Indiana

Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

C&P: Sure, Bennett 'Blew It Big Time,' But Should Indiana 'Turn Back The Clock'?

Indiana state superintendent Tony Bennett speaks at a meeting addressing the state takeover of Roosevelt High School in a Gary church.

Indiana state superintendent Tony Bennett speaks at a meeting addressing the state takeover of Roosevelt High School in a Gary church in 2011.

“He blew it big time,” The Evansville Courier & Press editorial board wrote in the Sunday paper — referring to ex-Indiana schools chief Tony Bennett and emails showing he changed the state’s A-F rating system to boost a favorite school’s grade.

But, the editorial went on, that’s not reason to change the state’s approach to education policy:

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 a return to the old days of mediocre academics in many of Indiana’ schools.

While we’ve written about the pros and cons of A-F rating systems in recent days, the Courier & Press piece gets to the larger normative question: Should Indiana stay on its current accountability course? Or is the controversy around Bennett reason enough to step back from some of the policies he championed?

In an opinion piece in Florida’s Ocala Star Banner, college professor Matthew Bumbach says Bennett’s actions are problematic on two levels:

Bennett acted unethically. It doesn’t matter that the grading model was flawed, you cannot assign grades based on perception. I believe that you cannot assign grades at all. You can only report the grades that have been earned.

Here is the larger problem. The grading model is not accurate. The model isn’t even close. If juggling a few numbers can make a C school into an A school, we have a serious problem that isn’t being addressed. The A through F grading system is evaluating nothing but perception.

To go even further, it is not ethical — and possibly illegal — to tie teacher evaluations and pay to these grades. The grade is invalid, the way the grade is tied to teacher evaluation is not statistically valid, and the weight of the school grade is heavier than the weight of a teacher’s influence on student achievement.

Bennett has defended his actions, calling the AP reports “malicious.” Current state superintendent Glenda Ritz is conducting a review of Bennett’s actions, saying the emails have raised questions that could set the release of new grades back significantly.

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