Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Editorials

Editorial: Bennett's credibility called into question

It turns out FLORIDA Education Commissioner Tony Bennett faces an even bigger challenge than winding down a discredited testing system and answering demands from legislative leaders to design new assessments for the Common Core State Standards. Now his personal credibility is at stake because of the way he manipulated school test results in Indiana, and his explanation is hardly reassuring.

The Associated Press first reported this week that as head of Indiana schools last fall Bennett insisted that a charter school founded by a powerful Republican donor receive an A grade instead of a C. Bennett's emails left no doubt about his intentions for Christel House Academy even as his staff questioned whether it would be legal to change the letter grade.

"They need to understand that anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work,'' Bennett wrote in one email before adding in another, "This will be a HUGE problem for us.''

Now it is a huge problem for Bennett. The credibility of the school grading system in Florida is in shreds, highlighted by the frustration over the depressing letter grades that were released Friday. Those grades show a downward spiral even after Bennett pushed to limit the decline for each school to no more than one letter grade. School superintendents throughout the state complain that the grades do not accurately reflect the learning taking place in many districts.

Bennett says he did not play favorites in Indiana and that the state's grading system was being adjusted at the time. He told the Times/Herald that he wanted to "make sure the grades reflected how the school really performed." Of course, that is the same issue being raised by teachers and principals in Florida as one Board of Education member wondered whether the state should even release school letter grades. Now the education commissioner explaining the Florida system has manipulated the Indiana system to benefit a Republican donor that gave his political campaigns more than $100,000.

The revelation makes the motivation behind Bennett's moves in Florida more suspect. He is a politician, a favorite of conservatives and a strong advocate of charter schools and vouchers that use public money to cover private school tuition. Will Bennett bend over backward in Florida to tweak performance standards to protect charter schools? Will he be swayed by political pressure from testing companies as he decides whether to recommend that Florida design its own tests for the Common Core State Standards?

When Florida voters reduced the size of the elected state Cabinet, one of the benefits was transforming the state education commissioner from an elected position to an appointed one that should be less susceptible to political considerations. But Bennett is a politician, and now it's clearer what side he chooses when partisan politics collide with public policy — and it's not policy.

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Editorial: Tax cuts arenít worth harm to Tampa Bay

Editorial: Tax cuts arenít worth harm to Tampa Bay

As congressional negotiators hammer out the details on an enormous, unnecessary tax cut, the potential negative impact on Tampa Bay and Florida is becoming clearer. The harmful consequences stretch far beyond adding more than $1.4 trillion to the fed...
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Another voice: Privacy in the internet age

How much information about you is on your cellphone? Likely the most intimate details of your life: photographs, internet searches, text and email conversations with friends and colleagues. And though you might not know it, your phone is constantly c...
Published: 12/10/17
Updated: 12/11/17
Editorial: Grand jury could force reforms of juvenile justice system

Editorial: Grand jury could force reforms of juvenile justice system

Confronted with documentation of sanctioned brutality and sexual abuse in Floridaís juvenile detention centers, the reaction from Gov. Rick Scottís administration was defensive and obtuse. So itís welcome news that Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine...
Published: 12/08/17
Updated: 12/11/17

Editorial: U.S. House sides with NRA over stateís rights on concealed weapons permits

With the horror of the mass shootings at a Las Vegas country music concert and a small Texas church still fresh, the U.S. House finally has taken action on guns. But the bill it passed last week wonít make Americans safer from gun violence. It is an ...
Published: 12/07/17
Editorial: Hillsborough cannot afford pay raises for teachers

Editorial: Hillsborough cannot afford pay raises for teachers

There is no satisfaction for anyone in the standoff over pay raises between the Hillsborough County School District and its teachers. Most teachers across the nation already are underpaid, but this district simply cannot afford the raises teachers ex...
Published: 12/07/17
Editorial: Impact of Water Street project extends beyond buildings

Editorial: Impact of Water Street project extends beyond buildings

With a buildout of $3 billion encompassing entire city blocks, itís obvious that Jeff Vinikís plans will change the look and feel of downtown Tampa. But the Tampa Bay Lightning owner unveiled a broader vision last week that reflects how far the impac...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/08/17
Editorial: Make texting while driving a primary offense

Editorial: Make texting while driving a primary offense

It is dangerous and illegal to text while driving in Florida, and police should be able to pull over and ticket those lawbreakers without witnessing another violation first. House Speaker Richard Corcoran has lent his powerful voice to legislation th...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17

Editorial: Outsourcing common sense on St. Petersburg Pier naming rights

St. Petersburg officials predict that selling the naming rights to parts of the new Pier could generate $100,000 in annual revenue. But first the city wants to pay a consultant to tell it how and to whom to sell the rights. Why do city officials need...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17

Another voice: Trumpís risky move

President Donald Trumpís decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israelís capital has a certain amount of common sense on its side. As a practical matter, West Jerusalem has been the seat of Israeli government since 1949, and no conceivable formula for Pa...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17
Editorial: Tampaís MOSI reinvents itself

Editorial: Tampaís MOSI reinvents itself

A tactical retreat and regrouping seems to be paying off for Hillsborough Countyís Museum of Science and Industry. After paring back its operations, the museum posted a small profit over the past year, enabling the attraction to keep its doors open a...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/07/17