Fake Memo Circulated in Indiana Schools Debate

By Sean Cavanagh — March 15, 2011 2 min read
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The memo bears Indiana state schools chief Tony Bennett’s name, and it purports to give his thoughts on legislation that would limit teacher job protections and change how they are evaluated.

But make no mistake: This memo, dated March 13 and appearing on Indiana Department of Education letterhead, did not come from Bennett.

The giveaway that the memo was fake might have come in language in which someone claiming to be Bennett, who has been critical of teachers’ unions during the raucous debate over the legislation, said that “teachers and their unions are the biggest influencers driving student success.”

Or when the author says that the proposals in question “are obviously only the vision of a few and will not transform public schools for the better—especially in urban districts.”

The memo’s circulation was sufficiently widespread that the Indiana Department of Education put out its own (authentic) memo alerting the media and the public that the document “almost entirely misrepresented [the department’s] position.”

The memo “did get one thing right when it said, ‘Indiana’s educators deserve respect and gratitude for dedicating their lives to preparing children for success,’” wrote Kim Preston, a spokeswoman for the Indiana Department of Education. “Unfortunately, these deceitful attempts to undermine [the department] do nothing to honor those teachers who work so hard on behalf of Indiana’s students every day.”

She said the agency is trying to identify the source of the memo, and noted that impersonating a public official (Bennett) could be a Class A misdemeanor.

The legislation in question, Senate bills 1 and 575, have drawn major protests from teachers in Indiana. They have the support of Bennett and Gov. Mitch Daniels, both Republicans, who say they will lead to improve instruction and making it easier for districts to hire good teachers and remove ineffective ones.

This has been the time of teacher protests, as measures challenging teacher job protections have been put forward in several states, most notably Wisconsin, where Republican Gov. Scott Walker recently signed into law a controversial plan limiting collective bargaining rights. It’s also been the season of the prank: During the height of Wisconsin’s demonstrations, Walker was the subject of a widely publicized fake phone call from a blogger posing as billionaire conservative activist David Koch, one of the governor’s biggest campaign contributors.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.