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August 15, 2013

THEIR VIEW: Opinions from other newspapers for Aug. 15

(Continued)

Bennett’s downfall is no reason to scrap reforms

Before school reform champion Tony Bennett fell from grace for his alleged manipulation of school accountability scores in Indiana, he was well on his way to establishing himself as an outspoken leader in modernizing academic programs in elementary and secondary schools.

As the Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction 2009-2012, and with the support of then- Gov. Mitch Daniels, the state board of education and a Republican legislative majority, Bennett pushed through a lineup of school reform initiatives. His programs weren’t popular with teachers unions or some Democrats, but they did challenge the old ways of doing things in what were considered mediocre Indiana schools.

But he blew it big time in an attempt to change scoring on the state A-F grading system for ranking state schools, seeming to helping out some charter schools.

Even though Bennett lost the 2012 election to a Democratic Indiana educator, Glenda Ritz, he was hired next as Florida’s school chief, there to institute some of the reforms he brought to Indiana. But he lost that position as well, resigning just days ago.

The Associated Press broke the story, publishing emails from when he was still Indiana superintendent, showing an effort by him and Indiana staff members to rewrite the state’s school grading formula after the Christel House Academy in Indianapolis, a charter school founded by influential GOP contributor Christel DeHaan, scored only a C grade. The score was eventually changed to an A, but Bennett maintained he did not give special treatment to Christel House. Emails obtained by the AP showed that Bennett ordered his staff to find a way to get an A for Christel House. It didn’t help that Christel DeHaan had contributed $130,000 to Bennett’s losing re-election campaign.

No doubt Democrats, some Republicans and union teachers who opposed school accountability and other reforms will see this as an opportunity to take advantage of the scandal and throw out some reform. The accounting grading system has been under review, and could see some changes. Ritz said there would be a final report on Sept. 2. That review is completely justified, but in our opinion, it is important that the state tread lightly in looking at other reforms adopted during Bennett’s terms in office.

We must separate our views of his behavior on this one issue from his ideas for modernizing schools. Among the programs championed by Bennett as Indiana school chief were a third-grade reading test meant to end social promotions, the A-F accountability program, ending half-day class days, vouchers, charter schools, state takeovers of failing schools and teacher training.

Indiana would be foolish now to scrap those programs in favor of a return to the old days of mediocre academics in many of Indiana’ schools.

— Evansville Courier & Press

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