Coming to Florida from the Hoosier State in January, Bennett had 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.
On Thursday, he called those reports "malicious and unfounded" but said, "I don't think the children of Florida, the state Board of Education or our governor deserve me constantly having to deal with this while commissioner."
He has recommended that Pam Stewart, who was interim commissioner before he took over, lead the department again. The Board of Education set an emergency 11 a.m. Friday meeting to appoint an interim.
His resignation is a major setback for Gov. Rick Scott and state education leaders, who are working to overhaul Florida's system of school accountability and assessment in compliance with the national Common Core standards...
Bennett, a nationally recognized education reformer (personal note: HA!), 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 said Thursday, "I end my tenure with my head held very high, looking ahead, knowing that great things are ahead for this state under the leadership of Gov. Scott and the state Board of Education."
His departure could prove problematic for the already unstable education department...
The thing bugging the hell out of me is how Bennett and these other "free-market reformers" toss around the word Accountability when the evidence has been there that these Privatization salespeople don't care what accountability really means. It's like they borrowed the word but refused to read the dictionary entry on it.
The whole point of a grading system is to evaluate which schools are performing or under-performing: if the grades can be tweaked or altered on a whim, what's the point? There's no standards in that environment. The schools getting the inflated grades get off the hook, and can go on muddling through rather than making the improvements needed to get that higher evaluation.
That Bennett went out of his way to protect a charter school adds insult to injury. Charter schools have been pimped by so-called "reformers" as an antidote or solution to the failing school systems across the nation (rather than the subtle solutions of, oh, paying taxes to build more/better schools and hire more quality teachers). Problem is, those charter schools operate outside of a lot of supervision and as a result those charters are taking in a lot of public (and private) funding, failing to produce projected results, and leaving a ton of needy kids under-educated and worse off than before. There's been scandal after scandal after scandal: Bennett's is merely the latest.
And to any of the families in Indiana who sent their kids to that Christel House charter school on the idea that charter school was "A" caliber education? You've got every right to sue that school for fraud.