U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, in his first public remarks about the Indiana grading controversy that led to the resignation of Florida Commissioner of Education Tony Bennett, said he “desperately” hopes the state can find a new state chief who will “stay the course.”
With Bennett’s immediate departure today because of a controversy stemming from his previous job as Indiana state schools chief, Florida will be on its fourth state schools chief in three years.
“You need continuity, you need stability, you need leadership,” said Duncan this afternoon in a wide-ranging interview with Education Week, which touched on a variety of topics—from the Bennett resignation to reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. With all of the turnover in Florida, he said, “There’s just no upside to that.”
“I desperately hope, that once we get through the drama, that Florida can get somebody who can stay the course.”
Duncan, who has been a supporter of Bennett’s efforts to implement new teacher-evaluation systems, the Common Core State Standards, and common tests, refrained from praising Bennett’s record as have other supporters—such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
“We want to work with and support Florida, and whoever is there, so that it remains a national leader on education,” Duncan said.
Given that Indiana’s grading system is at the heart of the controversy—and at the heart of the state’s No Child Left Behind Act waiver agreement with Duncan’s department—the secretary said it’s important these systems are developed and implemented transparently. And in this case, given that the grading-system changes were exposed in the media, the transparency worked, he said.
“I’m not worried. See what happens when someone messes up?” Duncan said, adding that he doesn’t know if Bennett actually messed up. “You need maximum transparency, and if anyone’s looking to do something silly, the cost on their lives and careers is profound.”
He said all of the facts in the case will come out soon enough, and his department will make sure there’s no reason for federal officials to get involved.
“I think the facts will emerge, and we’ll look at them,” he said.