The Herald Bulletin

Morning Update

Opinion

September 5, 2013

Viewpoint: Was Tony Bennett right?

What if Tony Bennett was right and The Associated Press got it wrong? You may start preparing yourself for the possibility.

Reading the emails of public officials is great fun, considering the reaction from Tom LoBianco’s Associated Press story about the 2012 development of Indiana’s A-F grading system under former Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett.

LoBianco based his story on a very small number of emails between Bennett and his staff, of which I was a part in 2009 and early 2010. (Full disclosure: LoBianco apparently requested my emails, too. But we’ll get to his records requests in a minute.)

People are finally starting to question the completeness of a story based on a handful of emails, out of what must be tens of thousands, because a narrow selection of emails does not provide anything resembling an appropriate level of context for a story this complicated.

If you read the AP story, you are led to believe Bennett changed the letter grade a school from a “C” to an “A” because the school’s founder is a donor to Republicans.

Missing from this absurd, and false, contention is the fact that the emails came during the initial creation of the A-F grading system. What difference does that make? During this time, the Department of Education was working with schools to ensure the grading system was fair and accurate, had provided schools with preliminary letter grades and asked schools to help identify problems with the new system.

Bennett’s concern was well founded, because the initial formula penalized schools for not graduating any seniors. This school, and a few other new or growing schools, didn’t have any seniors to graduate. Adjusting the formula to avoid punishing these schools was something Bennett had the authority to do, and was unquestionably the appropriate action.

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