Educate All Students, Support Public Education

August 1, 2013

Florida School Chief Resigns Following His Role in Indiana Charter School Controversy

Filed under: Charter Schools,Mitch Daniels Indiana — millerlf @ 11:05 am

Florida education commissioner Tony Bennett resigns

By Steve Bousquet, Kathleen McGrory and Jeffrey S. Solochek, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau Thursday, August 1, 2013

TALLAHASSEE — Tony Bennett resigned Thursday as Florida education commissioner following two days of raging controversy over school grading in his home state of Indiana.

“I don’t think anything should distract us,” Bennett said in a late morning news conference. He praised Gov. Rick Scott for his leadership and support and said he ends his tenure “with my head held very high.”

Bennett, who came to Florida from the HoosierState in January, has faced mounting calls for his resignation in the wake of revelations, first reported by the Associated Press, that he interceded on behalf of an Indiana charter school run by a prominent Republican Party donor.

Bennett was hired to overhaul Florida’s system of school accountability and assessment in compliance with the national Common Core standards.

“I’m saddened by Commissioner Bennett’s departure,” state Board of Education member Sally Bradshaw wrote in an email to the Times/Herald. “This is a loss for Florida’s students.”

The Florida Department of Education has had a revolving door of leaders during Scott’s 31 months in office. Including Bennett, there have been three different education commissions and two interim education commissioners.

Bennett, a nationally recognized education reformer, came on board after losing re-election in Indiana.

His tenure encountered some early bumps in June, when superintendents leaned on him to institute a “safety net” to prevent school grades from dropping dramatically. Bennett had some misgivings, but ultimately conceded.

The exercise sparked a statewide dialogue about the validity of school grades, which dipped despite the padding. One member of the state Board of Education questioned if the state had to release grades at all.

Amid the controversy, scathing emails published by the Associated Press showed that Bennett had made changes to the school grading formula in Indiana after learning that a high-profile charter school would be awarded a “C” 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.

The formula was tweaked and Christel House received an “A.”

Bennett has denied that the decision was motivated by politics. He said he ordered the change because Christel House lost points for not having a graduation rate, despite only enrolling students from kindergarten through 10th grade.

A dozen other schools benefited from the change, he said.

“It is absurd that anyone would believe that I would change the grade of school based on a political donor, or based on trying to hide a school from accountability,” Bennett told reporters Tuesday. “It’s fictitious, at best, and it’s totally unfounded. What we did do is make sure we were getting a transparent policy right for Indiana schools and Indiana schoolchildren.”

Bennett is a longtime ally of former Gov. Jeb Bush, whose Foundation for Florida’s Future has driven education policy in Florida for the past decade. He is active in Bush’s coalition of state education leaders, Chiefs for Change.

Bush could not be reached for immediate comment.

Bennett’s departure could prove problematic for the already unstable education department.

Andy Smarick, former deputy education commissioner for New Jersey, said a key to successful school accountability is continuity in leadership and coherence to a strong plan.

“It just doesn’t help a state to keep changing leadership,” Smarick said, noting Florida’s five leaders in less than three years. “It’s hard for districts and schools to latch onto a meaningful, lasting plan.”

He suggested that Florida will have a tough time finding a new schools chief, given the constant churn since Scott’s arrival.

“People qualified to be state chiefs take very seriously the political environment in the states they are considering,” Smarick said. “They know changes in elections, changes in state boards, can leave them quickly without a job. That’s an issue.”

Mike Petrilli, editor of the Education Next reform journal, agreed that finding another high-flying commissioner would be difficult for Florida.

“Good luck with that,” Petrilli said.

State Senate Education Committee Chairman John Legg, R-Trinity, said he believed Bennett’s departure was the right thing for Florida if it means maintaining integrity for the state’s accountability systems.

Legg said questions about Bennett’s actions in Indiana could darken Florida’s efforts.

“We need to move forward to eliminate any question of improprieties,” Legg said, stressing he had heard no accusations that Bennett had acted inappropriately in recent grade formula changes in Florida.

Legg did not worry about finding a new commissioner.

“Florida is a dynamic state where things are cutting edge,” he said. “I imagine we will be very attractive for the next person they interview.”

Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho urged state leaders to focus on policy.

“As long as we fixate on the who, the what goes unfixed,” Carvalho wrote in a statement. “There should be no celebration of the commissioner’s resignation. For our children’s sake, let’s get accountability right.”

Contact Kathleen McGrory at

Florida education commissioner Tony Bennett resigns 08/01/13 [Last modified: Thursday, August 1, 2013 11:09am]

© 2013 Tampa Bay Times

July 30, 2013

Indiana Changes Grade System for Schools to Make Charters Look Good

Filed under: Charter Schools,Mitch Daniels Indiana — millerlf @ 12:33 pm

By TOM LoBIANCO Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS July 29, 2013

Former Indiana and current Florida schools chief Tony Bennett built his national star by promising to hold “failing” schools accountable. But when it appeared an Indianapolis charter school run by a prominent Republican donor might receive a poor grade, Bennett’s education team frantically overhauled his signature “A-F” school grading system to improve the school’s marks.

Emails obtained by The Associated Press show Bennett and his staff scrambled last fall to ensure influential donor Christel DeHaan’s school received an “A,” despite poor test scores in algebra that initially earned it a “C.”

“They need to understand that anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work,” Bennett wrote in a Sept. 12 email to then-chief of staff Heather Neal, who is now Gov. Mike Pence’s chief lobbyist.

The emails, which also show Bennett discussed with staff the legality of changing just DeHaan’s grade, raise unsettling questions about the validity of a grading system that has broad implications. Indiana uses the A-F grades to determine which schools get taken over by the state and whether students seeking state-funded vouchers to attend private school need to first spend a year in public school. They also help determine how much state funding schools receive.


March 28, 2011

Scott Walker’s Mentor, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, on the Environment: Frack the Earth

Filed under: Environment,Mitch Daniels Indiana,Scott Walker — millerlf @ 12:26 pm

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels is a new presidential hopeful among Tea Partiers for 2012.

Here is a sample from a speech in February (See full speech at: A Must Read: Indiana Governor and Presidential Hopeful Compares Budget Issues to “Red Menace” and the Cold War) on the issue of energy and the environment.

Basically he’s saying let’s hand over the environment to the Koch brothers and other oil companies from Appalachia to the Rockies. “…treat domestic energy production as the economic necessity it is and the job creator it can be. Drill, and frack, and lease, and license, unleash in every way the jobs potential in the enormous energy resources we have been denying ourselves.”

What is fracking for natural gas?

To See a visual explanation of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) go to:

What is Hydraulic Fracturing?

Following is list of valuable articles from ProPublica on the “fracking debate.”

1st Posted in ProPublica, Feb. 28, 2011

Top of Form

It’s been a busy couple of weeks in the fracking and natural gas drilling debate, with the documentary film Gasland [1] nominated for an Academy Award and a front-page story [2] in Sunday’s New York Times on the dangers posed by the technology.

The Times story underscored the findings of dozens of reports that ProPublica has published over the past three years, adding new details from previously undisclosed government documents. The increasing public interest in the possible dangers of gas drilling comes as the world’s energy companies are placing a multi-billion dollar bet on its potential. At the request of Vice President Dick Cheney, Congress exempted gas drilling from federal regulation in 2005. Since then, industry officials have successfully lobbied against calls in Washington to change the law, calls that have intensified in recent months with new attention on the issue.

For those who want to dive deeper into the complex science and regulatory issues of fracking, we offer a quick breakdown of the key issues.

It’s a subject reporter Abrahm Lustgarten has been covering for ProPublica since July of 2008. In the years since then, Lustgarten and his ProPublica colleagues have criss-crossed the country, interviewing drillers, industry officials and residents from Wyoming to Colorado to Pennsylvania. To listen to a podcast from Lustgarten, click here [3]. To read a detailed account of one man’s fight against water contamination in Wyoming, click here [4]. (Lustgarten received the 2009 George Polk Award for environmental reporting for his investigation of hydraulic fracturing as well as the 2009 Stokes Award for Best Energy Writing from the National Press Foundation.)

Below is a list of 19 of our most important stories, arranged by topic so you can quickly find the information you need. For a list of all the 100 or so stories we’ve written about gas drilling since 2008, you can also visit our gas drilling home page [5].


  • Is Marcellus Shale Too Hot to Handle? [6] – A 2009 analysis of wastewater samples from wells in New York showed levels of radioactivity more than 250 times the federal drinking water standard.


Methane Contamination



Air Pollution

March 12, 2011

A Must Read: Indiana Governor and Presidential Hopeful Compares Budget Issues to “Red Menace” and the Cold War

Filed under: Mitch Daniels Indiana,Scott Walker,Wisconsin Class Warfare — millerlf @ 10:09 am

Governor Mitch Daniels is a new Presidential hopeful among Tea Partiers for 2012. Here he bares his rotten soul and love for evil empire. At the same time he gives important insight into Republican and Tea Party objectives.

Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana compares the budget issues faced federally and by many states to the “Red Menace’ of the Cold War, with innuendo similar to Joe McCarthy’s anticommunist witch hunt, directed at the left, progressives and liberals. With his Republican dominated legislature, having risen to office on the wave of right wing tea party fanaticism, the full program for “reclaiming America” begins to emerge from his enactments in Indiana.

Here is a sample from his speech on the issue energy and the environment. Let’s strip mine from Appalachia to the Rockies. “…treat domestic energy production as the economic necessity it is and the job creator it can be. Drill, and frack, and lease, and license, unleash in every way the jobs potential in the enormous energy resources we have been denying ourselves.”

Governor Mitch Daniels (R-IN)

Friday, February 11, 2011 Washington, DC, CPAC

To listen to Daniel’s full speech got to:

Indiana Republican Governor Mitch Daniels addressed the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C. on Friday. Below the video of his address to CPAC are his remarks at CPAC’s Ronald Reagan Centennial Dinner:

Phyllis Schlafly, David Keene, George Will, good friends, thank you for the enormous privilege of this podium. Even a casual observer of American public life knows how many great ideas have been born here, how many important debates joined here, how many giants of our democracy appeared on this platform. When David broached the invitation, my first reaction was one I often have: “Who cancelled?” But first choice or fifteenth, the honor, and the responsibility to do the occasion justice, is the same. I am seized with the sentiment best expressed by Hizzoner, the original Mayor Richard Daley, who once proclaimed a similar honor the “pinochle of success.”

We are all grateful to our co-sponsors, the Reagan Foundation and the Reagan Ranch. How fitting that we convene under their auspices, as we close this first week of the centennial. Those of us who served President Reagan were taught to show constant respect for the presidency and whoever occupies it. But, among us alums, the term “the President” tends to connote just one of those forty-four men, that great man with whom God blessed America one hundred years ago this week.


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