A report commissioned by the Indiana legislature found that the changes to the state’s A-F school grading system pushed by former education head Tony Bennett — ostensibly to improve the grade of a charter school run by a political donor — were “consistently applied.” Although at first glance the finding seems to exonerate Bennett, in reality, it leaves quite a few questions unanswered. While it is true that a number of schools in addition to Christel House benefited from the change, the report’s authors seemed to have not even looked at whether the changes were undertaken in the first place only because Christel House wasn’t going to earn an A under the old formula.
Scott Elliot of the Indy Star reports that the report was commissioned by House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President David Long. Both are Republican lawmakers who were strong supporters of the policies pursued by Bennett prior to his election defeat to Democrat Glenda Ritz. In light of the follow-up stories published by Associated Press, the report’s findings were unsurprising. A prior AP story already concluded that Christel House was far from the only school whose final grade was bumped thanks to the last-minute tinkering with the formula.
Also unsurprising was Bennett’s reaction – he called the report a full vindication – nor the response of his critics who claimed that it was anything but.
Bennett’s critics were not ready to let him off the hook.
House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said in a statement that Bennett’s actions aimed to reward his friends and “punish the weak.”
“The fact is people will never fully trust grades doled out by politicians for political purposes,” he said.
Pelath and other Bennett critics may only have a forthcoming report from the office of Indiana’s Inspector General to look to for another view on Bennett’s A to F actions. His successor, Democrat Glenda Ritz, said she doesn’t plan to issue a separate report based on her investigation, which was done in cooperation with the report released Friday. The inspector general’s office confirmed an investigation is underway.
Ritz declined to comment on the report, saying that she hadn’t had the opportunity to study it closely. However, even though she didn’t address the allegations regarding the Christel House grade change, she did say that the incident shows that there are problems with the system of assigning performance grades to schools currently used by Indiana. She added that addressing these problems was one of her priorities.
The report says changes to the system that raised Christel House’s grade, along with hundreds of other schools, were sensible.
“The effort to ‘raise the Christel House grade’ was, according to a wide range of testimony, both an attempt to save the credibility of the new accountability model and a desire to treat a recognized good school fairly,” the report says.