Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

August 1, 2013

Bennett scandal was cheating


Greensburg Daily News

---- — Bennett scandal was cheating

Dear Editor:

It’s time to call the Bennett school letter grade scandal exactly what it is - cheating.

Emails obtained by the Associated Press and released Monday show that former Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Tony Bennett and his staff worked furiously last September to artificially raise the letter grade of the Christel House Academy, an Indianapolis charter school created by a prominent donor to both Bennett’s political campaign and to others in his political party.

There are no excuses for the actions taken by Bennett and his staff as revealed in the string of emails other than favoritism, cronyism, self-interest, and hubris - none of which has a place in public school policymaking.

To my fellow educators who have lived, breathed and worked under the long history of Indiana’s string of accountability laws-dating back to the A+ program in 1987-there was no joy in the revelations exposed Monday.

There was, however, a degree of affirmation. The emails affirmed to teachers that their palpable unease over how Bennett forced his agenda - that “My way or the highway!” approach without including or trusting the expertise of the people on the frontlines - was founded unease.

We felt it last fall when the announcement of school letter grades was delayed. We felt it during the REPA 2 teacher licensure rules changes when Bennett and the State Board tried repeatedly to force licensure revisions without complying with Indiana’s rulemaking process. And we felt it when we learned that out-of-state takeover companies were being paid $800,000 per school to do nothing more than to observe a school for an entire year without lifting a finger to assist those schools.

Sadly, the unease lingers beyond this school letter grade scandal. At the State Board of Education meeting just a few days ago, members of the Board openly suggested creating a separate governing and legal structure to operate parallel to the Department of Education - and presumably outside the scope of Superintendent Glenda Ritz who was elected to oversee Indiana’s public education system. This new display of audacity is not only unnecessary, but it is a monumental waste of taxpayer resources.

As teachers, we often share with our students that adage, “Cheaters only cheat themselves.” Today I understand more clearly how incomplete that simple lesson is. I understand the message, but the damage done by this latest revelation runs much deeper. This disgrace taints - and has an impact on - the state’s accountability system and Indiana’s local school communities.

As the newly-elected president of the Indiana State Teachers Association in my first week of office, I would like to say to Indiana’s legislators from both sides of the political aisle, to Governor Pence and to Superintendent Ritz, that it’s time for all of us to turn the page on the aftermath of Bennett and work together to support policies that make sense for all Hoosiers and of which we can all be proud. Let’s talk.

Teresa Meredith,

President

Indiana State Teachers Association