Saturday, June 23, 2018
Education

Report says confusion caused flap that led Bennett to resign as education chief

The Indiana school grading controversy that led to Tony Bennett's resignation as Florida education commissioner resulted more from bureaucratic struggles than impropriety, according to a report issued Friday.

Bennett said in an interview he expected these results all along. But he did not believe it would have been appropriate to remain as Florida commissioner while awaiting the outcome.

"I have spent an inordinate amount of time over the last months making sure we provided everything we had to the investigators," he said. "I didn't believe I could do those things and be commissioner of Florida."

He stressed that he was not pushed out by Gov. Rick Scott, who faces a re-election bid in 2014. Bennett was the fifth person to serve as education commissioner during Scott's term.

"Gov. Scott was good to me. I appreciate the opportunity he gave me to come here and serve," Bennett said. "It was the fact that I was accused of a pretty serious offense. … That was going to be a distraction. I didn't believe that would be fair to anyone in Florida."

The report, commissioned by the Republican leaders of Indiana's House and Senate, states that Bennett's Indiana team did not anticipate all the complexities of implementing a school grade system and therefore struggled to deal with what they saw as incongruities.

Issues came to a head when Bennett learned that a well-regarded charter school, run by a prominent political supporter, was slated to get a C grade. His department scrambled to ensure that the school got the grade that Bennett said the school deserved, as reported by the Associated Press a year later in stories that started the questioning that led to Bennett's abrupt departure from his Florida post.

The report, written by a non-governmental group called Policy Analytics, concluded that Bennett applied the same grade changes he made for the charter school to all other schools that met the same criteria, 165 in all. The method was "plausible," the report stated, although the grading effort still did not have a level of trust or understanding among many members of the public, including many Indiana education leaders.

Policy Analytics did not delve into political motivations behind the decisions. Bennett supporters applauded the report as proof he was right, while doubters continued to question his actions.

Indiana, like Florida, is now reviewing its school grading model to determine if any changes are required. Policy Analytics made several recommendations, which could apply to any state dealing with a grading formula. The group said states should:

• Provide for extensive involvement by educators and education experts.

• Be transparent in all decisionmaking.

• Develop new systems that are simple, more easily understood and equitable.

Participants in a recent Florida education summit discussed similar ideas as leaders revisit the state's accountability and grading model.

Bennett said he did not intend to be part of the conversation. Florida is a closed chapter in his life, he said, adding that he is looking to move back to southern Indiana.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected], (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

Comments
First step for Hillsborough schools facing biggest challenges: Hire more teachers

First step for Hillsborough schools facing biggest challenges: Hire more teachers

TAMPA — As chief of diversity for the Hillsborough County School District, Minerva Spanner-Morrow tries to keep her expectations realistic."We want the best of the best and I know that’s very difficult," she told principals last week as they prepared...
Published: 06/23/18
Hernando school officials set to discuss replacement, sever ties after firing Superintendent Lori Romano

Hernando school officials set to discuss replacement, sever ties after firing Superintendent Lori Romano

BROOKSVILLE — With dust still settling from the Hernando County School Board’s close vote to fire Superintendent Lori Romano — and days before her time as head of the district runs out — school officials and community members seem to be already movin...
Published: 06/20/18
Hernando students score slightly better on state tests

Hernando students score slightly better on state tests

BROOKSVILLE — As schools and districts across the state await their 2018 grades from the Florida Department of Education, the standardized test scores that factor into those ratings and were dropped last week show slight gains in Hernando County.The ...
Published: 06/20/18
Budget analysis projects deficit, deepened by security costs, for Pasco schools in coming year

Budget analysis projects deficit, deepened by security costs, for Pasco schools in coming year

An early analysis of the Pasco County School District’s 2018-2019 budget projects a deficit of more than a million dollars, with more than half of that coming from a shortfall in funding new school safety requirements.Costs to hire and train 53 new s...
Published: 06/20/18
New dorm still coming to USF St. Petersburg, but in a smaller package

New dorm still coming to USF St. Petersburg, but in a smaller package

ST. PETERSBURG — Originally pitched as a nine- or 10-story, 550-bed dorm for the overcrowded University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus, USF’s latest residence hall project will likely look much different by the time it’s done.For starters, it...
Published: 06/20/18
Carlton: From Sun Dome to Beer Stadium: Don’t let suds scare you

Carlton: From Sun Dome to Beer Stadium: Don’t let suds scare you

Am I missing something in the — pardon the expression — brouhaha over the renaming of the University of South Florida Sun Dome to the Yuengling Center? In trading a college arena’s longtime name for that of a big-name beer brewed ne...
Published: 06/20/18

Hillsborough school district will pursue two kinds of local taxes

TAMPA — Hillsborough County School District officials took an important step Tuesday toward asking the voters to pay higher taxes for schools that, they say, are not getting enough money from the state.The board voted 5-0 to submit a tax referendum r...
Published: 06/19/18
Updated: 06/20/18
STEM camp beats the summer doldrums for some Pasco students

STEM camp beats the summer doldrums for some Pasco students

DADE CITY —Just a few weeks into summer vacation, Pasco Middle School student Jade Neal, 14, was back at school, delving into a challenging STEM activity on force in motion, as the theme to Mission Impossible played in the background.The assignment? ...
Published: 06/18/18
Updated: 06/21/18
Ethan Hooper steps up with a salute to teachers

Ethan Hooper steps up with a salute to teachers

Editor’s note: Ethan Hooper wrote today’s column to give Ernest Hooper Father’s Day off.In May, I graduated from the University of Central Florida with a degree in elementary education, and I recently secured a job as a first-grade teacher with Orang...
Published: 06/18/18
AP World History course is dropping thousands of years of human events - and critics are furious

AP World History course is dropping thousands of years of human events - and critics are furious

Since 2002, the AP World History course has covered thousands of years of human activity around the planet, starting 10,000 years back. But now the College Board, which owns the Advanced Placement program, wants to cut out most of that history and st...
Published: 06/16/18