Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett resigned his post Thursday following questions about his role in changing the state’s grading formula to boost the grade of an influential Indiana charter school while leading Hoosier State schools in 2012.
Bennett called the charges “malicious” and “unfounded,” but said he did not want to become a distraction in Florida. The Associated Press first published emails, which showed Bennett and staff discussing how to make Christel House Academy an A-rated school.
“Every minute we spend defending the credibility of your commissioner because of what’s said 800 miles away,” Bennett said, “is a minute we waste that we should have been thinking about educating children in Florida.”
Bennett said the decision was “mine alone” and that Gov. Rick Scott offered his support.
“I end my tenure with my head held high,” Bennett said.
Florida’s education commissioner is one of the most difficult jobs in the country.
Former commissioner Eric Smith left his job in March 2011. His replacement, Gerard Robinson, was hired in August of that year and resigned 12 months later amid questions about errors in calculating school grades and growing opposition to standardized testing.
Bennett was to bring stability to the post, but now he’s out too.
“Florida is a dynamic, diverse state. It’s not an easy ship to steer,” said Senate Education Committee chairman John Legg. “But there are individuals out there who are up to that challenge.
“Anytime you have a change at the helm it’s always disappointing,” Legg said. “I believe it was probably the right move…he was becoming a distraction over policy.”
Bennett said he recommended Pam Stewart take over as interim commissioner. Stewart filled that role prior to Bennett’s hiring in December.
Bennett also defended two former Indiana staffers, Dale Chu and Will Krebs, involved with the grade discussion who moved with him to Florida.
“This department would do well if they stay and continue their work,” Bennett said.
Update, 1:17 p.m. — Here’s Bennett’s resignation letter:
Former Gov. Jeb Bush has released a statement:
“Tony started every day with the focus of creating a system that would equip kids to achieve their God-given potential,” said Jeb Bush, governor of Florida from 1999-2007 and the chair of the Foundation for Excellence in Education and Foundation for Florida’s Future. “Today, more Hoosier kids are graduating high school ready for college or a career and fewer are dropping out. Last year, the parents of nearly 10,000 children in low-income homes were able to select the school that best fit their son or daughter. Leadership is doing what is right, knowing the results will follow. The data is clear; thanks to Tony’s leadership children are better prepared for success.”
State Board of Education Chairman Gary Chartrand has released a statement:
“Tony demonstrated great leadership transitioning Florida to new state standards – and he worked tirelessly during his tenure to provide students and teachers with the tools they needed to succeed. I thank him for his hard work and the support that he and Governor Scott have provided to educators and students across the state. In order to continue the success that Tony facilitated, it is my intention to convene a State Board of Education call tomorrow to recommend that the board appoint our K-12 Chancellor Pam Stewart as Interim Commissioner.”
Update, 1:36 pm. — Here’s some reaction to Bennett’s resignation from Twitter:
Man, Bennett-gate really blew up fast.
— Morgan Polikoff (@mpolikoff) August 1, 2013
Tony Bennett’s resignation likely to have major influence on PARCC. I wouldn’t be surprised if FL now decides to withdraw. That’s bad. #ugh
— Andy Smarick (@smarick) August 1, 2013
— Michael Petrilli (@MichaelPetrilli) August 1, 2013
Just heard Tony Bennett resigned as Florida Sec of Education. Cheaters never win and winners never cheat.
— Jeff Cobb (@JeffCobb5) August 1, 2013
— Jim Stergios (@JimStergios) August 1, 2013
— Sherman Dorn (@shermandorn) August 1, 2013
This post will be updated throughout the day.