Some takeaways on FL Commissioner’s resignation

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Tom LoBianco of the Associated Press (Indiana office) did some crack reporting on the question of how the A to F accountability system worked in Indiana.  What he dug up were emails that clearly showed troubling lapses in judgment on the part of former Indiana state superintendent of schools and current Florida commissioner of education Tony Bennett.  It is alleged that Dr. Bennett stayed on the case with his analysts until a school went from a C rating to a B rating ultimately to an A rating.  You can see the emails here, here, here, here and here.

Pioneer came out early and called for Bennett’s resignation, saying that:

Bennett needs to resign his Florida position for violating the trust of Indiana students and parents.

“All you have as an official is your credibility. And that people trust you to do the right thing,” Stergios told The Associated Press. “He has been entrusted with the hopes of parents and the aspirations of children. That’s a sacred trust.”

We just released a public statement on that.  Here are a few additional thoughts/takeaways on why:

  1. It is remarkable how much of this (and the emails) was about Tony — his brand, what he said, what he felt about the schools.  In some ways, he believed that if he saw a school and believed it to be a good school then the accountability system had to second that.  I’m not sure that’s how you build an accountability system.  Rather, it should lead you to question your own assumptions if the data tells you some troubling things.
  2. There was some trouble within one charter school that was of particular concern to Dr. Bennett.  The school that was the focus of his his concern in the emails had, as an analyst himself notes in a message, only 33% of its Algebra I students passing.  To place an exclamation point on this, note that the students taking Algebra I were 10th graders.  (In Massachusetts, Algebra I is an 8th grade topic.)  That is not an “A” school.
  3. Dr. Bennett’s explanation about why he changed the grades doesn’t hold water.  It was less about quirks in the 11th and 12th grade data, which he stated as a justification, and more to do with the poor 10th grade performance mentioned above.   Moreover, such changes being made primarily by three people — and without a public hearing regarding the changes — strikes me as introducing a lot of subjectivity (at the very very very least the perception of subjectivity) into the Hoosier state’s accountability system.
  4. That’s bad for accountability, for the public trust and for education reform.  Innovation and expanding new delivery systems for education, whether private school choice, public charters or digital learning, are only possible when matched by an accountability system that is considered trustworthy.  I hope that Tony’s actions don’t damage how public charter schools are perceived.  I also hope that charters face a rigorous accountability bar — and that district schools do, too.
  5. A lot of the DC punditry has come out in support of Tony Bennett, calling for everyone to cut him some slack.  All I have to say is read the emails and get your head out of the sand.  If you are for accountability, then you are for accountability.  You would not cut slack to a union official or someone you don’t know.  It really is time to depersonalize these policy debates.  I am sure Tony is a really nice guy, but the fact is he made a few big mistakes.  They were not the right decisions for kids — and they broke a trust.  He made the right decision to resign.

Follow me on twitter at @jimstergios, visit Pioneer’s website, or check out our education posts at the Rock The Schoolhouse blog.