Bennett’s grade changed to F

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.

GOP donor’s school went from C to A

As education commissioner in Indiana, Tony Bennett pushed an accountability system that gave each school a grade. When an Indianapolis charter school funded by a Republican donor earned a C, Bennett and his staff changed the grading system to raise the grade to an A, reports Associated Press.

Bennett had praised Christel House Academy in speeches as a high-performing school serving predominantly low-income students. The school was founded by Christel DeHaan, who’s given “more than $2.8 million to Republicans since 1998, including $130,000 to Bennett and thousands more to state legislative leaders,” reports AP.

“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.

Bennett lost re-election in Indiana but was hired by Florida, where he’s now revising the state’s grading system.

On Sept. 12, Jon Gubera, Indiana’s grading director, told Bennett that Christel House Academy had scored a 2.9, a C, because of “terrible” 10th-grade algebra scores.

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.

. . . When he requested a status update Sept. 14, his staff alerted him that the new school grade, a 3.50, was painfully close to an “A.” Then-deputy chief of staff Marcie Brown wrote that the state might not be able to “legally” change the cutoff for an “A.”

“We can revise the rule,” Bennett responded.

Over the next week, his top staff worked arduously to get Christel House its “A.” By Sept. 21, Christel House had jumped to a 3.75.

Bennett claims he fixed a glitch that affected schools that combined grade levels. Christel House was a K-10 school last year and is adding an 11th grade this year.

In an interview with Rick Hess, Bennett explains that 13 schools were penalized for not having an 11th or 12th grade:

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.

Christel House was one of the top charter schools in the state, Bennett told the Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald. The low grade showed something was wrong with the grading system, he said.

Bennett said that Indiana was in the midst of finalizing its school grading formula when the email exchange took place. He said he had hoped to use high-performing schools like Christel House to calibrate the system.

“We needed to make sure the school grades reflected how the schools really performed,” he said.

Any evaluation system must include a “qualitative reality check,” writes Greg Forster on Jay P. Greene’s Blog. “All educational standards privilege someone’s opinion of what is a good school, and government privileges the opinion of powerful interests.”

 

The lessons of 2012 for ed reformers

Education reformers learned some painful lessons in 2012, writes Mike Petrilli. Indiana Superintendent Tony Bennett, the “darling of the national education reform movement,” lost his job to a union-backed opponent. In Idaho, voters repealed three laws pushed by Superintendent Tom Luna.

To build a winning political coalition, reformers need to “stop angering suburban parents and teachers by subjecting their schools to changes they don’t want or need,” Petrilli writes.

It’s not that suburban schools are perfect — their performance lags behind that of our international competitors, too. But the policies required for these schools to go from good to great are different from those needed to get urban schools from dismal to decent. In nations with the best schools, local leaders have the power to make day-to-day decisions and aren’t micromanaged from on high.

Second, reformers must “show respect for teachers,” Petrilli writes.

 We need to stress that bad teachers are rare but devastating and that efforts to weed them out will lift the entire profession. Any rhetoric that implies that most or even many teachers are incompetent or uncommitted to children needs to be scrapped.

Finally, reformers need to match “an army of determined educators … with a larger army of equally determined parents.”

Don’t let the suburbs slide, responds RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation.

. . . reformers can’t afford to ignore or placate suburbia. This is because suburban districts face many of the same challenges that bedevil big-city counterparts — and have been less-willing to embrace systemic change.

Suburban districts are increasingly more diverse, thanks to poor and first-generation middle class black, Latino, and Asian families who are seeking better educational opportunities for their kids (and often mistakenly think that suburban schools can provide them).

The Obama administration is handing out No Child Left Behind waivers that will ease the pressure on suburban districts.

 

The education election

The status quo was a big winner, writes Rick Hess in his election wrap-up.

Those edu-advocates who’ve been telling themselves that an Obama win would mean a big infusion of dollars are going to be disappointed– the size of the deficit, the GOP majority in the House, the need to deal with Pell, the impending costs of the Affordable Care Act, and the rest mean that there won’t be big new dollars for education initiatives, no matter how often the President says nice things about edu-investment and workforce initiatives.

. . . The next few years may be something of a slog for folks at ED, as they have to do the tedious work of trying to monitor Race to the Top and waiver commitments, while figuring out how to be impactful when they don’t have much new money to spend . . .

It will be interesting to see who quits the Education Department, Hess writes.

If Indiana Superintendent Tony Bennett’s re-election campaign was “a referendum on reform,”  as Fordham’s Mike Petrilli put it, reform lost. Bennett, a Republican who championed tougher teacher evaluations and school accountability, was upset by teacher Glenda Ritz, a Democrat.

Bennett was a reform “stud,” writes Hess. Teachers’ union opposition wouldn’t have been enough to defeat Bennett in “deep red” Indiana. He also faced opposition from Tea Party conservatives over his support for Common Core State Standards, which they call “Obamacore.”

Intentionally or not, the Obama administration has politicized the Common Core and, in so doing, is making it dangerous for elected Republicans in red states to support it. And, trust me, a lot of GOP state school board members, education committee members, and state chiefs are aware of what happened to Bennett.

Ed Week looks at Arne Duncan’s five big challenges in the next term. “Duncan will have to walk a fine line between supporting states as they implement common standards and tests, and, in the words of Checker Finn, not ”loving them to death.”

The Obama-Duncan education reforms are at risk, writes Rishawn Biddle on Dropout Nation. No ChIld Left Behind waivers are letting traditionalists and suburban districts gut accountability. He hopes Obama and Duncan will work with congressional leaders on both sides to revise No Child and expand accountability. But he’s not holding his breath.

School choice lost in Florida, where voters rejected a measure that would have let parents use school vouchers at religious schools.

However, Georgia approved a special commission to authorize new charters.

After turning down charter schools three times, voters in Washington state narrowly passed a charter school measure which will let 40 charters open statewide in the next five years. A majority of parents or teachers could “trigger” the conversion of a traditional public school into a charter.

In Idaho, where Romney won in a landslide, voters repealed the “Students Come First” laws, agreeing with teachers’ unions. It was “a stunning rebuke” to Republican Gov. Butch Otter and Superintendent Tom Luna, writes the Idaho Statesman.

– 57 percent opposed to restrictions on teachers unions in Prop 1.

– 58 percent voted no on Prop 2, which paid teacher bonuses based on student test scores and other measures.

– 67 percent rejected a mandate for laptops and online credits for every Idaho high school student.

In red-hot South Dakota, two-thirds of voters rejected Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s plan to “give bonuses to top teachers, phase out tenure and recruit candidates for critical teaching jobs,” reports KSFY-ABC.

Michigan voters rejected a union-sponsored measure protecting collective-bargaining rights.

Maryland voters approved in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants.

To my surprise, California voters approved a tax increase billed as the only way to keep schools open. A political contributions initiative aimed at unions failed.

In Arizona, a sales tax extension to fund schools went down to defeat.

States will vote on vouchers, charters, ed reform

Across the nation, voters will have a chance to change state education policies, notes the Hechinger Report.

A ballot initiative in Florida would amend the Constitution to allow religious schools to receive vouchers.

Georgia is voting on a special commission to authorize new charters.

Washington voters have rejected charter schools three times, but another charter measure is on the ballot, along with a “trigger” that would let a majority of parents, or teachers, vote to convert their traditional public school into a charter.

Idaho’s teachers union hopes voters will reject three recently passed education laws.

Proposition 1 aims to repeal a law mandating that 50 percent of teacher evaluations be tied to student growth – an increasingly common policy nationwide. The law also abolished teacher tenure, limited collective bargaining and eliminated incentives for early retirement. Proposition 2 would end Idaho’s new merit pay plan, which provides bonuses for teachers and administrators based on student growth on standardized tests. The law also allows for bonuses to be given to teachers who take hard-to-staff positions or leadership roles. And if a majority vote yes on Proposition 3, a law mandating that all students take two online classes before graduating high school will be repealed.

Voters in Maryland will decide on in-state tuition at public universities for undocumented immigrants.

Indiana Superintendent Tony Bennett’s re-election campaign is “being watched nationally as a referendum on reform,” Fordham’s Mike Petrilli told AP. “If Tony Bennett can push this type of aggressive reform agenda and win, it will give a big lift to other politicians eager to enact similar reforms.” Indiana now has the biggest voucher program in the country.

Also keep an eye on Michigan, where a union-sponsored measure would put collective-bargaining rights in the state constitution. That would block education reforms, argues Michelle Rhee, who’s put Students First PAC money into the “no” campaign.

Romney’s pick for Education: Jeb? Rhee?

With the Republican convention underway, it’s time to speculate about Romney’s pick for Education secretary. Over at Politics K-12, Alyson Klein writes that  former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is the number one guess among GOP insiders. Bush wrote the foreword to Romney’s education plan and is the “godfather” of the state superintendents’ group “Chiefs for Change,” which has “had a major impact on state-level education policies.”

Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, of Minnesota also is a top mentionee.

If Romney looks for a state superintendent, Tony Bennett of Indiana, a Chief for Change, and Tom Luna of Idaho are possibilities.

. . . given Romney’s dissing of the teacher’s unions, Luna’s got anti-union street cred to spare—his tires were slashed last year when he tried to raise class size and put merit pay in place.

Other folks are fans of New Jersey’s Chris Cerf, a registered Democrat who, works with a GOP governor (Tuesday’s keynote speaker, Chris Christie).

Former superintendents include Robert Scott (Texas), Paul Pastorek (Louisiana) and Lisa Graham Keegan (of Arizona).

Folks have also suggested that Romney could use the Education Department as the one place to stick a (non-state chief) Democrat, to show his administration can be bipartisan. The name that came up most often? Former New York City chancellor Joel Klein. Other folks suggested Michelle Rhee, a Democrat, who is now running the Students First juggernaut and will be in both Tampa and Charlotte. She’ll be at screenings of the parent-trigger movie “Won’t Back Down.”

The darkest of dark horses? Some of Klein’s Republican sources suggested Romney could ask Arne Duncan to stick around. “Even if it is a joke, it shows Duncan’s still got some cross-aisle credibility,” writes Klein.