Putting Education Reform To The Test

Education Groups Come To Tony Bennett’s Defense

Education Commissioner Tony Bennett is under criticism for emails revealing he worked to change Indiana's school grading system in 2012.

Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

Education Commissioner Tony Bennett is under criticism for emails revealing he worked to change Indiana's school grading system in 2012.

The Foundation for Florida’s Future and Michael Petrilli, writing at The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, are defending Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett’s decision to change Indiana’s school grading formula while leading Hoosier State schools in 2012.

The change boosted a notable charter school to an A grade from an initial C grade. Emails published by the Associated Press showed Bennett and staff scrambling to find a solution and concerned about the fallout if they didn’t.

Bennett said he was trying to preserve the integrity of the state’s formula. In a statement, foundation director Patricia Levesque said Bennett fixed an error:

“Commissioner Bennett and his department found and corrected a mistake that would have unfairly penalized 13 schools missing data for grades they did not even serve. They fixed a problem to be accurate and fair – any accusation otherwise is false and politically motivated.

“A-F school grading empowers parents to know how well schools are serving their children, in a transparent and easy to understand way. In 2012, Indiana was in its first year of its new school grading calculation, and there is always a learning process when implementing a policy new to a state.

“The best thing to do is to lay out the facts, which is what Commissioner Bennett is doing. Political attacks will come and go. The focus must remain on ensuring every student has access to a high-quality education that prepares them for success.”

Bennett is a member of Chiefs for Change, a group of state superintendents related to the Foundation for Florida’s Future.

Petrilli argued the public should wait before judging Bennett’s decision. Petrilli also believed Bennett’s version that the change was necessary to preserve the integrity of the school grading system.

So Bennett worked to fix the problem—not, I believe, because the school was connected to a donor, but because no one would trust an accountability system that labeled even excellent schools as worthy of C’s or worse. (As I said the other day, we reformers need to be as worried about slandering the reputations of good schools as we are about letting bad schools off the hook.)

Bennett’s political enemies will ascribe impure motives to his actions. The rest of us should refuse to join along.

A handful of groups, including The National Center for Fair and Open Testing, have called for Bennett’s resignation or replacement.


About StateImpact

StateImpact seeks to inform and engage local communities with broadcast and online news focused on how state government decisions affect your lives.
Learn More »