Former Indiana Superintendent, Lauded by ALEC and Education Privatizers, Cheats on School Grading Formula for Top Donor

From PRWatch by Brendan Fischer

New documents show that former Indiana Schools Superintendent Tony Bennett — who now heads Florida’s schools — overhauled Indiana’s much-heralded school grading system to guarantee that a charter run by a major campaign donor would receive top marks. These revelations shine a light on the big bucks behind the education privatization agenda, its continued failure to meet the need of students, and provides another instance of cheating to cover up poor educational outcomes.

Bennett had been applauded by education privatizers like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) for enacting reforms like school grading, vouchers, and anti-union measures. He was a keynote speaker at ALEC’s December 2011 States and Nation Policy Summit, and the education reforms he pushed were adopted by ALEC in August 2011 as a stand-alone bill called the “Indiana Education Reform Package” — in no small part because they reflected ALEC model legislation…

…Christel DeHaan, a big Republican donor in Indiana and school privatization supporter, gave Bennett an astounding $130,000 in campaign contributions for his 2008 and 2012 elections. But when DeHaan’s Christel House charter school received a “C” last September under Bennett’s grading system, he and his staff scrambled to fix it, according to emails obtained by the Associated Press.

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 had made the A to F grading system a signature item of his 2011 radical education reforms, which he spearheaded with the support of then-Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels and ALEC legislators in the state. Bennett often cited Christel House as a model charter school as he secured support for his education overhaul, and according to the emails had assured the Chamber of Commerce and legislative leaders that Christel was an “A” school.

This will be a HUGE problem for us,” Bennett wrote to Neal about the school’s “C” grade…

…”Legislative leadership as well as critics of A-F are going to use this against us to undo our accountability metrics through legislation,” Bennett wrote in another email. “I hope we come to the meeting today with solutions and not excuses and/or explanations for me to wiggle myself out of the repeated lies I have told over the past six months.

According to the Associated Press, Bennett’s staff scrambled to alter the grading system over the next week, and Christel House’s grade jumped twice, eventually reaching an “A.”

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