Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Bennett Stands By Decision To Boost Indy Charter School's Grade

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


Former state superintendent Tony Bennett — now Florida Commissioner of Education — says he stands by the decision to tweak the state's accountability system after an Indianapolis charter school he often praised received a C.

Former State Superintendent Tony Bennett says he believes his department was right to change the letter grade of a charter school that initially received a C under the state’s accountability system.

On Monday the Associated Press released emails from 2012 showing Bennett asked his staff to make sure Christel House in Indianapolis received an A from the state.

But Bennett, now Florida Commissioner of Education, defended his actions, saying Christel House is one of four charter schools widely recognized as the best in Indiana.

“Tindley, Signature, Herron and Christel House — I made many comments that by any measure those would be four A schools,” Bennett told StateImpact Indiana.

Bennett says his department ran into problems when initial calculations indicated the school would receive a C under the statewide accountability system, which didn’t sit well with the then-superintendent.

“So when we looked at our data and saw that three of those schools were A’s and Christel House was not, that told me that there was a nuance in our data,” says Bennett. “Frankly, my emails portrayed correctly my frustrations with the fact that there was a nuance in the system that did not lend itself to face validity.”

At issue were the school’s low scores on statewide algebra tests. Bennett says the problem stemmed from how combined schools — that is, those that include multiple grade levels — are counted under the state’s accountability system. He says the tweaks his department made benefited a number of schools, not just Christel House, which is run by a prominent Republican donor.

Christel House did not return calls for comment.

“We wanted a system that passed the face validity test, and the face validity test is that there are schools that are A schools and they should obviously be that,” says Bennett.

But he rejects the idea that last-minute tweaks to the A-F accountability happened behind closed doors:

It did happen in a public arena. It clearly did happen in a public arena. We included the architect from the Colorado Growth Model, we included the Chamber of Commerce, we included charter schools. Don’t forget we took a lot of input over the A-F system. The public school superintendents gave us ideas on how to improve the system that we incorporated. So the whole process was a public-iterated process. We believe we had the concept right, but frankly there were some nuances to the system that we had to address.  We did it, but I would argue that there wasn’t anything secretive about any of this.

Bennett, who lost his re-election bid in November, says no one ever accused his department of being secretive. He says the changes were made to ensure that Christel House, which he repeatedly called an A school, would receive top marks from the state.


  • Teresa Wardwell Wiley

    Uh, Tony aren’t all schools “combined schools?” Don’t know of any school that does not have multiple grade levels. You are not going to be able to talk your way out of this one bud.

    • Karynb9

      He was referring to schools that aren’t JUST an elementary, middle, or high school. That has always been something tough to figure out about this system – trying to come up with a model like A-F may work decently when you’re truly comparing apples-to-apples, but we have too many oranges in the state that throws things off (combined schools…alternative schools…schools that are designed for specific special ed populations…schools like private schools that don’t have to admit any special ed students…etc.).

      • Teresa Wardwell Wiley

        He was just spewing false information. There is a “combined school” in my town and their grades are broken down by elementary, and middle school. He was looking for an excuse to raise the grade. Interesting that he is planning a scheme of lies to prove accountability. Hope he goes to prison for this.

        • John Pence

          when the broke it out, the best the school could do was a “B” in the E/MS category…still not an “A”…more creative accounting required.

  • Karynb9

    So school funding is based around a formula where “experts” draw targets around arrows? It’s also clear from the emails that the DOE wanted to make sure that any adjustments to the formula didn’t keep John Marshall in IPS from receiving the F grade that Bennett apparently believed IT deserved. What’s the point in even coming up with a formula if the DOE admittedly had a preconceived idea of what grade a school deserved? I don’t necessarily think the motive was to keep DeHaan happy so she would keep the money flowing to the GOP, but the system WAS manipulated to make sure that charter schools looked like “the solution” that the ed reform movement had proclaimed them to be. Either way, it’s shameful.

    • John Moore

      But Tony worked EXTRA hard to protect DeHaan, not so much for John Marshall. Looks like the Blacks and IPS got screwed over once again.

  • Mouse Rat

    Great reporting of Tony Bennett lying through his teeth. How about quoting the email where he says upon learning of the C, paraphrased, we have two problems, one is I lied or stretched the truth to get what we wanted? That he can’t appear before statehouse leaders and tell them the school he guaranteed them was an A graded school under his metric was now a C? That he fixed the problem by fixing the grade?

    Repeating the liar’s lies does not inform, nor does it help bring justice.

  • LLC1923

    What’s the penalty for falsifying public records and pressuring subordinates to change documents in favor of donors/profiteers in Indiana?

    • Shari D

      If you’re a member of the Grand Obstructionist Party/Tea Party – then absolutely NO penalty at all. Why should they be held accountable? They don’t even know the meaning of the word.

      • Rosemary Hamilton Rodgers

        They’re too busy being good little ALEC soldiers.

    • Mouse Rat


      Why haven’t conspiracy charges been filed against all parties? They conspired to violate a codified school performance grading formula.

      They broke the law, all of them, Bennett included.

      Charge them already.

  • LLC1923

    Agree with Teresa – Bennett needs to go to prison and his corporate education reform cheerleaders like Jeb Bush and Michelle Rhee need to be exposed for false claims. Teachers’ contracts, evaluations and non renewals are tied to bogus results. Schools are graded and parents buy homes according to the “grades.” Bennett’s cooking the books scheme is called FRAUD like ENRON!

  • John Pence

    Don’t really know where to start….really like his explanation of face validity and how he sums it all up in the end, “…. the changes were made to ensure that Christel House, which he repeatedly called an A school, would receive top marks from the state.” Guess it just typifies his whole thought process/leadership style: things are the way I say they are because I said so.

  • Jenny

    Love this quote from Tony Bennett in one of the e-mails (links given at the end of Kyle’s story from earlier today): “I
    cannot count the number of times we have been in meetings with
    Christel, The Chamber, Brian Bosma, David Long, and others when I have
    said that we count Christel House as an A school. I have repeatedly said
    to all of them that we checked their data and given the 162 day
    calculation we were certain they are an A school. We specifically cited
    Christel House, Herron, Signature, and Tindley as A schools, and
    everyone sat around those tables nodding their heads in agreement as I
    defended our system with that argument.”

    • John Moore

      Its called groupthink, aka drinking the Kool-Aid.

  • guest

    This gives a new meaning to the group Chiefs for Change. Again we see ed deform is all about money and not kids. Carpe Diem, a Republican favored charter in Arizona , was included in the USA Today article that exposed the Rhee Erase your Way to the Top story due to its odd test results situation. No investigation was conducted and the school remained the darling of the press and deformers. Why are charters favored? Learn about the profits available. Florida’s school grades have been without value since inception. Was Benett brought here to carry on the illusion any way he can that deform works? I await comment from the State Board of Ed and Levesque.

  • Eric Meyer

    I’m just trying to imagine the reaction from Republicans if Christel House had been a student instead of a school, they’d gotten a C average, and a teacher changed the grading system to give them an A because “there are kids that are A kids and they should obviously be that”.

  • Melly

    Mitch and Tony: “Accountability for all……except for us!”

  • Melly

    Also–if the system would have graded the schools HE wanted the WAY he wanted, would there have been meetings to set about changing them so that they were better measures?

    The answer to that question is “heck no.”

  • Mary

    I seem to recall educators in Atlanta who altered test scores being charged and incarcerated recently. The fact that they were all African American probably has nothing to do with their incarceration, right?

  • John Moore

    Too bad IPS did not get a “hook-up.”Tony’s ass was “hooking-up” DeHaan. Crooks.

  • John Moore

    Tony Bennett hit the Peter Principle 10 years ago.

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