When a bipartisan pair of policy and budget analysts last week released a report that said there was no malfeasance on the part of former Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett when it came to the grade change of the Christel House Charter School, even though itsfounder was a Republican donor, I thought it was time to head over to Crate and Barrel and buy a bunch of spatulas so all the Bennett critics could get the eggs off their faces.
Just to get everyone caught up to speed, earlier this summer the Associated Press ran a series of stories regarding e-mails between Bennett and his staff regarding the "A-F" grade system and the Christel House charter school. The school had always been an "A" school but was given a "C" under the new system. That alerted Bennett and his staff to think something was wrong with the grading system, which, it turned out, there was. There was a miscalculation with the matrix being used to issue grades and not only did the Christel House's grade get changed but so did about 160 other schools in Indiana.
Bennett critics used the controversy to call the former superintendent everything but a child of God. There were screams for grand jury investigations and Bennett, not wanting to be a distraction for his new boss in Florida, Gov. Rick Scott, resigned from his position as Commissioner of Florida Schools. Bennett haters were having a field day, until last week.
The review was done by John Grew, an aide to former Democratic Gov. Frank O'Bannon, and Bill Sheldrake, the former head of the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute did have several recommendations which can be used to improve the grading system, but most importantly it found there was no malfeasance, wrongdoing, misconduct, misbehavior, impropriety or any other synonym you can pull up at thesaurus.com that could be attributed to Bennett and his staff.
The report did say that Bennett's staff underestimated the complexity of the "A-F" formula and they should have done a much better job communicating with teachers, educators and other stakeholders. Fair criticism, which Bennett admitted was very valid during his appearance last Saturday on my weekend radio program on WIBC-FM in Indianapolis. Lawmakers have already begun implementing those recommendations, for example a new panel that is reviewing the "A-F" grading system includes, teachers, principals and superintendents from across Indiana, all picked by the governor, House and Senate leaders, as well as the superintendent of public instruction so everyone will have input into the new system as well as skin in the game.
In the meantime, you have to ask if all the people who went after Bennett will issue any apologies. Will theFt. Waynenewspaper columnist who basically insinuated that Bennett was trying to protect a Republican donor write a column apologizing and admitting her instincts were wrong? Will the very prominent Democratic blogger who called Bennett"despicable"print any type of retraction? Will the Indiana Democratic Party which has been devoid of ideas concerning education for as long as I have been in Indiana issue any statement correcting their allegations of"corruption", especially since it was one of their own who co-authored the report? And will Superintendent Glenda Ritz apologize not only to Bennett, but to the taxpayers for devoting what were likely countless staff hours and resources so e-mails could be "released" to the public to go after Bennett? Probably not. You know what's funny about all this? I have been accused of being a Bennett apologist, when in fact after the release of this report, I think Bennett's critics and haters of education reform are the ones who need to do the apologizing.