The Herald Bulletin

August 7, 2013

Editorial: Bennett's work tarnished by grade change

The Herald Bulletin

---- — Students make pleas to change their school grades so that they look better to their parents, prospective colleges or potential employers.

But when the former superintendent of public schools, Tony Bennett, changed grades, it was to impress a Republican campaign donor, state legislators and a doubting public.

Is there a difference? Aren’t both trying to mislead someone by altering the appearance of success? The answer’s as simple as A-B-C and D and F.

While in office, Bennett realigned the state’s education system by assigning “A-F” grades to schools. The grades were based on a school’s performance.

However, when Bennett learned that Christel House Academy — a charter school founded by a top GOP donor, Christel DeHaan — was going to receive less than an “A” rating, he sent an email to his chief of staff. On Sept. 12, 2012, he wrote, “This will be a HUGE problem for us ... They need to understand that anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work.”

DeHaan has donated $2.8 million to Republicans since 1998, including $130,000 to Bennett.

Despite poor 10th grade algebra scores that initially earned Christel House a “C,” the school ultimately received an “A.”

Where a middle school student might feel embarrassed to ask a teacher for a grade change, Bennett saw no shame in fitting the rules to his agenda. Where a high school senior might see a grade alteration as a last-ditch effort to get into a good college, Bennett saw his move as a way to conduct Statehouse business.

Jump to November 2012, when Bennett lost to Democrat Glenda Ritz; he received 47 percent of the vote, she earned 53 percent in an upset.

Sometimes voters believe that casting a ballot is like giving a grade to a candidate. Once the votes are counted, the candidate gets a passing or failing grade. Rarely are the results altered. A majority of voters gave Bennett a failing grade — and they didn’t even know of his Christel House connection. Instead, Hoosier voters questioned Bennett’s direction, philosophy and motives.

After The Associated Press reported on Bennett’s email, Ritz pledged a review of the grading system for schools. The AP account also led to Bennett quitting his post as head of Florida schools. With the same bravado that brought him down in Indiana, he said he would welcome any investigation to the grade-altering scheme, which could involve 12 schools and was meant to help charter schools.

Let’s not dwell too long on this sad instance. Voters, acknowledging they want nothing to do with Bennett, need to see fair and honest accountability standards for schools. The A-F old school rules may have seemed simple in the past but the system was apparently ripe for favoritism. Everything that Bennett implemented is now tainted because he tampered with grades.

Unlike a grade school student, Bennett didn’t plead with his teacher to change a grade; he felt entitled to make the system work in his favor. He didn’t present a case to his teacher that he would do better on future homework assignments; he demanded the change. And, as we all tell our children, cheating will come back to haunt you.

In Summary Whatever you think of Tony Bennett's policies as Indiana's superintendent of public instruction, the revelation that he tampered with school performance grades to help his supporters casts a dark shadow over his tenure.