Tony Bennett has resigned as Florida education commissioner days after AP reported he’d raised the grade of a donor’s charter school when he was Indiana’s education chief. Leaked emails showed Bennett pushed his staff to ensure a school he’d repeatedly praised earned an A, rather than 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. The grade was raised by changing the way high-school scores are counted in schools without a senior class.
Bennett said Christel House’s C revealed a flaw in the accountability system penalizing schools that combined a middle and high school. However, earlier he’d refused to adjust failing grades for two district-run Indianapolis high schools, Arlington and Howe that had added middle school grades, reports the Indianapolis Star. Both were taken over by the state.
In the case of Christel House, emails unearthed by The Associated Press show Bennett’s staff sprung into action in 2012 when it appeared scores from the recently added grades could sink the highly regarded school’s rating from an A to a C. Ultimately, the high school scores were excluded and the school’s grade remained an A.
But in 2011, after IPS’ then-Superintendent Eugene White demanded Bennett consider the test scores of high school students separately from those of middle school students so the high schools could avoid state takeover, Bennett was unmoved.
Howe and Arlington have been failure mills for many years, writes Dropout Nation’s RiShawn Biddle, who worked for the Indianapolis Star.
Arlington’s officially-reported four-year graduation rate barely increased from 49.6 percent for its Class of 2006 to 55 percent for its Class of 2011. Much of that increase was due to IPS allowing the many students who failed Indiana’s battery of graduation exams to receive diplomas through the state’s waiver process; two out of every five graduates in Arlington’s Class of 2011 got their sheepskins through that loophole, a rate that has been steady for more than a decade.
Bennett’s fall could strengthen the movement to pull Florida out of Common Core, adds Biddle. Bennett was defeated for re-election in the Indiana race for superintendent in part because of his strong support for Common Core.
Education Gadfly has more reaction to Bennett’s fall.