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Florida Education Commissioner Defends Grade Inflation as Bush Rallies to His Side

| July 30, 2013

Nothing to sing about.

Nothing to sing about.

Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett defended himself Tuesday after reports that school grades in Indiana, where he previously worked, had been changed to benefit a political donor.

The Associated Press reported Monday that Bennett and his Indiana employees “frantically overhauled” the Hoosier State’s school-grading system last year when it looked like one of his political contributors’ schools might get a “C.” But in a conference call with reporters Tuesday, Bennett said it was “absurd” to believe he inflated grades to help Christel DeHann because of her political contributions to Bennett.

Instead, Bennett said, the Christel House school’s grade raised legitimate concerns about the grading system in Indiana, which was a new way of ranking schools for the state in 2012. While the AP reported that the emails it obtained pointed to algebra results as part of the problem, Bennett said education officials figured out it was largely because Christel House’s high school and 12 others hadn’t yet added an 11th or 12th grade.

The rule governing grades in Indiana, though, required graduation rates to be included in high school grades.

“That calculation unfairly penalized those 13 schools,” Bennett said during the 40-minute conference call. “We found that and we fixed that in order to give a true, transparent grading model for Indiana schools.”

The questions come weeks after Bennett recommended keeping schools in Florida from dropping more than one letter grade on report cards issued this month, a continuation of a policy passed by the state board last year, before Bennett was on the job. Several local superintendents asked for that policy to be continued in 2013.

According to the AP report, Bennett received $130,000 in contributions from Christel, who gave $2.8 million to Republicans over the last 15 years. The superintendent of public education is elected in Indiana, unlike Florida’s system of having the commissioner appointed by the State Board of Education; Bennett lost his re-election bid in 2012.

In one portion of an email quoted by the AP, Bennett seemed particularly concerned with the fate of DeHann’s school.

“They need to understand that anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work,” Bennett wrote in one email obtained by the AP.

Democrats instantly jumped on the report. Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant issued a statement Wednesday blasting Bennett.

“Floridians deserve answers,” Tant said. “Is Bennett up to his usual tricks, doing favors for GOP donors? How can we trust Florida’s school grades — already the product of political manipulation — with Tony Bennett in charge?”

Democrats were scheduled to hold their own press call Wednesday on the incident.

But several of Bennett’s longtime supporters rallied to his side, including former Gov. Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future. Bush still has strong influence on education policy in the state.

“Commissioner Bennett and his department found and corrected a mistake that would have unfairly penalized 13 schools missing data for grades they did not even serve,” said Patricia Levesque, the foundation’s executive director, in a statement issued Tuesday. “They fixed a problem to be accurate and fair — any accusation otherwise is false and politically [motivated].”

–Brandon Larrabee, News Service of Florida

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11 Responses for “Florida Education Commissioner Defends Grade Inflation as Bush Rallies to His Side”

  1. Merrill Shapiro says:

    If Education Commissioner Bennett were a “lowly” civil servant, he would be suspended while the matter of his integrity was investigated. But as a politician of privilege, he needn’t have any integrity at all, and his position will be quite safe!

  2. Sherry Epley says:

    Rick Scott and his cronies on the State Board of Education and in our state legislature, right along with Tony Bennett all need to go! Consider the possibility that Mr. Bennett sought this position in Florida because it is an “appointed” position. He cannot be voted out, like he was in Indiana. Manipulating school standards is outrageous!

  3. Ayn Rand's Spleen says:

    Having taught for many, many years, I can tell you that the first thing that a student does when they are caught cheating is to deny that they cheated, even when caught in the act with evidence in hand. That said, Bennett’s response is classic denial.

  4. Binkey says:

    “Commissioner Bennett and his department found and corrected a mistake that would have unfairly penalized 13 schools missing data for grades they did not even serve,”…

    But it’s fair to base K-3, and special area teachers evaluations on subjects they did not teach.

  5. Magnolia says:

    “Bush still has strong influence on education policy in the state.” That’s putting it mildly.

  6. Johnny Taxpayer says:

    The person Bennett replaced in Florida did the exact same thing, so this appears to be nothing more than a manufactured scandal when instead of focusing on Bennett, why not focus on why the test is broken in the first place! If we can’t count on the results without artificially inflating them, then we need to drop the farse that is the FCAT.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Birds of a feather!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. Brian Curbow says:

    Children in schools today ARE NOT LEARNING! They are simply studying all year for the FCAT test! Compared to what we actually learned in school back in my days….half of the teachers today could care less about the students! If you care to actually rate a school as to how they are doing, why not just look at the grades each semester for each grade level? You will be able to determine how the school is doing based on the GPA of the students. For grades 11 and 12, base the school’s success or failure on the SAT and ACT scores! That is how they did things back in the day…….so why do they suddenly need this stupid FCAT?

  9. Magnolia says:

    Demand that Rick Scott fire this man. They are pulling a fast one and our kids are paying the price.

  10. Binkey says:

    @Brian

    I believe the FCAT is going away. With state implementing common core the PARCCS will replace it. Also I think the high school now has end of course tests now that students must pass.

    I also think that just looking at student grades won’t work because then it would be too easy for staff to inflate grades to make the school look good, just like the policians do.

  11. Shocked, I tell you... says:

    Going….going…..GONE!

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