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State superintendent’s ‘Klentschy problem’

Klentschy
Bennett

One year ago, the Indiana Department of Education hyped 2010 as the “Year for Science Education Reform” and kicked off with a science summit featuring State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, Eli Lilly officials and “national experts.”

Among those experts was Michael Klentschy, Ph.D., a researcher and retired superintendent of schools in California’s El Centro Elementary School District. Panelist information for the summit touted his research in the “longitudinal effects of inquiry-based science education on language minority populations and with the science-literacy connection in North Carolina, Idaho, New Mexico and California.”

It also noted that he served as principal or co-principal investigator on several National Science Foundation-funded elementary science initiatives.

Over the next few months, references to Klentschy appeared on numerous education department notices, including an October reminder in Bennett’s weekly mailing to school superintendents that Klentschy would speak at a $140 teacher workshop at the Wabash Valley Education Service Center. “This is a chance to hear and ask questions about notebooking, inquiry, and best practices utilizing science kits,” Bennett’s e-mail said.

Klentschy was named a budget partner in the $18.4 million proposal for the federal Investing in Innovation (i3) grant competition. Purdue University was lead partner in the request for an Indiana Science Initiative program to “validate a statewide K-8 science education reform based upon scaffolded guided inquiry.” Other partners included the Indiana DOE, Ball State University and several school districts.

A link to a video featuring Klentschy boasting of the results of his “inquiry-based science curriculum” work still can be found on the website for NISTEM, the Northeast Indiana Education Resource Center.

But Klentschy’s name appears on another interesting document: a federal indictment from a 2009 grand jury inquiry alleging that he and two colleagues stole $5.4 million in grant money from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education. A separate indictment naming Klentschy alone alleges that he falsified standardized testing results supporting his own “special” kit based on “scaffold guided inquiry” in teaching elementary school science.

And therein lies the problem for Bennett and the Indiana Department of Education.

Since he took office in 2009, the superintendent has made unrelenting demands on Indiana schools to adopt his approach or face consequences.

He fired most of the experienced educators in his department and assembled a young team of officials who spout the current buzzwords in school improvement. The “we’ll work with you” style of his predecessor has been replaced by “trust us – we know best.”

Bennett, a former science teacher, said last week that his association with Klentschy was limited to participation in the science summit last year, but the department’s promotion of his work raises serious questions about the expertise and credibility of his so-called experts. Accusations involving falsified test scores do nothing to satisfy concerns Indiana teachers have over performance evaluations based on student test performance.

As the state prepares to choose companies and organizations to take over struggling schools, Indiana residents should be asking what qualifications the Department of Education itself has in choosing who will run local schools. Millions of tax dollars are in play. And history has shown that when the opportunity exists, unscrupulous individuals and whole industries will arise to take advantage.

Bennett has been able to advance his agenda by labeling experienced educators and local school districts as obstructionists. When they have raised legitimate questions about the speed and scope of his so-called reform, they’ve been threatened and punished with budget cuts and sanctions.

But now the state superintendent has a “Klentschy problem.” When the people he cites as experts base their expertise on research labeled as fraudulent, Hoosiers have the right and the responsibility to question Bennett’s leadership.

Karen Francisco has been an Indiana journalist since 1982 and an editorial writer at The Journal Gazette since 2000. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail, kfrancisco@jg.net.

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