Recriminations Continue for Tony Bennett, A-F School Accountability

By Andrew Ujifusa — August 05, 2013 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print


The conversation about Tony Bennett’s departure from the top education job in Florida has continued into this week, and in my story about his resignation following the publication of the Christel House emails, I asked a few folks the same question many are asking about A-F school accountability: To what extent will similar A-F systems be challenged, changed, or reconsidered in other states? And just what is the worth of such systems?

If you believe Paul Manna, an associate professor of government at the College of William and Mary who I spoke to for the story, you can anticipate lawmakers in the 15 states that have adopted some form of A-F school accountability taking a closer look at their systems. But just as Tony Bennett was perhaps a particularly large political target—and thus even more vulnerable than others when news of the emails broke—the sense I got from Manna was that lawmakers might be able to confine the story in their minds to one misguided (or worse) individual. In that case, they may not be willing to roll back what they’ve done in their states because of the publicized actions of one man in one state.

Organizations like the Foundation for Excellence in Education, which lobbies for states to adopt A-F accountability and had close links with Bennett, might at least in theory be just as willing to defend existing A-F systems in states, if they come under serious political attack. The subsequent question is, just how effective would such lobbying be?

Meanwhile, one person who isn’t afraid to defend Tony Bennett is his (now former) chief of staff in Florida, Dale Chu, one of the recipients of the emails regarding Christel House from last September that caused the firestorm. (UPDATE: Chu has resigned his position at the Florida department, Jeffrey Solochek at the Tampa Bay Times reported Aug. 5.)

That tweet links to a piece by Abdul-Hakim Shabazz, who writes at the IndyPolitics blog that Bennett has demonstrated much better priorities than Glenda Ritz, Indiana’s current state superintendent, regardless of the Christel House story. Ritz and her allies, he writes, have lost their “foil” with Bennett’s resignation, video of which you can see below:

The Foundation for Excellence in Education, on Aug. 1, the day Bennett resigned, accused Ritz’s department of making attacks on Bennett a bigger priority than telling the public where the department under Bennett succeeded.

Tom LoBianco, the Associated Press reporter who first reported the story, hasn’t revealed his source.

On the other side of the ledger is Gerardo Gonzalez, the dean of the School of education at Indiana University and one of Bennett’s persistent foes. Gonzalez’s fight with Bennett stems over the latter’s efforts to change teacher-preparation requirements and how that has played out at the state board of education and elsewhere. The changes pushed by Bennett would allow non-education majors who passed content tests to teach with an adjunct permit, and those accreditation changes are still in flux after a few twists and turns.

In Gonzalez’s view, Bennett’s approach to K-12 mirrored the approach he took with higher education, raising the bar for those he disliked and refusing to listen to their input, and lowering the bar for everyone else.

“Had the educational community not been articulate and outspoken about some of the changes that we have been dealing with in Indiana, we would have seen a lot more counterproductive and damaging changes than we have seen,” Gonzalez told me.

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