Bennett to resign as Florida’s K-12 leader in wake of Indiana controversy

Aug 2, 2013 by

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Noted education reformer Tony Bennett will resign as Florida’s education commissioner later today after questions arose earlier this week about his role in changing the performance grade of a charter school that’s operated by a top Republican donor, according to

The controversy stems from Bennett’s alleged actions during his term as Indiana’s elected Superintendent of Public Instruction, which extended from 2009 to 2013.

On Monday, the Associated Press reported that Bennett may have been involved in an effort to inflate the state-issued letter grade of Christel House Academy, an Indianapolis charter school run by Christel DeHaan, a prominent donor to many Republican candidates, including Bennett.

Under reforms passed during Bennett’s tenure as Indiana’s superintendent, the performance of every public school is rated using an A-F letter grading system. Charter schools are public schools and are included in the grading program.

According to the AP report, “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.”

Bennett had long touted Christel House Academy as a top-performing school, but that was called into question last September “when Indiana’s then-grading director, Jon Gubera, first alerted Bennett” that the school had only scored a “C,” the AP reports.

Bennett and his staff allegedly reacted by engaging in “a weeklong behind-the-scenes scramble” to find ways of lifting the school’s grade, according to emails obtained by the AP.

In one email, Bennett seems to have suggested revising the state criteria for an “A” grade.

Bennett denied any wrongdoing and said the email only revealed his frustration with the flawed grading system.

“I just think that it’s absurd that anyone would believe that I would change a grade of a school based on a political donor, or based on trying to hide schools from accountability,” Bennett said recently, according to Indianapolis’ FOX 59.

DeHaan, owner of the charter school in question, said Monday that no one from the school asked for the grade to be altered, the AP reports.

Bennett became Florida’s top education official in January of this year, after his he lost bid for re-election as Indiana’s K-12 superintendent.

Bennett’s ability to continue in his new post was called into question earlier this week when several Florida Democratic lawmakers publicly called for his resignation. notes that Bennett’s “resignation will be a major setback for Gov. Rick Scott and state education leaders, who are working to overhaul Florida’s system of school accountability and assessment in compliance with the national Common Core standards.”

Actually, the effects of Bennett’s resignation will be felt nationwide.

Over the past several years, Bennett has emerged as one of the nation’s toughest and most courageous education reformers.

Under Bennett’s leadership, Indiana established the largest voucher program in the nation, which makes it financially possible for poor and middle class families to escape dysfunctional government-run schools in favor of high-quality private schools.

It’s not hyperbole to say that Bennett helped bring hope and academic success to tens of thousands of Indiana children.

Unfortunately those accomplishments may be tarnished by his lapse in judgment over the Christel House Academy episode – if the allegations are proven to be true.

It could be that Bennett’s decision to resign is a simple acknowledgment that he no longer has the political muscle needed to guide reform efforts in the Sunshine State.

But it might also be an acknowledgement of wrongdoing.

Frankly, it doesn’t matter, because critics of reform will use this episode to unfairly question and smear the motives of all K-12 reform advocates.

And that’s a major shame.

Bennett to resign as Florida’s K-12 leader in wake of Indiana controversy – powered by Education Action Group Foundation, Inc..

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