Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Tony Bennett: 'If We Did This Job That Way, It Would Likely Lead To A Backlash'

Dan Goldblatt / Indiana Public Broadcasting

Outgoing Indiana state superintendent Tony Bennett starts his new job as Florida Commissioner of Education Monday.

Next week a bill that would withdraw from the Common Core will get a lengthy hearing at the statehouse.

But outgoing state superintendent Tony Bennett, who pushed for Indiana to adopt the new state academic standards, won’t be there.

Bennett starts his new job as Florida Commissioner of Education Monday. But he says he’s not worried about state lawmakers dismantling the education system he built with Gov. Mitch Daniels.

“I think we have a huge amount of political will in [Gov. Mike Pence‘s] office around education reform,” says Bennett. “I think the fact we have a supermajority in the House and Senate speaks highly to that.”

Yet in this case, the Common Core challenge is coming from a state senator in Bennett’s own party, Indianapolis Republican Scott Schneider. Bennett says he respects Schneider, but not his proposal to withdraw from the nationally-crafted education standards.

“I think it’s a misplaced argument where he has gotten very poor information from a very small set of very narrow-minded thinking citizens,” says Bennett.

On Friday, Bennett’s last day with the Department of Education, he reiterated his love for the job, though he says he’ll miss being able to do it with the team he gathered in Indiana. (Bennett wouldn’t name names but confirmed he’s not the only Hoosier headed for the Sunshine State.)

Before we turn him over to StateImpact Florida, here’s a few more comments from Bennett on his time in Indiana.

On being a one-term state superintendent:

We had a four year window of opportunity to drive education reform in this state … I came to this job in 2009 to work with a governor who had probably if not the highest one of the highest approval ratings in the country, who has set a state on a path to prosperity like few other governors have and who wanted to make education reform a priority. He literally gave me, if you will, a blank slate and said, ‘Go forth and do the right things for Indiana children and I’ll support you.’

I told Gov. Daniels in 2009 that if we did this job that way, it would likely lead to a backlash that would limit me to a one-term state chief. I told him I was comfortable with that.

On why he thinks he lost in Indiana:

We have not as a community of educators and a community of education reformers have not cracked the code of communicating education reform and the urgency of it to the middle class. If you look at my election returns, you’ll see that I over-performed in Indianapolis and Gary, without question two communities where we probably the most aggressive in our policy and reform policy agenda. The disadvantaged families in those two communities, they got it. They saw we were really trying to transform the lives of their children through education.

The problem was, if you go to communities where schools are doing OK, that same sense of urgency wasn’t as compelling.

On whether he’ll take a different approach in Florida:

I don’t want to give you or anyone else the impression we didn’t learn lessons here. I think the lessons we learned — and we still haven’t figured the answers to, truthfully, but I think we now have a greater awareness — how do we talk about education reform policy, how do we reach out to educators in middle class America so everyone feels the sense of urgency that tends to prevail in most education reform policy discussions?

On staffing at the Florida Department of Education:

Indiana had the smallest Department of Education per student population in the United States … We have 1.2 million children and about 300 LEAs [school districts]. We have 250 employees. Now, in Florida, we have 2.7 million children, 67 school districts and over 1,000 employees. So I think one of the things we have to ask ourselves is how to we align the resources of the department to meet all the demands around the conversations you and I have had for the last half hour. We have some folks in our department that are pretty attuned to that.


  • Karynb9

    So the reason why he was voted out of office is because he just did his job TOO well. Okay. Got it. You know, for a guy who “knew” that he was going to be a one-term state chief, he sure acted pretty confident of his chances of re-election in the weeks leading up to November 6th. Interesting.

  • Teresa Wardwell Wiley

    He wasn’t reelected because of 1) arrogant attitude; 2) refusal to listen to teachers; 3) inappropriate relationships i.e. Elsner/Marian U/his wife; 4) False reforms – Common Core, A-F grading of schools, Rise, school takeovers, etc. 5) arrogant attitude. Did I mention that Tony was also very arrogant!

  • Melly

    Your election returns sent you packing. Hope you don’t screw up Florida as much as you’ve screwed up Indiana. Buh-bye.

    • OneVoiceInFL

      Sadly, Florida is already that screwed up. That’s where Bennett got the idea for A-F school grades, among other things. Our criminal governor and his lackeys at the state DOE are drooling in anticipation of Bennett’s start tomorrow.

      • Melly

        So sorry. It’s awful here….I don’t want to think of how much worse it can get…

  • Sue

    See ya! Thanks for ruining education in indiana

  • steve castillo

    See ya bro, don’t let the door hit you in the axx on the way out. Crooked money grabber.

  • Indiana8699

    Hmmm….1.3 million Hoosiers are a very small set of very narrow-minded thinking citizens?? Really? I’m pretty sure Senator Scott Schneider can think for himself…because he is rational, realistic, and intelligent…as were the voters. I’m pretty sure he represents the MAJORITY. Brace yourselves, FL

  • Bilgewater

    Everybody on Bennett’s side of the fence doesn’t understand what went wrong. Bennett listened to officials, educational consultants, “reform” experts (not true reform, but *his* kind of reform), wealthy benefactors, charter school supporters, voucher supporters. NONE OF THESE entities has the power to vote.
    It is chiefly because of this “chief for change” (a haughty title if I ever heard one) and his short-sighted governor/puppeteer that I changed my political affiliation–completely, and probably forever. Bennett & Daniels are not republicans I can support, and they do not resemble the honorable Republicans I once voted for.

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