Monday, July 29, 2013

Grade changed to A for political donor's outsourced school in Indiana

An outsourced school in Indiana that should have gotten a C for performance instead got an A because it was run by a prominent Republican donor Christel DeHaan.

DeHaan founded the Christel House charter school.She also gave more than $2.8 million to Republicans since 1998, including $130,000 to Bennett.

The Associated Press reported today,
...when it appeared an Indianapolis charter school run by a prominent Republican donor might receive a poor grade, former Indiana school Superintendent Tony Bennett's education team frantically overhauled his signature "A-F" school grading system to improve the school's marks. 
Emails obtained by The Associated Press show Bennett and his staff scrambled last fall to ensure influential donor Christel DeHaan's school received an "A," despite poor test scores in algebra that initially earned it a "C." 
"They need to understand that anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work," Bennett wrote in a Sept. 12 email to then-chief of staff Heather Neal, who is now Gov. Mike Pence's chief lobbyist. 
The emails, which also show Bennett discussed with staff the legality of changing just DeHaan's grade, raise unsettling questions about the validity of a grading system that has broad implications. Indiana uses the A-F grades to determine which schools get taken over by the state and whether students seeking state-funded vouchers to attend private school need to first spend a year in public school. They also help determine how much state funding schools receive.
The Associated Press reported other schools had their grades changed, but only because the grade was changed for DeHaan's charter school. According to AP:
Bennett consistently cited Christel House as a top-performing school as he secured support for the measure from business groups and lawmakers, including House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem David Long.

But trouble loomed when Indiana's then-grading director, Jon Gubera, alerted Bennett on Sept 13 that the Christel House Academy had scored a 2.9, or a "C."

"This will be a HUGE problem for us," Bennett wrote in a Sept. 12, 2012 email to Neal.

Neal fired back a few minutes later, "Oh, crap. We cannot release until this is resolved."
And why were we not surprised to learn that Bennett is now Florida's education commissioner, where he is reworking the grading system?