tell you that I maybe pay a lot less attention to this politics stuff than I sometimes should.
What's absurd is to believe that any of Bennett's denials should be given credence. He made the rules, but when he didn't like how things turned out for his political patron, he changed them.

Can you tell this one is really making my blood boil? Bennett was playing around with the lives of educators and children, creating a biased system that did nothing to inform instruction or improve schools. He was more worried about getting the A-F grading system to match his ideological predilections (and the needs of his campaign contributors) than he was in creating a fair, transparent metric that could help schools improve. Now he pretends that he is shocked - shocked, I say! - that anyone would dare question his integrity when it's quite clear that he gamed the system.

Tony Bennett needs to resign and go into another field; the good people of Florida deserve better.

Yet another "Chiefs For Change" fail.

1 comment:

alm said...

Really troubling. Glad that people got to the bottom of this story.

Was there no growth metric for HS students? That seems to be part of the problem w/ the system, which you allude to.