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

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Ultimate Chiefs For Change Fail: B'bye, Bennett!

Hey Tony, on your way out, don't let the door hit you on the...
Less than eight months after starting his job, Florida's education commissioner Tony Bennett resigned on Thursday, amid a growing scandal over policy changes he made while serving as schools superintendent in Indiana.
"I asked Governor Scott to accept my resignation, and he did," Bennett said during a press conference.
Bennett's plans to resign were first reported by the Tampa Bay Times. He has faced increasing pressure to step down since the Associated Press published emails on Monday showing that he quietly changed Indiana's school grading formula. The emails show that the formula change happened when Christel House Academy, a charter school backed by influential Republican donors, received a low grade under the original formula.
Since the AP story was published, Bennett has defended himself by saying that the grading formula unfairly dinged Christel House and some other schools for not having traditional grade structures. Christel House didn't offer classes to high school juniors and seniors, he said, so "the data for grades 11 and 12 came in as zero," Bennett said.
But an analysis by New America Foundation's education expert Anne Hyslop claims that Bennett's defense "doesn't add up." "In truth, Christel House was never evaluated on its poor high school performance," Hyslop wrote. "Instead, all of the high school data were thrown out – a little detail Bennett failed to mention." [emphasis mine]
Golly, isn't this a bit premature? I mean, Mike Petrilli said we shouldn't rush to judgement: after all, Bennett is Mike's friend! Isn't that enough proof for anyone that Bennett is a straight-shooter? Plus, Rick Hess vouched for him! What more do you people need?!
Bennett said he stood by everything contained in the emails. When devising Indiana's grading system, he said, he expected "top performing charter schools" to be rewarded for their performance, but "that didn't happen."
"We found a statistical anomaly that did not allow 13 schools -- there's been a focus on one school -- but did not allow 13 schools to have their grades truly reflect their performance, and they were unfairly penalized. That wasn't rigging anything," Bennett said. "We did the right thing for Indiana schools and Indiana children."
BULL. Bennett's own staff told him Christel House's "C" came because of bad performance on the state Algebra test. Worse, the system was already rigged to give "combined" grade-level schools - which are mostly charters - an unfair advantage. No surprise: as Matt DiCarlo reported last year, the Indiana A-F school grading system, Bennett's crowning achievement, gives a big advantage to affluent schools over schools that serve poor kids.

This scandal is certainly an indictment of Bennett's personal integrity; he really had no choice but to resign. But make no mistake: Bennett's transgressions are the inevitable outcome of the ideologically-based "reforms" that he and his fellow "Chiefs For Change" are foisting on school systems across America.

Leave aside Bennett's lack of personal ethics; look at the damage he has already done in Florida:
Florida has been among the fastest states to adopt changes favored by education reformers, from school report cards to radical changes to teacher evaluations and tenure. Some reformers worry that Bennett's resignation could set the state back as it tries to implement Common Core State Standards and grapples with a new wave of standardized testing tied to the core.
The loss will also be a setback for Gov. Rick Scott (R), who appointed Bennett after he lost reelection in Indiana and has supported his reforms. After the allegations surfaced, Scott praised Bennett, telling reporters he was "doing a great job."
His most recent move was to change Florida's school grading formula, but he did so publicly. "The Board adopted a recommendation requested by many of Florida's district superintendents that implements a rule that stipulates no individual school’s grade will drop more than one letter grade in any one year until the state’s transition to the Common Core standards is complete," a July 16 Florida Department of Education memo read.
You can't have a fair, transparent, and informative system of evaluation for schools if it can be changed on the whims of one man (yes, one: the board is clearly a rubber-stamping operation). In a way, what Bennett did in Florida is worse than what he did in Indiana: he gamed the entire system, not just the results for a few schools, to keep parents and teachers from rising up in open revolt against Scott. His decision was purely political; it had nothing to do with improving education.

This may be the most dangerous legacy of Jeb! Bush's "Chiefs For Change": they have moved to consolidate power over districts and schools within their own state-level offices, usurping local control, empowering privatizers, and politicizing school policy in the process.

The common threads for the "Chiefs": autocracy, secrecy, usurpation of local control, a culture of punishment, excuse-making for inadequate school funding, and unaccountability. Tony Bennett may be the personification of their "values," but every one of them, in his or her own way, is carrying out Bennett's program in their respective states.

I can think of no more dangerous group for the future of American public education than Jeb! Bush's "Chiefs For Change." May they all quickly go the way of Tony Bennett; our students will be far better off the moment they do.

One down, seven to go...

I'm running out of "Chiefs"!

ADDING: One more thing:

I like Joy Resmovits, the reporter who wrote this story; she's knowledgable and usually fair, which makes her stand head and shoulders above most "journalists" writing about education. But in the bottom graphs of her piece, she gets reactions to the Bennett resignation from three education "experts":

Seriously? Hess at least taught a few years and has a degree in education. Smarick has no background or degrees in education; Petrilli I think worked at a summer camp. Is there no one who actually works in a school, Joy, that you could add to your Rolodex for occasions like this?

Further: both Petrilli and Hess provided platforms for Bennett to make his excuses (see links above). Both said outright they consider Bennett a friend. And Smarick's reformy credentials are well known.

Come on, Joy: I know you can do better than this. A little balance is all I ask.


giuseppe said...

Chris Hayes does a decent segment on Tony Bennett. John Merrow's reactions are kind of bland. Video link below:

Marie said...

"We found a statistical anomaly that did not allow 13 schools... to have their grades truly reflect their performance, and they were unfairly penalized."

Imagine that...

Data not reflective of a school's true performance. Schools being unfairly penalized.

Imagine that...

Mrs. King's music students said...

While researching for an interview, I stumbled over some of the A-F school evals of which you speak, and looked up schools where I've worked and have firsthand knowledge of what really goes on in classrooms. I've concluded... you're right. These grades make no sense at all.

For example, at Cramer Elem in Camden (skipping over the peer ranking percentile which is useless) the state ranking for acad achievement in reading and math is 3. Inexplicably, this is after 100% of the targets have been met??? Somehow, our college readiness is 10 even though 0% of targets have been met and student growth is 12 where 50% of the targets have been met. All of the above resulted in a grade of D from the state.

Then I hopped over to John Glenn Elem in Pine Hill, where statewide rank for acad achievement in reading and math is 30 and 80% of targets were met, college readiness is 14 where 0% of targets were met, and student growth is 33 where 100% of targets were met. At JG where acad achievement was 10 times higher than Cramer and student growth was nearly 3 times higher, and ignoring college readines in elem schools because it's just stupid, the state awarded them...... a C-.

What the what?!!! Does this mean that raising acad achievement ten times higher than it is now at Cramer will only bring our grade up 1/2 of a point? Not saying Cramer teachers can't do it - just wondering what has to happen for an A or a B?