Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

The 'Tough' Testing Questions Bennett Answered In An Online Forum

Screenshot / Ustream

State superintendent Tony Bennett (left) shows Lebanon teacher Byron Ernest a copy of a "Parent Pledge" he keeps in his office. Bennett was speaking during an online Q&A session using the video streaming site Ustream. Ernest — who came up with the idea — moderated the discussion, pulling questions for Bennett from Twitter.

The way Indiana’s top school official Tony Bennett told it, Lebanon teacher Byron Ernest came up with the idea: hold an online town hall meeting, take questions via Twitter, and answer them over a live video webcast.

“When Byron has a great idea, I always get a little worried,” Bennett joked, nodding to the former Indiana Teacher of the Year, who moderated comments on his iPad. Ernest seemed eager to bill the forum as hard-hitting, saying, “We’ve got to ask the tough questions.” 

Regardless of whether the webcast actually pushed Bennett out of his comfort zone, the state superintendent fielded several questions on the hot-button issue of testing on the same day Indiana students in Grade 3 through 8 started taking high-stakes standardized tests.

Here are some of the questions Ernest pulled from Twitter to ask Bennett:

Screenshot / Twitter

Bennett’s response: Don’t be nervous, he said. “I was taken last night when one of the students in Henryville [where a tornado destroyed much of their school] said, ‘We were ready for our tests, I wish we could’ve taken them.’ Our teachers are doing an incredible job teaching to Indiana’s standards. And when we teach to Indiana’s standards, our students are ready for mastery of the assessment… Every indicator in our state is up. And that tells me our students are going into this week of assessment very confident and prepared.”

Screenshot / Twitter

Bennett’s response: “Whenever I hear that, I always challenge people to tell me what the punitive measures are… Let’s be very direct about this. Accountability drives reform. We see it every day… Would I do some things differently? Absolutely. But I can’t look in the rear-view mirror. This is not about punishment, this is about advancing education so that our children can get all they deserve.”

Screenshot / Twitter

Bennett’s response: “This shouldn’t be something we get too worked up over because, again, let’s go to the high school level: I don’t think English Language Arts 10 and Algebra is what every high schooler should have to be prepared for the world. We know when we’ve used lower stakes assessments, that compromises the validity of the accountability system… I’m what you might call an assessment apologist. Teachers won’t like when I say this, but we should assess more. That’s how we know students learn.”

In addition, responding to a question about charter operator KIPP’s decision to no longer run a school in Gary, Bennett says the state needs to hold charter schools more accountable.

“The great thing about charter schools is that you close them if they don’t work. We’ve done that,” Bennett said, adding, “You are exchanging flexibility for a higher level of accountability.”

After the forum, StateImpact tweeted at the #TalktoTony hashtag asking for responses about the forum — “Did [Bennett] get ‘Tough Q’s’?” I asked. “Did he answer well?”

Commenter Alex Sage tweeted this response: “He got a few tough questions, ignored the toughest ones. Did not connect his actions with his goals. Twitter not a good forum.”

According to counts on the video streaming website Ustream, which hosted the webinar, the forum got 150 total views, but averaged roughly 50 viewers at any given time. Bennett and Ernest said they would likely hold a similar forum some time in the future.


  • inteach

    Softball tournament.

    Bennett is not an educator; he is an ideologue.

    Byron is a unwitting sycophant to the reigning tyrant.


    • StateImpact Indiana

      What question would you like to have heard Bennett answer?

      • Bilgewater

        Here’s one for starters:
        “If you expect teachers to listen to you, why don’t you listen to them?”

  • inteach

    Rigorous current research does not support the premise behind merit pay. Why do you still support it?

    Explain how increasing high-stakes testing does not narrow the curriculum.

    Please identify a national voucher program that has shown consistent and definitive evidence of increasing student achievement.

    Please justify using state money to fund religious schools.

    Do you support the right of teachers to collectively bargain? Why or why not?

    You’ve spoken about the importance of competing internationally. Finland performs near the top of all academic categories yet does not focus on standardized testing, has no merit pay program, and over 90% of its teachers are unionized. What could we learn from Finland?

    State control over education has expanded greatly during your tenure. Doesn’t this threaten the ideal of local control and limited government?

    You’ve expressed the desire to pay the best teachers more. Considering that nearly every school district has frozen salaries due to state cuts in education, where will the money come from?

    Teachers who do not qualify for merit raises forfeit their money to effective teachers. What other organization configures salary on failure? How does having teachers compete for limited monetary resources increase collaboration?

    Let’s say a private company is running a publicly-funded school. What would be an acceptable percentage of profit that company could earn?

  • objectivehoosier

    It is quite laughable that Byron Earnest is a sidekick to Tony Bennett. It is even more humourous that Mr. Earnest was named the teacher of the year. Those of us who are familiar with Byron know that the only thing that he is good at is taking credit for other people’s work. The teacher of the year award is based on a form which evidently is not questioned or closely examined. Mr. Earnest is good at exagerating his accomplishments and telling a funny story. He is not, however, good at teaching. It is sad that many teachers who actually deserved this award were passed over.


    Tony Bennett is nothing more than a handpicked puppet for
    Mitch Daniels. The Indiana Superintendent of Education prior to Mr. Bennett was
    republican Suellen Reed. Mrs. Reed was an intelligent woman who was not
    intimidated by other politicians, including Mitch Daniels. Prior to the 2008
    election Mrs. Reed was told by the governor that the republican party would not
    support her for reelection, in essence telling her that she would be replaced
    on the ticket. Mitch wanted a puppet that would do what he wanted. This is
    where Bennett enters the picture. Bennet and Daniels are longtime friends.
    Daniels needed someone who appeared to have good education credentials. Bennet
    fit the bill. Unfortunately no one actually researched Bennett’s career. As an administrator in Scott and Clark
    Counties he was incompetent at best. His performance in the classroom was mediocre.

  • John Birchfield

    Tony Bennett has left in disgrace and Byron Earnest is no longer a teacher or administrator. We can only hope that the farce these two pretenders inflicted on the Indiana education system is over.

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