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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Bush's foundation backs Bennett



Embattled Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett received support Tuesday from Foundation for Florida's Future, the education organization helmed by former Gov. Jeb Bush.

Bush, of course, pioneered Florida's system of school grades. Bennett was accused Monday of meddling with Indiana's school grading system to benefit a school run by a GOP donor when he was the schools chief there.

Bennett said that seeing a school he knew was doing great work receive a "C" made him realize the grading formula was incorrect.

"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. They fixed a problem to be accurate and fair - any accusation otherwise is false and politically motivated," reads the statement released by Bush's foundation Tuesday afternoon.

It goes on: "A-F school grading empowers parents to know how well schools are serving their children, in a transparent and easy to understand way. In 2012, Indiana was in its first year of its new school grading calculation, and there is always a learning process when implementing a policy new to a state.

"The best thing to do is to lay out the facts, which is what Commissioner Bennett is doing. Political attacks will come and go. The focus must remain on ensuring every student has access to a high-quality education that prepares them for success."

Gov. Rick Scott claimed ignorance Tuesday, saying he had not read any of the reports about Bennett.

It's worth noting that when the state board voted recently to inflate school grades for a second year, the 4-3 decision was divided along Bush-Scott supporter lines, with Bush allies against the extra padding.

Over in Indiana, education officials were less supportive of Bennett following the Associated Press report, which included several email threads between Bennett and staff.

In a statement, Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz said she heard concerns about the state's grading system last year and spoke of these problems, including the grades' delayed release, in her first public testimony as Indiana's schools chief.

"Yesterday’s report by the Associated Press demonstrates the seriousness of these problems," Ritz said.

Ritz's statement in full, below:

"As the elected Superintendent of Public Instruction, I am committed to strengthening our school accountability system. However, accountability only works when the people making decisions are both fair and transparent. That is why I worked with the General Assembly to include language in a new state law that will allow us to create a stronger accountability system.

"Last year, A-F grades were delayed multiple times. I heard concerns from Hoosier educators about problems with the state’s grading system. In my first public testimony as Superintendent, I spoke about the problems in our accountability system. Yesterday’s report by the Associated Press demonstrates the seriousness of these problems.

"The Department of Education is doing two things: First, there is an ongoing thorough examination of the current A-F model calculations to ensure that every school has the grade they earned in 2012; nothing more, nothing less. Second, Indiana is creating a new accountability system that will be both fair and transparent based on individual student academic performance and growth. This ensures that all Hoosiers can know exactly how their school is truly performing and what they need to do to improve. I look forward to the State Board of Education’s support as we improve our accountability system."

[Last modified: Tuesday, July 30, 2013 5:50pm]


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