Wanted to return to school reform industry insider Tony Bennett because as you know I am a student of school reform industry studies.
The Miami Herald, with an outraged editorial:
Tony Bennett slunk away from his job as Florida commissioner of education, leaving us with an ever-deepening distrust of a school-reform movement dominated by for-profit education conglomerates and big-money political donors. He was undone by a grade-fixing scandal of his own making back when he was Indiana superintendent of education (until unhappy voters tossed him out of office in November). But Florida citizens had another reason to doubt Bennett’s objectivity when it comes to charter schools. The Indianapolis Star reported last week that his wife, Tina Bennett, was hired in June by Fort Lauderdale-based Charter Schools USA. It was another of those sweet, moneyed coincidences in Bennett public service. In 2011, he had awarded this very same company nice fat contracts to take over two failing high schools and a middle school in Indianapolis. (One of those schools, T.C. Howe High School, happened to be one of those two schools that had requested but were refused the same kind of waiver granted Christel House last September. Such a small world.) And Charter Schools USA has become one of the big players in the Florida rush to charters.
“During the past 15 years, Florida has embarked on a dramatic shift in public education, steering billions in taxpayer dollars from traditional school districts to independently run charter schools. What started as an educational movement has turned into one of the region’s fastest-growing industries, backed by real-estate developers and promoted by politicians.
Well, obviously, and it’s not just Florida, but what struck me about Bennett’s emails as the parent of a public schooler was not so much that he cooked the scores to benefit the “choice” schools he favors but that in those emails there is no mention, at all, of Indiana public schools. They were changing the scoring. Public schools in Indiana were closed and privatized when they did poorly on Bennett’s grading system. No reformer in state government cared. Public schools aren’t even mentioned. The entire 5 day reformer work week revolved around charter schools. This is a problem because 95% of US public students attend traditional public schools. If you’re not working for public schools (and no one on Bennett’s team was, apparently) you’ve abandoned the vast majority of kids. That’s the deeply unethical part to me of all this, besides all the sleaze. They’re working not for all those kids but for only a select few.
To show you the difference I see between a person actually working for all public schools and Tony Bennett, I’ll go to Fort Wayne Indiana, and show you a letter from school board member. The letter is written in response to this editorial, where a person who supports Bennett-style “reforms” tells us school reform can’t fail it can only be failed. Here’s the school board member’s response:
Thanks for the article posted above. I appreciate your statement in the article that you view the DaHaan charter school as, “stellar” and “amazing” despite its “C” grade. That has been my and others’ point all along. It may very well be stellar, amazing, etc. and still get a C. In fact, it may be all those things even had it receive a “D” or an “F”. The point Tony just could not grasp is that these grades mean so darn little. The school should be evaluated based in part on the standardized assessments but there must be recognition of the challenges faced by the school, the quality of parental involvement, the demographic of the school, the extent of the language barrier in the school, the leadership in the building, the extra-curricular programs, and the willingness and ability of the staff to coordinate the learning experience to bring out the student’s best.
This story leaves me amused, frustrated and angry all at the same time. Amused for obvious reasons – how could anyone with a Ph.D think these really dumb statements would stay secret. Frustrated because I know that the money in the system will continue to influence legislators that the A-F system improves education. But most of all I am angry. South Side High School missed a “C” by one lousy point on this phony grading scale. Many other of our FWCS schools are in the same boat. South Side is not a “D” High School; it is stellar, amazing and deserving of praise. It never received that praise because Tony and the gutless wonders who worked for him (and who should have stood up to him) fixed the system.
I will announce soon that our Board will no longer recognize our schools on the basis of the letter grade assigned by the State. I will apologize for not having taken a stand against the letter grades when we were awarded an “A” (which fell to a “C” as part of the DaHaan grade inflation). We will do what we should have done a long time ago. We will develop our own metrics and award those stellar, amazing schools that work miracles in the lives of our students, regardless of the pay to play designation awarded by the State.
I will continue to take issue with your use of the word “reform” to describe the Bennett policies. Reform connotes improvement that has been proven. The policies initiated by Tony have not reformed anything yet. They have made a lot of people a lot of money. There may come a time when the results of these policies warrant the use of that term, but that day has yet to arrive. Until then, the policies are merely experiments. And if they fail, there will be a lot of young people who will have paid a dear price for Tony’s bluster.
Again, thanks for the article.
Mark E. GiaQuinta, Esq.
HALLER & COLVIN, P.C.
444 East Main Street
Fort Wayne, Indiana