Indiana

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.

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