If you want to read Florida education chief Tony Bennett’s side of the controversy about school grading changes in IN Rick Hess has it this morning (and before you assume Bennett only went to a friendly interviewer with soft questions to give his take he also did an open-question presser with national and local press yesterday afternoon as well). Background here. Five thoughts on the whole thing:
– This probably wouldn’t have been news if it wasn’t midsummer or if a plane had crashed this week. It’s not that big of a deal and calls for Bennett to resign pretty obviously overstate the issue. Clearly IN officials did discover a problem with their grading system that unfairly penalized 12 or 13 schools with non-traditional grade configurations. It was one particular school that brought it to their attention. That’s not surprising during the development of a system like this, which do always have a lot of wrinkles that need to be ironed out. We pointed that out in the Hangover paper on teacher evaluations and tried to make clear that people should not be afraid to make changes as needed.
– That said, there do seem to be two problems here. First, there was not enough transparency about the changes. And that’s something that , even though the need for a fix looks clear here, should worry reformers because at the regulatory level gaming of accountability systems is pervasive. You get these issues as these systems are stress tested and then as they’re implemented and evolve . But it’s vital that people have confidence in how and why decisions are being made and given the tenor of the debate these days things should be communicated extra clearly to avoid episodes like this. Second, it does appear from the emails released so far that IN officials worked with the explicit goal of getting this school to an “A” rather than merely fixing the problem. Granted, the emails released so far are selective (and in some cases lack context, for instance the “lies” remark makes sense within context) and it seems to me that AP should request all of them and Bennett should want them all released rather than just a few calculated to paint him in a bad light.
– I don’t think the effort to help this school or similar schools is about money. As a friend remarked yesterday to me about this episode, many times “follow the money” is not especially useful advice. In this case it’s a great headline but a distraction that misses what happened here. It doesn’t look like Bennett or his team made these changes because this school’s founder was a donor (and other affected schools were not). That’s correlation. Rather, I think that they wanted to make sure a school that is generally regarded as a good one – and that they frequently praised in public – was not unfairly dinged by their new grading system. That is arguably about pride or politics or both, but it’s not about money.
– Bottom line, at the time IN officials should have handled what is at its core a defensible situation better. But now, today, our field might think about handling it better, too. The general reactions – both the predictable rush to attacks from critics and rush to blanket defenses from defenders – don’t really reflect well on anyone.
– For some real inside baseball there is some grumbling in IN about the timing of all this coming on the heels of good news on test scores under Bennett’s watch and also a report that undermined a key claim his opponent, now the state’s school chief, made during the campaign and subsequently about IN’s assessments.