Parents, lawmakers react to Bennett grading scandal

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Parents, school officials and lawmakers are speaking out after the resignation of Indiana’s former education chief.

Tony Bennett resigned his position as Florida’s education commissioner Thursday afternoon amid controversy he manipulated Indiana’s A-F grading system to boost charter schools while serving as Indiana’s state superintendent.

State lawmakers announced the appointment of two third-party investigators Friday.

John Grew and Bill Sheldrake will head a task force that will investigate the state’s A-F grading metrics. Grew currently serves as executive director of state relations and policy analysis at Indiana University. Sheldrake is the president and founder of Policy Analytics.

“Both Senator Long and I felt that we needed to have an independent third party look at the school metric,” said House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis.

Emails obtained by Fox 59 indicate Bennett and his staff manipulated Indiana’s A-F grading formula to help boost charter schools — particularly, the Christel House Academy, run by big Republican donor, Christel DeHaan. The school received an “A” grade instead of a “C”.

“This will be a HUGE problem for us,” Bennett wrote to his staff in September 2012. “They need to understand that anything less than an ‘A’ for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work.”

“Just a few emails only show just part of the discussion so we’re trying not to jump to conclusions based on that,” said Bosma.

Bennett maintains he wasn’t rigging anything and did the right thing for Indiana schools and students.

Some educators disagree, saying it came at the expense of some public schools.

“My first reaction was ‘wow,’” said IPS board member Dr. Michael Brown. “It definitely is troubling to me because we brought in companies to take over and run our schools, which based upon the barometer we see, may not have been failing schools, if the same principle had been applied to them, as was applied to Christel House Academy.”

Christel DeHaan issued her own statement late Thursday afternoon:

“Neither I nor anyone connected with Christel House made any request to have any grade changed. I endorse the call of many public officials of both political parties for a thorough review of the grades given to schools in 2012 and revisions made if they are inaccurate.”

“Don’t set up a system and rig it when you don’t like the results,” said Rep. Ed Delaney, D-Indianapolis. “That is just absolutely unacceptable.”

Amanda Blevins agrees. Her children attend Nora Elementary in Washington Township, which recently received a failing grade from the state.

“I was really sad that so much emphasis was placed on a system that can be manipulated so easily,” said Blevins. “Those grades don’t really matter because the schools are more than just their grades.”

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