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Excuses, excuses

"There's no more room for excuses; the stakes are too high to continue putting adult interests ahead of our children's needs."

-- Tony Bennett, Indiana superintendent of public instruction, in his 2010 "State of Education" address

Given the accountability house of cards Bennett and Gov. Mitch Daniels built for Indiana schools, the stakes are too high to continue putting adult interests ahead of children's needs.

So, why did he scramble two years later to place Christel DeHaan's interests as a charter-school operator ahead of Indiana children's needs? Could it be because the condo-timeshare magnate was among his most generous campaign benefactors?

From the flurry of emails exchanged by Bennett and his staff, it's clear that pleasing DeHaan, then-candidate Mike Pence and Republican leaders like Brian Bosma and David Long was the top priority for the department, not children's needs.

And his clear effort to manipulate the state's A-F grade formula is all the more amusing given his current efforts to defend letter grades in Florida, where Bennett now is the state commissioner of education.

He dismissed complaints of critics there who charge that continual changes to the grade formula nullify its effectiveness.

"I think there's no question that the schools that are A schools are unquestionably A schools, but I would also say the same about the schools that are at the bottom of the scale," he told reporters a couple of weeks ago.

Bennett's defenders look just as foolish in their efforts to whitewash his grade-inflation scheme.

"No corruption. No hunches. They found an error and they fixed it, " wrote Lydia Logan of Chiefs for Change.

"These systems are as much art as science (more akin to baking cookies than designing a computer), and when they tried out the recipe the first time, it flopped," writes Bennett champion Mike Petrilli of the conservative Fordham Institute. "One of Indiana's brightest stars, a charter school known to be super high performing, ended up with a C. Clearly, the recipe needed fine tuning."

"Known to be super high performing?"

C'mon, Mike -- how did you know that Christel House was a super high-performer? Because your Ed Reform rock star told you so? Aren't we supposed to depend on data? The same data used to condemn traditional public schools and justify handing them over to for-profit school operators like Charter Schools USA?

The ed reform scam is beginning to collapse under its own considerable weight. Indiana voters were smart enough to recognize the scam last November. They likely will accept no more excuses from reformers beholden to wealthy campaign donors.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at kfrancisco@jg.net.

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