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September 9, 2013

Bennett reacts after report clears him

Bipartisan report calls Bennett’s actions ‘fair,’ ‘plausible’

(Continued)

INDIANAPOLIS —

The report’s authors also noted that despite efforts made by Bennett and his staff “to interact with educational stakeholders and practitioners” to explain the new A-F grading system, there was deep distrust among educators that the grading formula was fair, accurate and equitable for all schools. 

Bennett said those issues raised by the report’s authors weren’t lost on him. He acknowledged that beyond the distrust and misunderstanding of others, that he and his staff may have created problems “due to our inability to convey what we were doing.” 

But Bennett also said he felt a sense of urgency to roll out the A-F grading system, which changed the ways schools were evaluated and gave them letter marks akin to a student’s report card.

The urgency was two-fold: The federal government had agreed to grant Indiana a “waiver” from mandates laid out under the federal No Child Left Behind law, with the understanding that the state would implement a new school accountability system. And Bennett himself felt a sense of urgency to get the grading system in place, believing it would it pressure failing schools to do better.

Bennett used the baseball phrase “charging the ground balls” to describe his approach to pushing ahead on the A-F school ratings and other controversial reforms that earned him blowback from political opponents. The phrase conveys his impatience and unwillingness to wait for change — a characteristic shared by his top staff, he said. 

“We spent every day charging the ground balls,” he said. 

Since his resignation from the Florida post, Bennett has been contemplating his next steps, professionally and personally. He said he and wife, Tina, are talking about moving back to Indiana to be close to their children and grandchildren. Before he was elected as Indiana’s superintendent of public instruction, Bennett was a coach and school administrator in New Albany. 

His hope is that the report released Friday will put an end to what he described as the painful accusations that he was “dishonest” in his role as Indiana’s state schools chief. 

“If the original accusation is what’s remembered, people will also have to remember the ultimate resolution to that accusation,” Bennett said. “And that is that we didn’t do what people said we did.”

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