You choose, we deliver
If you are interested in this story, you might be interested in others from The Journal Gazette. Go to www.journalgazette.net/newsletter and pick the subjects you care most about. We'll deliver your customized daily news report at 3 a.m. Fort Wayne time, right to your email.

Schools

  • Ivy Tech opens path to better life for refugees
    A mother and teenage daughter from Haiti. Cousins from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. An eager, young woman from Burma.
  • Campers solve real-life problems
    Local business men and women got help this week solving workplace problems with solutions offered by some of northeast Indiana’s best and brightest – gifted and talented teenagers.
  • SACS to allow Internet schooling
    Southwest Allen County Schools students will have the opportunity to attend school from home – through online classes – during staff training days and snow days this year.
Advertisement
Suspent A-F system, teachers' union says
INDIANAPOLIS – The American Federation of Teachers says Indiana should immediately suspend its A-F school grading system because of emails showing former schools chief Tony Bennett and his staff changed the grading formula to benefit a top GOP donor's school.
The union issued its call at a Statehouse news conference Thursday, just hours after Bennett resigned as Florida's education commissioner.
Indiana uses A-F grades to determine which schools get taken over by the state and whether students seeking state-funded vouchers to attend private school need to first spend a year in public school. They also help determine how much state funding schools receive.
The grades' validity has been questioned since The Associated Press disclosed emails showing Bennett and his staff worked to raise Christel House Academy from a C to an A.

Ex-Indiana schools chief Tony Bennett resigns in Florida

Bennett

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida's education commissioner resigned Thursday amid allegations that he changed the grade of a charter school run by a major Republican donor during his previous job as Indiana's school chief.

Tony Bennett announced his immediate resignation at a news conference, saying that he while he did nothing wrong he didn't want to be a distraction to Gov. Rick Scott's efforts to overhaul Florida's education system.

Emails published by The Associated Press this week show that Bennett and his Indiana staff scrambled last fall to ensure Christel DeHaan's school received an A, despite poor 10th-grade algebra scores that initially earned it a C.

Bennett called that interpretation "malicious and unfounded" and said he would call for Indiana's inspector general to look into the allegations because he is certain he will be cleared of wrongdoing.

He said it would be unfair to Scott "to have to spend my time and the State Board (of Education's) time, as things continue to trickle out, defending myself." He called the allegations "politically motivated."

Bennett lost his re-election bid last November in Indiana. He was hired by Florida as its education commissioner, a nonelected post, in December.

Indiana uses the A-F grades to determine which schools get taken over by the state and whether students seeking state-funded vouchers to attend private school need to first spend a year in public school. They also help determine how much state funding schools receive. A low grade also can detract from a neighborhood and drive homebuyers elsewhere.

After Bennett learned about a likely low grade for Christel House, he fired off a Sept. 12 email to his chief of staff.

"This will be a HUGE problem for us," Bennett wrote. "They need to understand that anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work."

Bennett, who now is reworking Florida's grading system as the state's education commissioner, denied that DeHaan's Christel House Academy school received special treatment. He said discovering that the charter would receive a low grade raised broader concerns with grades for other "combined" schools – those that included multiple grade levels – across the state.

Bennett downplayed the emails on Tuesday, repeating his assertion that he took action because he was concerned there was a flaw in the formula.

"It is absurd that anyone would believe that I would change the grade of a school based on a political donor or trying to hide schools from accountability," Bennett said. "That's fictitious at best, and it's totally unfounded."

He acknowledged that the problem was identified and fixed prior to the release of school grades but maintained the change affected as many as 13 schools.

"We did nothing wrong. We did nothing covert. We did nothing secretive," Bennett said.

The revelations that Bennett and Indiana officials scrambled to change the grade of one school come amid a strong debate over Florida's grading system.

Bennett earlier this month pushed the Florida board that oversees education policy to adopt a "safety net" provision that prevented the grades of more than 500 schools from dropping more than one grade this year.

That provision was adopted by a 4-3 vote amid much debate and criticism that the move would "mask" the true performance of schools. Bennett's plan was even opposed by the education foundation set up by Bush. The grades released last week still showed a sharp drop in the number of A-rated schools and a jump in the number of F-rated ones.

Advertisement